Oklahoma officials release breakdown of how $140 million will be spent
OKLAHOMA CITY – After millions of dollars were mistakenly cut from state agencies last fiscal year, those agencies are getting a partial refund.
Last fiscal year, state agencies were forced to make drastic cuts to cover a $1.3 billion budget shortfall.
Many of those cuts resulted in the loss of jobs, programs and assistance for Oklahoma families.
Oklahoma school districts say nearly 1,500 teaching positions were eliminated, popular programs were disbanded and class sizes grew. Also, districts reported eliminating 1,300 support positions since last year.
In the meantime, officials at the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services say they’re in crisis mode. In May, the agency had to cut therapy services for 70,000 patients to save $14 million.
At the same time, the Department of Human Services froze a program that helps low-income Oklahoma families pay for child care.
Just a couple months later, state leaders announced that $140 million no longer needed to be cut, and have since been working to decide what to do with the funds.
Gov. Mary Fallin announced that she was considering holding a special session to discuss using the money for teacher pay raises.
On Tuesday, Fallin met with legislative leaders to ask them about using the money for teacher pay raises and giving substantial refunds to some of the departments that help Oklahomans the most.
“Legislative leaders want the $140.8 million initially cut from agencies in the 2016 fiscal year and now available again returned equally to agencies. The governor asked legislative leaders to priority-base the distribution of those funds so pressing needs at agencies like the Department of Education, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Corrections, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services could be more fully addressed, but a consensus to do so could not be reached. The funds will instead be sent to agencies with September general revenue allocations,” said Michael McNutt, communications director for Governor Mary Fallin.
On Friday, we got a better look at how the money will be distributed.
The Department of Corrections will receive a little more than $10 million back after cutting $27.5 million from their budget.
“We are assessing and prioritizing our biggest needs as an agency and where the funds will best be utilized to maintain essential services to ensure continued public safety. The department is facing major infrastructure needs; facilities that are understaffed; probation and parole officers with overwhelming caseloads and employees who have not had raises in more than a decade. The funds are much needed and appreciated,” Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Joe M. Allbaugh said.
The Oklahoma Health Care Authority is getting $23.5 million back to its agency, while the Regents of Higher Education get $20.7 million.
The Board of Education received the biggest refund with a little more than $40 million coming back to the agency, which suffered cuts worth $109 million.
The Department of Human Services is expected to get $16 million back in its budget after cutting $43.7 million.
Also, the Department of Mental Health will also get $8.4 million back after $22.7 million in cuts.
According to the data, the Department of Transportation will not be receiving funding back after losing $30.8 million to budget cuts.
Officials with the Office of Management and Enterprise Services says that the ROADS fund, which is maintained by ODOT, only receives income tax revenue. State law says that ROADS allocations have to be reduced at the same level as general revenue allocations during a revenue failure. However, state law does not call for the return of money to the ROADS fund if there is a refund, like in this case.
On Tuesday, state officials announced that ODOT will receive $11.4 million in other funds returned.