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Department of Corrections initiates hiring freeze after budget bill fails

OKLAHOMA CITY – After a budget bill failed to receive the needed votes to pass, a state agency is taking steps to save money.

House Bill 1033, which was a part of the ‘Step Up Oklahoma’ plan, called for increases to taxes on tobacco, motor fuel, wind energy and a 4 percent gross production tax.

The measure needed 76 votes to pass, but failed 63 -35.

After the vote, Majority Floor Leader Rep. Jon Echols told News 4 they are now looking at cuts between $40-$60 million in order to balance the remainder of the 2018 budget.

“What has become clear is that there isn’t a revenue package that can pass so, at this point, you’ve got to move forward with the money that you have,” Echols said. “It’s going to have to be from all agencies. If we do nothing, it’s going to be from Healthcare Authority and Mental Health, two agencies that can’t absorb $40 million worth of cuts.”

On Wednesday, Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Joe Allabaugh announced that the agency is now under a hiring freeze for most positions. Allbaugh says with uncertainty over the budget, there is no room for mistakes.

“Nearly 90 percent of our budget falls into four categories,” Allbaugh said. “That does not leave much wiggle room, and we can’t just close the Department of Corrections to save money. Therefore, I have put this agency on a hiring freeze until uncertainty with the Fiscal Year 2018 budget – a year which is more than half over - gets resolved.”

The hiring freeze affects all agency positions except for correctional officers, food service workers and maintenance staff. Also, persons who already have employment offers will not be affected.

Instead, it applies to unfilled positions that don't already have a conditional offer of employment.

The hiring freeze comes as the department has requested a more than $1 billion increase from its $485 million budget. The agency says it needs two new medium security prisons to handle current population needs and future inmate growth. It also includes more than $107 million in facility repairs.

As of Wednesday morning, state institutions were at 113 percent capacity.