OKLAHOMA CITY - Officials with one state agency say they are considering a plan to furlough employees after losing millions in budget cuts.
The Department of Public Safety announced on Wednesday that it is considering 23 furlough days for Oklahoma Highway Patrol Troopers and DPS employees across the state.
Authorities say if those furlough days go into effect, driver's license testing and implied consent hearings will be affected.
"If you've ever got your driver's license, you know how long the wait is," explained Trooper Dwight Durant, with Oklahoma Highway Patrol. "So your wait to get a driver's license, or an exam may be longer."
So far, the department has put a freeze on hiring new employees or replacing 27 outgoing employees. Agency leaders say they have also not upgraded the radio system or the aging computer network.
DPS Commissioner Michael Thompson has asked for a $12 million budget supplement, saying without the funds, DPS will not be able to maintain its current level of operations.
“We are working with the Governor’s office and Legislature on building the needed support for the requested $12 million supplement, as the ongoing mission of public safety in Oklahoma is dependent on it,” said OHP Chief Rick Adams. “This budget supplement is the minimum necessary to allow the OHP and DPS to maintain the current level of services to the public.”
"Getting this funding will allow the department just to maintain the status quo," explained Durant. "We're already short handed, short staffed, and stretched thin."
The Oklahoma Public Employees Association released the following statement on the announcement:
“DPS is taking necessary steps to cut costs because they were not properly funded for this fiscal year. Oklahoma will be less safe because we will have fewer troopers on our highways and this is not DPS’s fault. The blame lies squarely on legislators and the governor who passed a budget that does not fund core services,” said Sterling Zearley, OPEA executive director. “To add insult, Gov. Fallin has more than $140 million available to her to return to the agencies and she won’t do it. Some of those dollars would go to DPS and could help reduce the number of furlough days.”
“Despite the efforts of the men and women at DPS, Oklahomans’ safety will be jeopardized because of politics. Some leaders are engaged in political games rather than finding ways to support public safety. Other services that DPS provides like processing drivers licenses and the support that troopers get from non-uniformed DPS staff will suffer too,” he said.
Other agencies have been affected by lack of funding including the Department of Human Services who recently announced the implementation of a “reduction in force” to cut costs. Cuts by other agencies are also expected especially if lawmakers do not provide supplemental funding when they return to the capitol in February.
“Unless Oklahoma finds new ways of increasing revenue these types of service reduction will continue,” Zearley said. “We need a long-range plan to fund public safety, health and human services and all state agencies. But, right now we need the $140 million to be returned to the state agencies who tightened their belts when they were told to.”
Oklahoma Secretary of Finance, Preston Doerflinger, released the following statement on the DPS request:
“Pressing needs like those faced by DPS are part of the reason the governor initiated special session talks when the $140 million available to return to agencies was confirmed. Without a special session, that $140 million gets returned equally to all agencies and DPS sees just $1.9 million of it when that agency needs at least $12 million to maintain services.
Some of the permanent teacher pay raise proposals my office is preparing for the governor may use the $140 million and some may not. The best case scenario is we reach agreement with the Legislature on a teacher pay package using none or just some of the $140 million. If that happened, a special session could be held to address teacher pay and distribute that $140 million in a way that sees agencies like DPS with the biggest needs get more funds than they would otherwise. All this is contingent on agreement with the Legislature and those talks are ongoing.”