OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin is pressuring lawmakers, saying the state is headed toward a crisis if a realistic budget isn’t approved by the legislature.
Right now, the state is facing a nearly $900 million budget shortfall
Following the news of the shortfall in February, state agencies immediately began bracing for cuts.
In March, lawmakers asked each state agency to think about how it would handle a nearly 15 percent budget reduction, should it come to that as they try and fill a nearly $900 million budget shortfall.
However, Gov. Fallin says the situation could be even more dire if lawmakers don’t get to work within the next couple of weeks.
“We are not making progress fast enough,” Fallin said during a news conference on Wednesday afternoon.
She credited a downturn in the energy sector, online shopping and revenue shortages for the $878 million budget shortfall the state is facing.
Fallin says she has heard from several Oklahomans who are frustrated the budget shortfall is going to be detrimental to core services.
The governor says that if you didn’t touch funding for the top seven state agencies, lawmakers would not be able to fund anything else in the state and would still be $19 million short.
The clock is ticking and there doesn’t seem to be a solution in the near future.
Right now, lawmakers have 12 days to submit a budget proposal to the governor for approval. So far, she says that hasn’t happened.
“Nothing has come to my desk,” Fallin said. “No substantial measures to solve our budget crisis.”
If that doesn’t happen, core agencies could be facing an additional 18 percent cut to their funding.
“It’s unacceptable. What kind of state do we want to be?” Fallin said.
Earlier this year, lawmakers asked state agencies to prepare for a 15 percent cut and agencies responded by saying the results would be catastrophic.
The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety said that troopers would be furloughed, a hiring freeze would be put in place and employees would lose their jobs if the agency had to cut its budget by 15 percent.
“It’s unacceptable for a highway patrolman to tell us, Department of Public Safety, that they’re going to have to limit the amount of miles they drive per day because they’ve got to cut down on gasoline costs to save a little bit of money,” Fallin said.
The Oklahoma Department of Human Services says the “reduction scenarios at almost every level depicted can be accurately described as ranging from the terrible to the unthinkable.”
The Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department said 16 state parks could close if the agency is subject to a drastic cut.
“It’s unacceptable that we have state parks that are going to have to close because we have to find a way to shave 878 million plus, that doesn’t include supplementals by the way, to fund other holes in the budget,” she said.
The Department of Education announced that teachers would lose their jobs and schools may close as a result of a cut.
“And ladies and gentlemen, I think it is unacceptable that we have four-day school weeks for our children. You’ve heard me say this but I have visited with major companies looking at moving jobs to a state and I’ve heard from several of them that tell me, ‘Governor, your state’s so poor you only fund schools for four days a week. How can I convince my employers, my businesses to want to come to your state when you won’t fund your schools? And I can’t find an educated, quality, skilled workforce if your people are uneducated in your state,” she said.
Also, health care professionals said several rural hospitals may be forced to close their doors if funding isn’t found.
“I’m currently working with seven hospitals in the state of Oklahoma right now that are living payroll to payroll. Every week, we decide how we can make payroll this week,” said Rick Wagner, a CPA working with rural Oklahoma hospitals.
The Department of Corrections has already implemented a purchasing freeze in order to save money immediately. DOC Director Joe Allbaugh says the agency was ordered to find $2.96 million that could be cut by the end of the fiscal year.
“It’s unacceptable that we let our prisons be so overcrowded and we’re so short of corrections officers that we put our communities at risk for danger from people that we’re trying to protect them from because we don’t fund corrections,” Fallin said.
She says she is tired of lawmakers sticking along party lines and refusing to budge on voting.
“I’m willing to veto the budget as long as I need to until we get our job done,” Fallin said.
With less than three weeks left before the end of the session, she says something needs to be done now.
“It’s embarrassing to be 48th, 49th. It’s embarrassing,” she said.