No additional cuts to education, Department of Corrections under proposed budget plan

American dollars, Photo: tOrange.us / CC BY-SA 4.0

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OKLAHOMA CITY – A tentative budget deal has been reached between leaders in the Oklahoma Senate, House and Governor Fallin’s office.

The total appropriation for fiscal year 2017 is just over $6,778,186,009. That’s down about 5 percent from last year’s original budget and about 1 percent down from the adjusted 2016 budget that was rolled out in February.

While many agencies will see cuts this fiscal year, the Department of Corrections and the State Department of Education will not be cut after having to make changes to last year’s budget due to the $1.3 billion shortfall.

“We are deeply grateful that in the proposed budget, common education funding will be held flat next fiscal year. This was a herculean effort on the part of Gov. Fallin and legislative leadership – particularly President Pro Tempore Bingman, Speaker Hickman, Sen. Jolley, Rep. Sears, Sen. Halligan and Rep. Martin – one we realize means greater sacrifices and deeper cuts for other vital agencies. We know this has been a difficult session for lawmakers, and we greatly appreciate their commitment to making hard decisions and doing everything they can to protect our kids. This budget represents a best-case scenario as we plan for the next school year and continue to work together to maximize educational outcomes for Oklahoma schoolchildren,” a statement by Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister read.

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority will see an additional 9.24 percent in funding to help cover Medicaid reimbursement rates.

“Thankfully, those worst-case scenarios can be averted by passing this budget,” said Governor Mary Fallin. “This agreement closes a sizeable portion of a monumental budget hole and prevents the dire, unacceptable outcomes so many Oklahomans have feared may happen this session. There are still reductions in this budget, and it requires more hard votes to pass, but it is certainly a workable budget even amid a major energy sector downturn that is creating difficulties all across Oklahoma. We worked hard to protect key core services – common education, health and human services, corrections, mental health services and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority – while keeping our eight-year transportation infrastructure plan intact.”

The Joint Committee in Appropriations and Budget is currently discussing the budget plan.

“The absence of various revenue measures required deeper reductions to higher education and transportation in order to avoid truly unacceptable funding levels for K-12 schools and hospitals,” said Secretary of Finance, Administration and Information Technology Preston L. Doerflinger. “Transportation and higher education have superior financial positions compared to the rest of government and can absorb reductions far better than common education and health care could. In fact, transportation has said no projects will be significantly altered under this plan, and higher education has already implemented several cost-cutting measures in anticipation of reduced funding. These were difficult decisions, but they had to be made when faced with a challenge of this magnitude.

However, not everyone is in favor of the proposed budget.

“This budget agreement is bad for Oklahomans who rely on services provided by DHS and other agencies,” says OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley.  “The agreement is more about election year politics than serving Oklahomans. Leadership is saying they protected services but significant cuts will still be implemented because agencies are underfunded. We need lawmakers to stand up and vote no on this budget.”

“Legislators failed to take the opportunity to sufficiently increase recurring revenue to take care of Oklahoma’s current needs at corrections, DHS and other agencies,” Zearley said. “Instead, they tapped the rainy day fund and used bond money to pay for ongoing expenses. This means that services are underfunded now and next year we will start out in the red.”

If it passes through committee, it will have to pass the full House and Senate to go to the governor’s desk.

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