Budget Cuts: The pain spreads broader and deeper

Last month, we surveyed some of the budget cuts that state agencies were being forced to implement as result of the state’s revenue shortfalls. Since then, the grim news continues to spread deeper into core programs, affecting major services like education, social services, and infrastructure. Our intern, Matt Garder, provides this round-up of coverage from the state’s newspapers of some of the actions that state agencies, cities, and school boards have announced in recent weeks to address budget shortfall, as well as looming cuts on the horizon:

  • This year’s cuts have already forced the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to eliminate inpatient treatment for children with behavioral health problems, adults with drug addictions, and others. The Department estimates that additional cuts of 10 percent would leave 8,043 people without mental health services. Commissioner Terri White warns that with fewer services, families will suffer, and the impact will be felt directly by the state’s criminal justice system as more untreated individual with mental health and substance abuse problems commit crimes.
  • Staffing at the Department of Corrections has fallen to historically low levels. The Department has only 1,881 correction officers on staff, which is 72.82 percent of its authorized number of 2,585. The department has added about 700 new offenders since last April, but has no remaining available beds to house them. Over 1,500 inmates are in county jails awaiting transport to DOC facilities. The Oklahoman warns that “Oklahoma could be headed for a mess of historic proportions.”
  • The Oklahoma Indigent Defense System, which provides legal counsel for indigent defenders outside Tulsa and Oklahoma City, has cut 15 employees, including three lawyers, this year, even as its projected caseload is increasing over 10 percent. OIDS Executive Director, Joe Robertson, stated that deeper cuts could lead to a federal challenge to how the state provides legal counsel to indigent defenders. “We do our best to maintain a constitutional level,” Robertson said. “That is why I am so stressful right now. I see that slipping away.”
  • A combination of state cuts and federal funding delays have led the Oklahoma Department of Transportation to postpone several major road construction projects.  ODOT saw its state funding cut by $15 million this year. According to ODOT Director Gary Ridley,  cuts could eventually lead to a delay of the widening of Interstate 44 in Tulsa, among other important projects, and prevent the Department from selling $150 million in bonds.
  • The Oklahoma Health Department is making plans to close child guidance centers in 17 counties as an effort to save money. Only 16 centers will remain open to support children with speech, hearing, behavioral and developmental problems. Closings mean mothers like Darla Cooper, whose children rely on SoonerCare for hearing loss help, will be forced to commute an hour to reach remaining centers. As part of the closing process, 18 jobs will be eliminated. Selected employees will be provided with a buyout option.
  • As a consequence of a potential $9.7 million dollar budget cut, Tulsa Public Schools has authorized the elimination of 225 teaching positions, almost 7 percent of certified staff. $5,000 incentives were offered to teachers who would give early notification of retirement, but only 72 teachers took that offer. As a result, class sizes will be increased if the proposal is approved. Chief Financial Officer Trish Williams noted that the decision to increase class sizes was not taken lightly, since the state “has always maintained a low class size.”
  • In an effort to save $38,000, Sapulpa police are expected to take four furlough days. This is a result of the city’s tax revenue dropping $371,000, which is expected to climb to about $600,000 by the end of June. City Manager Tim DeArman noted that while the furlough days are expected to help the revenue problem, other services will need to be affected as well. Meanwhile, the City of Norman is eliminating 38 jobs, instituting furloughs, and cutting funding to social service programs to balance a budget that will be 21 percent less than the one approved last year.
  • Gov. Brad Henry’s $250,000 insurance program for Oklahoma National Guard members has been suspended due to state budget cuts. The program insured about 10,000 Guard members in the state. With the Guard’s budget decreased by 14 percent, Guard members will still be insured but will have to pay their own premiums. A spokesman for the governor mentioned that the plan would be reinstated once state revenues improve.
  • Under a furlough plan for Oklahoma Senate employees announced by Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, Senate employees will take 12 furlough days between July and December. With the Senate’s budget drop of 14 percent, employees are also being offered a buyout option. Depending on how many accept the buyout offer, employees could be laid off. The Senate faces another potential $1.26 million cut in July.
  • Budget shortfalls have already led the Department of Human Services to announce 18 furlough days for its employees in the upcoming year. This action could possibly reduce the number of federal food stamp recipients in Oklahoma by 105,000. The agency cautions that with additional budget cuts of 10 percent, as many as 5,600 seniors who receive home-based Medicaid services will be forced into the more expensive nursing homes. DHS Director Howard Hendrick warns that “we’re seeing thousands of people who will have to go to nursing homes unless we get some money, because we can’t continue to support and finance the community-based alternative, which is actually a better value and less expensive.”

We will be looking more closely at how enacted and impending cuts are affecting several agencies in the days ahead.


Oklahoma Policy Insititute (OK Policy) advances equitable and fiscally responsible policies that expand opportunity for all Oklahomans through non-partisan research, analysis, and advocacy.

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