Hurting all over: A survey of some recent state and local budget cuts

As revenues have come in significantly below estimates this year, funding to state agencies was cut 5 percent a month from August to November and 10 percent each month since (see our updated fact sheet). OK Policy’s intern Matt Gardner has been tracking media reports of the ways that cuts in state funding over the course of the downturn. He provides this report of some of what’s transpired in recent months.

Budget cuts in recent months appear to have affected Oklahomans from all walks of life. Many agencies have been forced to cut jobs, offer bailouts, or implement furlough days, but cuts have required agencies to go further and eliminate services altogether.

Some examples:

  • The Bill Willis Community Mental Health Center faces more cuts, despite having eliminated its 20-bed men’s substance abuse program. That was to save $1.2 million. Now, the center has been asked to trim $300,000 more. According to Executive Director Margaret Bradford, “without this type of treatment you’re going to see more and more people end up in the criminal justice system,” costing the state more money than the treatment.
  • Cuts to the Medicaid program will be hitting kidney dialysis providers hard. According to the Tulsa World, payments to dialysis centers are set to be cut 40 percent for diabetic supplies and 75 percent for patients with Medicaid as their secondary insurance as of April 1st. The result may lead some dialysis centers to close and patients will have to travel much farther to get life-sustaining treatment. According to a spokesman for Fresenius Medical Care, a major dialysis provider, the need to travel further for treatment will end costing the Medicaid program more in transportation and hospitalization costs.
  • Ongoing budget shortfalls at the Department of Corrections have left staff levels  at 1,411 fewer than the authorized level of 5,895. Board of Corrections member David Henneke warned that the Department can’t continue to lose employees and keep the public safe. “Someone at the Capitol has got to understand we can’t continue the way it is, or someone is going to die,” he said.
  • Closure of the Norman  Alcohol and Drug Treatment Center has been among the consequences of 7.2 percent cuts to the budget of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Adult substance abuse treatment beds, transitional housing, children’s mental health beds and the jobs of about 100 employees have been lost this year. “These are horrible choices we’re having to make”, said Commissioner Terri White. “Every decision we make is a loss of services to someone.”
  • Budget shortfalls affected teachers when about 2,600 nationally certified school teachers received $350 less in bonuses than promised. The Oklahoma State Department of Education was short $4.6 million to pay for certified teacher stipends, and left it up to districts to cover the shortfall. “We are not supposed to assume any portion of the state’s obligation to fund this. We are quite upset that the state shorted the teachers, but it was the state who shorted the teachers, not the school district,” said Debra Jacoby of Union Public Schools.
  • The state Health Department has offered 15 percent of its workforce a buyout option, hoping that half  will accept the buyouts in order to save $8 million in payroll costs. The department expects to lose $5.5 million in funding. Health services are in great demand, according to Health Commissioner Terry Cline. “Right now we are having to cut services and programs to Oklahoma citizens,” said Board of Health President Barry Smith.
  • The Boynton-Moton School District in Eastern Oklahoma may not survive a $100,000 cut to its budget. School board member Albert Joe Cherry worried that the school may not even finish the year. Superintendent Shelbie Williams said, “we cut salaries, services without going to the bone and marrow. Last month, we did all we can do to make payments.”
  • Domestic violence and sexual assault victims’ programs have faced an additional 10 percent cut.  These programs were already facing monthly 5 percent cuts since July. While demand for services is up according to the Victim Services Unit, programs like the Women’s Resource Center in Norman is having to halt counseling and prevention programs. As the Executive Director of the state Coalition Against Domestic Violence observes, “they’re cutting staff, cutting benefits, doing away with outreach services. In most cases, they are doing everything they can to keep the most essential services open, which are the shelters.”
  • The Office of Juvenile Affairs cut funds to gang-prevention services like the Tulsa Youth Intervention Project, which have boasted a 61 percent decrease in drive-by shootings. According to Alice Blue of the Community Service Council of Greater Tulsa, “My fear is that once the program is dismantled, it will have to be re-created over a period of time. You lose all the accumulated knowledge of working on the Tulsa streets.”
  • Broken Arrow schools have been advised to cut their budget by about $3.6 million dollars. If this is not achieved, the schools will lose 91 teaching jobs. Superintendent Gary Gerber has been reviewing several solutions, including 1,100 suggestions made by district employees. Teacher furloughs are being considered, even though many teachers are adamantly opposed to  this solution.
  • In response to dwindling tax revenue, Sapulpa police are expected to take four furlough days. According to City Manager Tom DeArmann, the city is down in tax revenue by $371,000, which is expected to climb to $600,000. The furloughs are expected to save the city $38,000 through June.

Unfortunately, this may all just be the tip of the iceberg. Next year’s shortfall is in the range of $800 million to $1.55 billion, depending on one’s calculations.  As Speaker Chris Benge grimly noted last week, “agencies are currently facing significant additional cuts if revenue projections prove true.”


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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