It's raining and we're starting to leak

The initial reports on the agreement for the Fy ’10 budget reached on Friday between legislative leaders and the Governor were positive due to the availability of over $600 million in federal stimulus dollars, key education, health care, and public safety agencies received flat funding or increases to cover mandatory costs without recourse to the Rainy Day Fund or tax increases. While most agencies were hit with budget cuts of 7 percent, news articles and editorials expressed confidence that agencies would be able to absorb these funding reductions without having to implement layoffs or furloughs.

Quickly enough, the picture has begun to darken. Today brings the first reports of agencies considering furloughs, with the Department of Public Safety, which is facing a budget cut of $6.3 million, announcing it is looking at imposing a six day furlough for its staff of 800 state troopers in an effort to save $1.8 million. The Department would also eliminate its annual trooper academy and leave vacancies unfilled.
According to DPS Commissioner Kevin Ward:

“Our concern is with the smaller academy this year not filling all the slots that are going to come open through attrition and no academy next year, we’re kind of getting into a decline in personnel out there,” he said.

“As people quit, like driver’s license examiners, we’re not going to be able to replace them and so some of our areas in which lines are long now, they could get longer.”

We can expect that DPS’ plans to furlough employees and cut public services, while the first to come to light, will not be the last. Since staff costs make up the bulk of the budget for most agencies, there seems little way for agencies to absorb cuts in excess of five percent, on top of last year’s flat funding, without reducing their workforces. Even among agencies, that took smaller cuts or received increases, such as the Department of Human Services, Oklahoma Health Care Authority, and Department of Health, the word around the Capitol is that the appropriation levels agreed to last week will fall considerably short of covering the cost of operating existing programs in the year ahead.

The Legislature may have still time to patch part of the hole in the DPS budget, but expect to hear of more major leaks in the days and weeks ahead.

update: This afternoon, the House issued a press release announcing that an additional $2.5 million had been found to avert furloughs of state troopers and to fund a new Troop K headquarters in north-central Oklahoma. Other cuts, including the elimination of patrol academies and leaving 25-40 positions unfilled, remained likely. There was no indication of how the additional appropriations would be funded. Commissioner Ward stated:

“With this $2.5 million, the department will still have to implement other cuts and there will be diminution of services of departmental personnel such as driver’s license examiners who leave the agency who won’t be replaced, but this plan will prevent any furlough of troopers on the road.”

With three days remaining until adjournment, it will be interesting to see whether other agencies and programs threatened with a loss of funds will be able to duplicate DPS’ success in calling attention to the implications of the FY ’10 budget agreement.


Former Executive Director David Blatt joined OK Policy in 2008 and served as its Executive Director from 2010 to 2019. He previously served as Director of Public Policy for Community Action Project of Tulsa County and as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma State Senate. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and a B.A. from the University of Alberta. David has been selected as Political Scientist of the Year by the Oklahoma Political Science Association, Local Social Justice Champion by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice, and Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.