Most Oklahoma agencies to take 5 percent cut to make up budget shortfall (KGOU)

By Kurt Gwartney

Five percent.

That’s how much the governor is asking most entities in state government to cut their budgets. The number should not be much of a surprise. The amount of money available for state lawmakers to spend for the next fiscal year was already down about $171 million over the current year’s figure.

And Fallin’s secretary of finance Preston Doerflinger had been telling them cuts were coming. But the current reductions come after years of belt tightening and corner cutting, at least from the perspective of those running the agencies. But Doerflinger believes there is fat left to trim.

“We started $170 million in the hole,” Doerflinger says. “We are not going to use one-time monies like has been done in the past. So if you have $170 million in the hole, one of the ways you realize that is through efficiencies and through reductions in state agencies, but I’m sure it has gotten their attention.”

Oklahoma Policy Institute Executive Director David Blatt says the governor’s budget takes a bad situation and makes it worse.

“We have really not fully recovered from the last budget downturn,” Blatt says. “We’re over $500 million behind where we were five years ago when you adjust for inflation. What really concerns us is that we are going to end up even deeper in a hole, an falling even further behind in our efforts to provide adequate funding for schools, for infrastructure, for public safety, and for healthcare.”

One area Fallin wants to receive more money is common education. That’s state Capitol talk for public schools.

“We’re on a tight budget, as we should be. But good education reaquires appropriate funding. That’s why I’m proposing a $50 million increase to help our students in K-12.”

While the amount of money may seem generous, especially in light of cuts coming nearly everywhere else, the Oklahoma Education Association says another way to look at the $50million dollars is as a share of the state budget.

OEA says public school funding is now at its lowest share since 2000, down to 33.8 percent. For Oklahoma’s colleges and universities, the cut from last year is $49 million.

Despite the known budget shortfall, Fallin pushed for a quarter-of-a-percent cut in Oklahoma’s personal income tax rate. The Oklahoma Policy Institutecalculates that to be about $30 a year for residents at the median income level. The progressive-leaning analysis says about 41 percent of Oklahomans would see no reduction in their taxes, while the top one-percent of households would get about 2-thousand dollars a year.

For Blatt, his major disappointment came in the area of health care for the neediest Oklahomans.

“We do know that the situation for the Medicaid program is especially dire,” Blatt says. “We’re looking at cuts that are going to hit our health care providers and affect services for children, seniors, persons with disabilities, and other very vulnerable members of the community.”

But for Doerflinger, the cut is a sign that social safety net is due for change.

“There are going to be discussions this session about Medicaid reform that involve the Health Care Authority,” Doerflinger says. “I think that’s where we’re more interested – in having that conversation with the legislature about reforming this system.”

Regardless of what the governor says she wants in a state budget, it’s not up to her have the final say. In fact, it’s now up to the members of the state House and Senate to pass the bills that will fund state government starting July 1.

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