By KGOU Staff
Reactions so far to the announced budget deal between the Governor’s office the the Oklahoma House and Senate leaders are focusing on different aspects of the plan that require cuts for 52 state agencies, increases to others and flat spending to seven more.
State Republican leaders are generally positive about the negotiated agreement while reactions from the Oklahoma Policy Institute and the Oklahoma Sierra Club describe their concerns.
Governor Mary Fallin: This is a responsible, realistic budget that makes tough, necessary cuts while adequately funding core government services. Writing the budget is our most important task, so the Legislature and I worked overtime this year to free up existing state resources to support top state priorities, even with a challenging revenue situation. Still, in a year with $188 million less to appropriate, we must continue to ask agencies to focus on eliminating waste and operating more efficiently.
I have always believed it was important – no matter the circumstances – to deliver more funding to Oklahoma public schools. The $80 million increase in K-12 funding shows that we are committed to supporting our teachers and improving education for Oklahoma children, even during tough budget times.
I’m also proud to deliver a budget that will help to improve safety measures for children in state custody, adequately fund the state’s eight-year transportation plan, and deliver pay raises to some public employees who have long been underpaid. My thanks go out to our legislators for working successfully with me and with each other on a responsible and realistic fiscal roadmap for the state.
Oklahoma Policy Institute Executive Director David Blatt: The budget deal is fiscally irresponsible and will do serious harm to Oklahoma’s most vulnerable citizens and those who care for them. Even in a growing economy, Oklahoma’s outdated tax system is not providing adequate revenue for the state’s most important obligations. As a result, much-needed funding increases in some areas will be paid for by raiding reserves and slashing health care for our most vulnerable citizens.
Oklahoma could accept billions in federal funds to extend health coverage to adults below the poverty line. Instead, this budget will result in hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to Medicaid services since it does not make up for a lost federal match. This budget means more cuts to Oklahoma’s mental health services, which need $21 million just to continue existing programs.
It reduces year-to-year funding for the Department of Corrections despite dangerous understaffing at state prisons that has already cost lives. By not taking care of our own, we are making problems more expensive over the long-run and risking costly federal intervention.
These cuts did not have to happen. They are a choice by lawmakers to ignore balanced revenue options while allowing wasteful tax breaks and loopholes to grow and multiply. Oklahomans deserve better.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi: I want to thank Gov. Fallin and the Legislature for recognizing the critical importance of our schools and taking action to boost school funding. These additional dollars are sorely needed. We all understand that this has been a challenging budget year. By committing to increase funds by a substantial amount, lawmakers have demonstrated that our children and teachers are the priority in Oklahoma.
The Oklahoma Chapter of the Sierra Club Director, David Ocam: This budget compromise compromises the health and safety of Oklahomans as well as well as the quality of our lands, waters and air. At a time when oil and gas production has dramatically increased, we are cutting the budgets of the Corporation Commission, Department of Environmental Quality and Water Resources Board. It is ludicrous that our inspectors are already stretched too thin with the massive increase in well-sites and are having to do far more work than ever before and now we’re going to force them to do it with fewer people.
State Rep. Scott Martin, R-Norman: I am extremely pleased to have reached a budget agreement with the Senate and Governor that reflects our commitment to the state’s core services and priorities. Going into this session, we knew there would be significant hurdles to overcome with a $188 million shortfall, but through a lot of hard work we have crafted a balanced budget that meets our constitutional obligations.
Through the use of targeted cuts and repurposing existing money, we were able to grant $105 million in new money to common education and provide $37.1 million in pay raises to the bottom two-thirds of our state employees who have not received a salary increase in the last seven years. On top of our Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers and correctional officers, 8,000 employees will see an increase in pay. I hope this is the first installment of many to reward our deserving staff. Both of these areas were huge priorities to the House and I’m thrilled to say we accomplished them.
Education will continue to be our top-funded priority and that is reflected in the sense that over the last two years we have allocated nearly $200 million of new revenue to common education. In addition, we furthered our commitment to the DHS Pinnacle plan to protect the least vulnerable in our society. Within the agreement we will see a transformative pension system for new state employees and a $120 million bond to repair our crumbling state Capitol.
State Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City: Some years ago, in its infinite wisdom, the State began a project in Oklahoma City, my community, our capital city, where two interstates intersect. That project is the American Indian Cultural Center & Museum. After four years of difficult negotiation and compromise, the Senate passed an extremely reasonable solution to the challenge of completing that project. That solution included $40 million in non-State donations and no tax dollars. Now, despite that, it appears there will not be a resolution this session.
If this result is allowed to stand, I believe it would be appropriate for the people of Oklahoma to question our competency. No one should beat their chests over a perceived victory. The State still has an $80 million problem on the Oklahoma River, in our capital city, at the most prominent location in my community. Hope springs eternal, or at least until Sine Die, but if this result stands, it will haunt my community for years, and it should haunt the legacy of those in this building who could have done something about it.
Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman: We knew from day one this session would be difficult fiscally. This budget protects core government services like education, public safety, transportation and health care, while making strategic cuts to other areas of government in order to balance our budget. Unlike Washington D.C., we have to balance our budget each year, which in a year with a $188 million shortfall requires tough decisions. Agencies have known all year they would have to do more with less and we know many have proactively begun to operate more efficiently in anticipation of these necessary and expected cuts. We were able to protect core services and continue our commitment to improving our state’s education system-given the budgetary challenges I think the people of Oklahoma can be proud of this budget.
House Speaker Jeff Hickman: Great effort has gone into this budget to protect public safety and ensure that we address compensation issues for state employees including State Troopers, Department of Corrections employees and child welfare workers. This budget also reflects the House of Representatives’ dedication to properly funding and improving education in Oklahoma. This year’s increase will further our goal of securing sufficient funds to promote student success and direct dollars to Oklahoma classrooms. Our agreement will also put in place a plan to make long overdue repairs to the Capitol Building and includes an oversight committee to ensure the project is completed in an efficient and fiscally conservative manner.