Perhaps the most important job of the Legislature, and certainly one of the most challenging, is the Constitutional requirement to write and pass a balanced budget. Limited resources require careful prioritization of services to determine the best way to utilize the funds we’ve been entrusted to allocate.We knew early in the session there would be $188 million less to appropriate, but with carefully targeted reductions and the reprioritizing and reallocation of other resources, we did address many of the state’s more critical issues.
Earlier this session, thousands of educators came to the Capitol seeking additional funds. Even before their rally, identifying more resources for our public schools was one of my priorities this session. Our schools will receive an additional $80 million, with $40 million for increased insurance costs and $40 million that will go directly into the funding formula. In addition, the budget provides for an additional $25.5 million supplemental to make the ad valorem reimbursement fund whole.
I know this was a difficult year for our professional educators—especially when changes were being made in policy that directly impacted the classroom. Their first priority is to help Oklahoma’s children learn. As a former teacher, I understand how hard it is to see any child struggle, and I also know the joy of seeing children thrive. I want to thank our public school teachers for continuing to put kids first. Our teachers are the backbone of our communities and play a tremendous role in preparing our children to become tomorrow’s citizens and leaders.
Another issue of great concern is the fact that state employees have gone far too long without a raise. While we did not have the resources for an across the board pay increase for all state workers, we will be able to target key areas of public safety, including corrections officers and troopers, and in other categories as well.
The Fiscal Year 2015 budget includes $36.8 million for pay raises for 12,378 state employees, including corrections workers, state Highway Patrol troopers, child welfare workers, and the state’s most underpaid employees as identified by the state’s recent comprehensive employee compensation study.
You may have heard in the news that employees of the House of Representatives returned to work last Monday to find a four pound piece of concrete had broken away from a piece of rebar, and had crashed through the ceiling hitting a corner of a desk in a basement office. Fortunately it happened on a weekend when no one was in the office, or else someone could have been seriously injured. It was yet another example of the serious need to repair and restore the building. The good news is an agreement has been reached to approve a $120 million bond issue to repair and restore the People’s House.
Many agencies will see a budget reduction of 5.5 percent, but the budget will stay flat in many areas providing core services, including higher education and CareerTech, as well as the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the Military Department and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
Some targeted areas will see increases in their budget or supplemental appropriations. The Department of Human Services will receive a seven percent increase for the Pinnacle Plan, an ongoing effort to better protect Oklahoma children. Part of that increase will also be used to address the waiting list within their developmental disabilities services division. Mental Health will also receive an additional $1 million for drug court and for children’s mental health programs. In addition, the Medical Examiner will receive an increase of $2 million for costs associated with their new building in order to help regain national accreditation.
This was a very challenging budget, made more so by the decreased level of funds to appropriate. But through reprioritization and reallocation of funds and carefully targeted reductions, we were able to balance the budget, address the most pressing needs, and make a good faith effort to begin addressing the need for additional funds for education and more competitive salaries for valued state employees.
Please feel free to contact my Capitol office with any questions or concerns you may have at 405.521.5628 or at firstname.lastname@example.org