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Oklahoma’s FY 2014 Budget is Questionable

May 28, 2014

This article was published in the Duncan Banner May 28, 2014.

The legislative year for Oklahoma is over, and the United States Legislature might as well be, when you take into account the minimal hours business is conducted with a Tuesday afternoon to Thursday noon workweek. The end of the Oklahoma Legislature means they can do no more harm until January 2015, unless called back by the Governor. The political climate in Washington D.C. precludes that body moving forward on anything of importance.
The hole left in Oklahoma’s social, safety and educational structure by the budget that was passed just as this session closed – one week before the constitutionally mandated time of the last Friday in May – is regrettable.
The Governor and Republican members of the Oklahoma Legislature are patting themselves on the back for an outstanding achievement when, actually, the budget has more holes in it than Swiss Cheese. The coming year’s (2015) budget is technically 102.3 Million Dollars less than the 2014 budget. What has not been advertised is the original cut-rate budget of 2014 has had over 110 Million Dollars of supplemental funding added to it in this legislative year. If the same holds true for Fiscal Year 2015, the actual cost of running the state government will be $7,231,824,517, at a minimum, not $7,121,824,517 as proclaimed.
To reduce the Fiscal Year 2015 Budget 102.3 Million Dollars and provide salary increases to State Highway Troopers, teachers, child welfare personnel and underpaid state employees (identified by a comprehensive compensation study), 52 agencies will be required to accept budget cuts of approximately 5.5 Percent.
In the 2014 Budget, allocated funds to seven agencies were untouched while twenty-nine agencies lost monies from their revolving and administrative funds.
Although 80 Million Dollars was added to the Education Budget, it still was lower than the budget of 291.7 Million Dollars in 2008
David Blatt, Executive Director for Oklahoma Policy Institute, had this to say, “The (2015) 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 Even in a growing economy, Oklahoma’s outdated tax system is not providing adequate revenue for the state’s most important obligations.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 needs $21 Million just to continue existing programs.
It reduces year-to-year funding for the Department of Corrections despite dangerous understaffing at state prisons which 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.”
One sunny aspect of this year’s Legislature was their denial of Governor Fallin’s scheme to lay more property taxes on individual families and businesses to build storm shelters to protect students while at school.
Our legislators went home this election cycle with only two State Questions for citizens to vote on this November. However, we may see two Initiatives added to our voters’ ballot if the necessary number of qualified signatures is acquired. They will speak to financing state-funded storm shelters and authorizing commercial cultivating of hemp and use of Marijuana for medicinal purposes. Both are a matter of moral conscience. First, shall we keep all of Oklahoma’s school children safe from tornados regardless of the financial ability to pay for the bonding Governor Fallin favors or spread the cost evenly by using state funds? Secondly, Marijuana legality is not only a moral judgment but also one which would bring the judicial laws of Oklahoma into the 21st Century.

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