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May 28, 2014

Oklahoma’s FY 2015 Budget is questionable

DUNCAN — 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 Even in a growing economy, Oklahoma’s outdated tax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.

Kenneth Wells 580-444-2563 twinnwells@gmail.com

 

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