My last bill of the session was signed by the Governor this week! House Bill 1911 amends qualifications to serve as a member of the Oklahoma State Board of Examiners for Long-Term Care Administrators to allow for a wider pool of talented applicants. I appreciate all my colleagues’ support of this bill throughout the legislative process. This was my eighth bill signed into law this year: four House bills and four Senate bills.
With the end of session drawing closer, I joined my colleagues in the Legislature and the Governor to announce our budget agreement on Wednesday. This year’s historic budget does not require any new taxes and puts away $200M in savings while also increasing the state’s investment in core services by 5%.
The budget includes an average $1,220 pay raise for teachers, which would bring Oklahoma to number one in the region for teacher pay total compensation package. An additional $74 million is going directly into the classroom to provide for the needs of our teachers and students. We’re also introducing $18M for career tech centers to increase pay for employees and teachers, as well as $28M for higher education to bolster research programs and provide a salary increase for professors. With this budget, our investment in education is the largest in state history and has risen over 26% over the last two years, which is an example of our commitment to education in Oklahoma.
For the first time in state history, we will increase Oklahoma’s savings account by choice, without the law enforcing it, by investing $200M into our savings account to protect core services during difficult economic times. We are also projecting a deposit of approx. $450M into our rainy day savings account by June 2019, which will bring our total state rainy day savings accounts and planned savings with next year’s budget to a total savings of approx. $1.1B. This will get us over halfway to the Governor‘s goal of $2B in reserves by end of his first term, which is about 25% of our annual appropriations.
I believe that we should have a strong savings account since our state is so dependent on the commodity price of oil and gas, which is very volatile as we are all too familiar with in our state’s cyclical economy. Saving while our economy is doing well will help prevent severe agency cuts or tax increases next time we face an economic downturn. This is the same approach I take with my own personal and business finances, and I’m glad to see the state is taking this approach as well. This new approach should help stabilize our state government, as well as our business environment, from the previous years of uncertainty and set us up for long-term success to become a Top 10 state.
This budget also focuses on rural healthcare by providing $62.8M for Graduate Medical Education program to support physician training for rural hospitals. About $5M will go to county health departments across the state to increase immunizations and hire new staff. We’ve also given 5% provider rates for nursing homes and an increase in mental health funding. Healthcare in rural Oklahoma is struggling and we’re taking steps to help improve it.
For the first time in state history, we will fully fund our roads and bridges programs and will also restore $30M back to the County Roads and Bridges Program. The state redistributed money from that fund to use to balance the budget during the downturn years. This money will be very helpful for rural counties and District 51.
The budget also includes a $2/hour pay raise for correctional officers, which is a 14% increase. This will bring Oklahoma’s correctional officer pay to the regional market average, which in turn helps the Department’s recruitment efforts to fill numerous vacancies. Part of the budget includes an additional state employee pay raise of up to $1,300. This builds on the pay raises given in 2019 of up to $2,000 per employee.
This budget also appropriates $2M to crisis pregnancy centers in Oklahoma to help better fund pro-life centers in Oklahoma that are very critical in supporting women that choose life instead of abortions.
While no budget is ever perfect, this budget meets the needs of many of our state agencies that have seen severe cuts in recent years and also many priorities we set for ourselves this session based on the feedback of our constituents.
As the end of this legislative session nears, I encourage you to reach out with questions or concerns about legislation. You can contact me at (405) 557-7405 or firstname.lastname@example.org. God bless!
Rep. Brad Boles represents District 51 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, which includes Grady, McClain and Stephens Counties.