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M. Scott Carter
M. Scott Carter

M. Scott Carter reports on politics, legislation and other issues from the State Capitol.

State lawmakers unveiled a fiscal year 2016 budget Tuesday that would keep funding for common education flat but cut appropriatons for colleges and universities by $24.1 million.

Oklahoma’s common education system would receive $2.484 billion, the same amount it received in 2015. The state’s CareerTech education system would see a 3.5 percent decrease in its budget, or about $4.8 million.

The flat common-education budget will likely dash a proposal to increase teacher pay and expand the number of school days.

Legislative leaders finalized the $7.187 billion budget deal following weeks of difficult negotiations. “In light of the money issues we were facing, it’s a good budget,” said Preston Doerflinger, state Secretary of Finance.

House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, said the agreement for the 2016 fiscal year budget is $37 million less than last year’s budget. However, the new budget also includes $48.7 million in supplemental appropriations for fiscal year 2015.

Hickman said the agreement includes an $18 million increase in funding for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, a $14 million increase for the Department of Corrections and a $2 million increase for the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

In addition, the Department of Public Safety would receive an extra $4.6 million to cover the cost of pay increases for state troopers, which was authorized last year. The Office of Juvenile Affairs would get an extra $2.5 million for operations costs.

The budget would earmark $15.9 million to fund the state’s Pinnacle Plan, which is  aimed at improving the foster care system. Yet even with that increase, the Department of Human Services, which oversees the foster care system, would have its total budget shaved by about 0.5 percent.

Three other agencies —  the Department of Rehabilitative Services, the Oklahoma School of Science and Math and the Oklahoma Ethics Commission — would see modest increases in their budgets.

House Budget Chairman Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, said lawmakers used more than $589 million in agency and reserve funds to fill the budget hole. Sears said lawmakers took $150 million from the “rainy day” fund, $50 million from the unclaimed property fund, $125 million from agency revolving funds and $121 million from the cash flow reserve fund to help fill the $611 million budget gap.

They also used $50 million from the county improvement roads and bridges fund, $31.4 million from the Oklahoma Tax Commission’s compliance initiative program, $24.4 million in funds that were made available by changes in the workers’ compensation insurance premium tax and $8.5 million from the Tax Commission’s fraud initiative program.

The legislature also set caps on several funding programs, including the county improvement roads and bridges fund and the tourism sales and use tax program. Those changes generated about $30 million which was used to balance the budget. The remainder of the gap would be covered by agency spending reductions, Hickman said.

Some agencies will see budget cuts of up to 7.25 percent.


Note: Some of the agencies listed below show significant cuts for fiscal 2016 that reflect not a cut in their operations budgets,  but the loss of a one-time appropriation given in fiscal 2015. Those agencies include the Oklahoma Ethics Commission and the Department of Commerce. For other agencies, such as the Workers Compensation Commission, the large cut reflects a change of the funding source, not a cut or elimination of their operational budgets.

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