$6.5 billion Oklahoma budget deal calls for deeper cuts to education

Oklahoma legislators and Gov. Mary Fallin hammer out $6.5 billion deal, which calls for using cash reserves and several revolving funds. Education overall got a 4.7 percent cut, while health and human services were cut 1.2 percent overall.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Published: May 11, 2011

Public schools and higher education will face their biggest cuts in years in a state budget agreement announced Tuesday by legislative leaders and Gov. Mary Fallin.

Budget cuts for agencies range from less than 1 percent to 9 percent as the Republican leadership, who control the Legislature and the governor's office at the same for the first time in history, wrestled with a $500 million shortfall for the 2012 fiscal year beginning July 1.

House Appropriations and Budget Committee Chairman Earl Sears said leaders aren't upset with public education.

“It wasn't that they fell out of favor,” said Sears, R-Bartlesville. “It's just at this particular time that their cuts were not as small as they have been in the previous years.”

The $6.5 billion package, which has yet to win legislative approval, is 3.2 percent less than this fiscal year's budget of $6.7 billion.

Unlike last year's budget framers, legislative leaders and Fallin had no state savings or federal stimulus funds to shore up the budget. State officials last year used about $1.2 billion of one-time funds to balance the current fiscal year budget.

Legislators were authorized to spend $6.3 billion this session, but the agreement includes using about $200 million from cash reserves and various revolving fund accounts to increase the total to $6.5 billion.

State Finance Director Preston Doerflinger said it was unknown how many state jobs could be lost with the cuts.

Public schools are targeted for a 4.1 percent cut, and higher education and CareerTech are to be cut 5.8 percent each.

Plans are to pass legislation this session to provide a one-time allocation of $21 million to public schools, higher education and CareerTech to help make up for the cuts. That action would reduce the cut to public schools to 3.8 percent and cuts to higher education and CareerTech would end up being cut about 4.8 percent.

“While we are disappointed that higher education will experience a 5.8 percent budget cut with a $10 million supplemental appropriation, we certainly support the agreement announced today by the governor and the House and Senate leadership and thank them for their efforts,” Higher Education Chancellor Glen Johnson said.

Fallin, who has two children in her household in college, said she hopes the higher education cuts won't translate into tuition increases.

“I've asked higher ed, frankly, to help me find ways to make their operations more efficient, more effective,” Fallin said. “That is how you keep from having tuition increases and how we can help minimize the cuts that they will be experiencing.”

Other agencies

• The area of health and human services received a 1.2 percent cut.

• Department of Human Services was cut 1.1 percent.

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