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.”
• The area of health and human services received a 1.2 percent cut.
• Department of Human Services was cut 1.1 percent.
• Health Department was cut 4.2 percent.
• Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Department was cut 0.3 percent.
• The Public Safety Department, which includes the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, got a 4 percent cut.
• The Corrections Department received a cut of 0.5 percent. The reduction should prevent further furloughs for prison employees, according to the governor's office.
• The state Transportation Department received a cut of 7 percent; $100 million will be taken from its revolving fund and transferred to the state's general revenue fund where it can be used for the state budget. A bill will be introduced to allow the Transportation Department to seek a $70 million bond issue so projects in its eight-year building plan can remain on schedule.
Bill expected this week
House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, said the budget will be included in a bill that will be brought up Thursday by a House committee and could be heard on the House floor Friday.
Fallin proposed 3 percent cuts to core agencies of education, transportation, public safety and health and human services in her State of the State message to legislators in early February. She called for 5 percent cuts for most of the other agencies.
It's no surprise the cuts will be higher than what Fallin suggested. The size of her cuts depended on some ideas she had to raise money and to reduce expenses. Legislators balked at many of them.
The alternative was either bigger agency cuts or tax increases.
Republican legislative leaders and Fallin strongly oppose tax increases.
Fallin said she had assurances from Steele and Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, to keep alive bills this session that would consolidate some agencies and allow others to share information technology services, which could bring about savings.
The budget calls for eliminating the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission. Its $571,258 budget was transferred to the state attorney general's office, which is taking over the duties of the Human Rights Commission. The attorney general's office also is taking over state payments of $904,000 to Legal Aid attorneys; while the attorney general's office reflects an 8.3 percent increase, it actually is a 3 percent decrease, an agency spokeswoman said.
This fiscal year is the third straight year agencies' state revenues have come in less than in the previous year as the state deals with an economic slowdown caused largely by the national recession. Some agencies have had their budgets cut by as much as 20 percent during that period.
Legislators must come up with a budget for the upcoming fiscal year before they adjourn. The session is scheduled to end May 27, but legislators could vote to adjourn earlier if they get their business wrapped up.