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$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

• 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.