The Oklahoma House of Representatives on Tuesday voted 68-23 to grant the Oklahoma Department of Corrections a $13 million supplemental appropriation to help the agency pay its bills for the current fiscal year.
The bill will now go to the governor, who is expected to sign it once she makes sure everything is in order, said Michael McNutt, the governor’s press secretary.
State Rep. Scott Martin, House author of the bill, said money to fund the supplemental appropriation will come from $132 million in carry-over funds from last fiscal year.
State Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, debated against the bill, contending it violates the Oklahoma Constitution by covering more than one topic. He argued it also violates a requirement that surplus funds be used to pay the state’s bonded indebtedness.
Reynolds said the Corrections Department apparently has overspent its appropriated funds and is seeking a bailout to pay its bills.
Jerry Massie, spokesman for the Corrections Department, said part of the funding crisis is due to department officials discovering in March that the department had 1,500 more state inmates than they were aware of backed up into county jails.
Martin said the supplemental appropriation is needed to help pay bills owed to private prisons and county jails for housing inmates.
Failure to pass the bill would result in inmates being recalled from private prisons and housed in state prison gymnasiums and day rooms, said Martin, R-Norman.
The Corrections Department originally request $27 million to pay its bills through June, including $10 million owed to private prisons, $6 million for medical services and $11 million owed to county sheriffs for housing state inmates backed up into county jails, Martin said.
Martin said the new corrections director agreed to fund part of that amount by tapping three Corrections Department revolving funds.
One of the funds contains revenues derived from prison canteen sales and inmate telephone calls. A second revolving fund gets revenues from probation and parole fees, medical co-pays and from offenders on work release who must give the state portions of their salaries. The third revolving fund is used to operate prison industries.
The director already has tapped money from the first two funds, but needed permission from the Legislature to take money from the prison industries revolving fund, which is used to operate prison businesses like furniture manufacturing.
The bill contains a provision that would give the corrections director authority over the prison industries revolving fund. The fund currently contains about $6 million and the director is proposing to use about $4 million of that to help pay bills while using the rest to continue operating prison businesses, Martin said.
The Corrections Department’s handling of revolving funds was at the heart of a major rift that developed between Gov. Mary Fallin and former Corrections Department Director Justin Jones shortly before Jones announced his resignation last June.
Cash funds ‘grossly’ under reported
The rift began when the governor discovered that the department had initiated an urgent $6.4 million supplemental appropriation request at a time when it had $22 million in revolving funds. The rift escalated when The Oklahoman reported that corrections officials had grossly under reported the amount of cash held in two of its revolving funds to the governor as she was preparing her state budgets two years in a row.
An investigation by The Oklahoman subsequently revealed the existence of about 2,700 state agency accounts, some of which contained money designated for specific purposes, while others contained money squirreled away for emergencies, tied up in legislative squabbles or abandoned and all but forgotten.
In the governor’s executive budget, Fallin indicated about $830 million is contained in state agency revolving funds and proposed that about a tenth of that amount, or $83 million, be tapped to help fund the state budget for next fiscal year.
John Estus, spokesman for the state Office of Management Enterprise Services, confirmed that state lawmakers will be tapping various agency revolving funds to help fund next fiscal year’s budget, but said he couldn’t say how much would be obtained from revolving funds at this point because that is the subject of ongoing budget negotiations.