Let's tap Oklahoma Rainy Day Fund to build new medical examiner's office

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: July 12, 2012

OKLAHOMA'S Rainy Day Fund, down to its last few dollars just 18 months ago, has swelled again to a comfortable level. The fund's $556 million balance is only $40 million shy of the record amount it contained at the beginning of fiscal year 2009.

The recession drained the fund. Policymakers used most of it to deal with revenue shortfalls in the past two fiscal years. Deposits made during the past 12 months are evidence that the state is rebounding, but the recent past should provide all the incentive Gov. Mary Fallin needs to closely guard the fund against those who say they need it to deal with an emergency.

We're all for that approach and are thankful Fallin's predecessor, Brad Henry, resisted most calls to tap the fund for one reason or another. One of those unanswered calls came from us in January 2006, when we urged Henry to use Rainy Day Fund money to help financially strapped rural fire departments pay the costs associated with a frightful and damaging stretch of wildfires.

A different sort of emergency exists today. It's the state medical examiner's office, whose duties are among the most important in all of state government but whose facility is a crowded, outdated embarrassment. The ME's office is in such bad shape that this spring, a 42-year-old cooler used to store corpses broke down. The office had to use refrigeration trucks until a repair could be made.

In 2009, the National Association of Medical Examiners revoked the accreditation of the ME's office. So when Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Eric Pfeifer or one of his staff testifies at a murder trial about an autopsy report or the like, any defense attorney worth his salt will be quick to ask, “Is your office nationally accredited?” The answer — no — is no help to prosecutors.

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