This year's state budget agreement is notable not only for what it contains, but what it doesn't.
No one seriously denies prison funding needs, yet the Department of Corrections didn't get an extra dime. That may be due to the governor and legislative leaders' displeasure with DOC Director Justin Jones, who's been accused of playing fast and loose with money in revolving funds.
Still, if this budget snub targets Jones, thousands of correctional officers are paying the price. Their starting salary is $11.83 per hour, lower than rates in neighboring states and local oil field jobs.
That leaves prisons significantly understaffed. Only 62 percent of correctional officer positions are filled, a situation that can be life-threatening for officers. Not surprisingly, qualified applicants aren't lining up to risk their lives when they can earn more money elsewhere without the threat of being shanked.
Meantime the number of state troopers is at a 22-year low. Last year's Oklahoma Highway Patrol Academy, the first held in three years, graduated 30 troopers — but 24 others retired. Five of six bordering states pay troopers more. Yet the Department of Public Safety received only $522,000 extra.
Lawmakers considered providing raises to both groups. One bill would have designated $12.2 million to, in part, raise correctional officers' salaries to $14 per hour. Another measure would have provided $7.3 million to bump OHP salaries.
So what was included in the budget? The Legislature — the House, Senate, and Legislative Service Bureau — received a combined increase of $7 million on top of last year's $2 million increase. That includes $5 million to remodel currently unused Capitol offices.
Why not use that $5 million for correctional officers or state troopers? It wouldn't meet all needs, but would provide a good start. Instead, Oklahomans are left to wonder if the governor and lawmakers value refurbished offices more than public safety.