A $7.1 billion budget deal for the upcoming fiscal year does not include an across-the-board increase for Oklahoma’s approximately 34,000 state employees, including correctional officers and state troopers.
The budget agreement represents a 3.9 percent increase in legislative appropriations, or about $267 million, for the 2014 fiscal year compared with this fiscal year, which ends June 30. Lawmakers could take up the budget as early as next week, making it likely lawmakers could finish their business at least a week before their May 31 deadline.
Despite the increased funding, the budget calls for neither an increase for state employees nor a one-time bonus for eligible state workers, as some legislators suggested.
The budget does include an additional $7 million to pay for legislative operations and to renovate vacant space in the state Capitol into legislative offices and committee rooms.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, said the House and Senate will each get an increase of $1 million for the 2014 fiscal year, just as they did this fiscal year, to pay for operating costs. Another $5 million is earmarked to turn space on the Capitol’s 2nd floor that used to house the state Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals into offices and committee rooms for lawmakers.
“We’ve got a tremendous amount of space that we need to put into use,” he said.
Cramped legislative offices on the 3rd floor also will be addressed as will parts of the 5th and 4th floors, Jolley said. It was decided not to use any of the $120 million that will be allocated the next two years to pay for Capitol repairs, such as flaking limestone from the exterior and plumbing and electrical problems.
Gov. Mary Fallin said the budget includes $200,000 for a study to look at the pay of state employees with the goal to move toward a performance-based compensation system. The study also will look at what private businesses are paying workers who perform similar tasks as state employees.
State employees haven’t had an across-the-board increase since October 2006. Fallin said some agencies have provided pay increases for their employees since then.
Sterling Zearley, executive director of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, said lack of raises results in higher turnover rates among employees and unfilled positions at state agencies.
“While there is some indication that Oklahoma is slowly moving toward improving how it compensates its workers, lawmakers have completely ignored state employees who work in our correctional facilities, care for our veterans, protect our children and seniors, keep our streets safe and see that our state’s infrastructure is sound,” Zearley said.
Lawmakers during this session discussed the plight of state correctional officers. Several said higher pay for correctional officers is needed to combat higher wages and better hours offered by private employers. Only 62 percent of the Corrections Department’s 5,800 authorized correctional officer positions are filled.
The House of Representatives passed a measure that would have increased the starting pay for correctional officers from $11.83 per hour to $14 per hour; all other employees would receive a 5 percent pay increase. It would have cost $12.2 million.
The House and the Senate overwhelmingly approved a measure that called for a 16 percent pay raise for state troopers. Troopers, who haven’t had a raise in pay since January 2007, now rank 16th among law enforcement agencies in the state.
“Everybody felt that we should get something this year and this will absolutely destroy our morale,” said Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper Keith Barenberg, president of the Oklahoma State Troopers Association.
The Public Safety Department will receive an increase of $522,000, which will increase its budget for the upcoming fiscal year to $90.4 million. But the extra money is earmarked for the Homeland Security Office, is charged with creating an Oklahoma School Security Institute to help schools deal with security concerns. The legislation was passed as a result of the Sandy Hook Elementary School gun massacre in December.
The budget doesn’t include any increased money for the state’s overcrowded and understaffed prisons in the upcoming fiscal year because of concerns over how the agency manages its funds, Fallin said.
Corrections officials reported to the governor last year that the agency had more than $8 million in two accounts; state finance records indicated the amounts actually were more than $17 million.
Fallin said her office and legislative budget committee chairmen want to review the agency’s finances before allocating additional money.
Asked if she has lost confidence in Corrections Department Director Justin Jones, Fallin said she would withhold comment until after the agency’s records are reviewed.