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Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin suggests tax cuts, agency budget reductions

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin on Monday gave her State of the State address and called on the Oklahoma Legislature to enact an income-tax cut and recommended that lawmakers cut most state agencies' budgets.
by Randy Ellis Modified: February 3, 2014 at 8:29 pm •  Published: February 3, 2014

The governor's executive budget suggested that the education funding increase be used for local school district operations, reading sufficiency programs, charter school building funds and teacher benefit costs.

The governor is asking that DHS be given an additional $36 million to “meet its obligations to improve and reform child welfare services, while giving child welfare workers a deserved pay increase to aid in their recruitment and retention.”

The governor's executive budget recommends a $5 million appropriation increase to the Department of Public Safety to pay for state trooper pay increases beginning Jan. 1, 2015. That would fund pay increases averaging roughly 22 percent, said Maj. Rusty Rhoades, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety. Even with that big bump in pay, beginning salaries still would be only 90 percent of the average of the top three paying law enforcement agencies in the state, he said.

Fallin is asking that the Corrections Department be given $2.4 million more for operational needs as determined by the agency's new director.

The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services is one of the few state agencies that would receive neither an increase nor decrease under Fallin's proposed budget. The governor noted that she had secured an additional $28.6 million in funding for the agency during her first term in office and said she was proposing to maintain current funding levels to ensure progress continues.

Fallin successfully pushed for agency consolidation during her first term and is back this year recommending more.

This time, Fallin is recommending that the state Arts Council, Historical Society, J.M. Davis Memorial Commission, Will Rogers Memorial Commission and Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission all be consolidated into the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department.

Fallin also wants to consolidate the Commission for Teacher Preparation into the Commission for Educational Quality and Accountability, a move she says will save the state 15 percent the first year.

State troopers and DHS child welfare workers were the only state employees set to receive targeted pay increases in Fallin's proposed budget.

However, the governor said she wants to “reform our current pay system to one that rewards performance over time served.”

Fallin said she also wants the Legislature to switch newly hired state employees from a traditional defined benefit pension plan to a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan.

Much of the governor's speech resembled a Republican pep rally.

She touted the accomplishments of her administration and the Republican-dominated Legislature in passing legislation designed to deter frivolous lawsuits.

She also praised the Legislature for enacting laws to convert Oklahoma's workers' compensation system from a judicial-based system to an administrative system.

Oklahoma's unemployment rate, which stood at 7.2 percent when Fallin took office, “is now down to 5.4 percent,” she said. “Oklahoma families have seen their incomes rise by 6.3 percent since January 2011.”