A state budget deal announced by legislative leaders Friday includes the biggest pay raise in years for thousands of troopers, prison guards, child welfare workers and other state employees.
The plan also calls for the largest repair and refurbishment of the crumbling state Capitol since it opened nearly a century ago.
Gov. Mary Fallin and legislative leaders agreed on a budget that includes $36.8 million for pay hikes from 5 percent to 13.5 percent for 12,378 state employees at 25 agencies. This is the most extensive pay improvement plan for state employees in eight years.
The pay raises take effect July 1, except for the troopers, whose pay will go up on Jan. 1.
Sean Wallace, executive director for Oklahoma Corrections Professionals, said the increase is welcome, but still leaves prison guards so underpaid that it will be hard to attract people to fill open positions. Prisons are so short-staffed that most correctional officers are required to work 60 hours a week.
“Starting pay for corrections officers will increase by less than a dollar to $12.77, from $11.83,” he said. “According to the OCP survey released last fall, Oklahoma’s starting pay for corrections officers will move up from 47th in the nation to 45th, as long as other states’ starting pay remains the same.”
Education, Capitol fix
Individual bills to implement the deal are to be voted on through next week, setting up adjournment of the legislative session as early as Friday.
The state Education Department gets $80 million in new funding, a 3.3 percent hike.
“We have gone to extraordinary lengths — even with a sluggish revenue year — to add substantial new resources to common education in Oklahoma,” Fallin said.
Common education funding became a big issue this session after an estimated 25,000 teachers and others streamed to the Capitol on March 31 to demand more money for schools.
A bond measure to fix plumbing, electrical and exterior problems at the state Capitol was also at the forefront this year, as limestone pieces continue to drop off the outside of the building and plumbing problems sometimes result in a sewage smell in the building.
Monday, a worker in the basement discovered a four-pound chunk of concrete had dropped from the ceiling into his office over the weekend. This happened in an area of the Capitol where an old floor drain backed up recently, soaking the carpet with smelly water.
In announcing the budget agreement Friday, legislative leaders said they had agreed on a $120 million, 10-year bond measure to fix the building after years of delays in refurbishment plans. Under the proposal, the Legislature would directly authorize the bonds without the need for a public vote.
House Speaker Jeff Hickman called the repairs long overdue and noted that an oversight committee would ensure the project is completed “in an efficient and fiscally conservative manner.”
Other budget items
The deal called for flat budgets for the Health Care Authority, higher education and vocation-technology education, among other agencies.
A small budget increase was included for state Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, with this focused on funding for drug courts. A total of 52 agencies received reduced appropriations, with most reductions at 5.5 percent.
The Department of Environmental Quality took a 21.1 percent cut, dropping its funding by $1.9 million.
The budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 is roughly $7.12 billion, which is $102.1 million, or 1.4 percent, less than the previous year’s budget.
The governor said the budget required some spending cuts to close a $188 million shortfall in appropriations funds.
The agreement increases the Department of Human Services budget by $44.6 million to continue sufficient funding of the Pinnacle Plan, the multi-year program aimed at improving the state’s child welfare services.
“This is a responsible, realistic budget that makes tough, necessary cuts while adequately funding core government services,” Fallin said.
What they said
•State Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City: “Some years ago, in its infinite wisdom, the state began a project in Oklahoma City, my community, our capital city, where two interstates intersect. That project is the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum. After four years of difficult negotiation and compromise, the Senate passed an extremely reasonable solution to the challenge of completing that project. That solution included $40 million in nonstate donations and no tax dollars. Now, despite that, it appears there will not be a resolution this session. If this result is allowed to stand, I believe it would be appropriate for the people of Oklahoma to question our competency. No one should beat their chests over a perceived victory. The state still has an $80 million problem on the Oklahoma River, in our capital city, at the most prominent location in my community.”
•Gov. Mary Fallin: “I have always believed it was important — no matter the circumstances — to deliver more funding to Oklahoma public schools. The $80 million increase in K-12 funding shows that we are committed to supporting our teachers and improving education for Oklahoma children, even during tough budget times.”
•Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman: “This budget protects core government services like education, public safety, transportation and health care, while making strategic cuts to other areas of government in order to balance our budget. Unlike Washington, D.C., we have to balance our budget each year, which in a year with a $188 million shortfall requires tough decisions.”
•Sean Wallace, executive director of Oklahoma Corrections Professionals : “We appreciate the Legislature recognizing the need for a pay raise and that they appropriated funding to pay for one, but the employees are in a desperate situation right now and this is only a fraction of what they need.”
•House Speaker Jeff Hickman: “Great effort has gone into this budget to protect public safety and ensure that we address compensation issues for state employees including state troopers, Department of Corrections employees and child welfare workers.”
•David Ocamb, executive director of the Sierra Club’s Oklahoma chapter: “This budget compromise compromises the health and safety of Oklahomans as well as the quality of our lands, waters and air. At a time when oil and gas production has dramatically increased, we are cutting the budgets of the Corporation Commission, Department of Environmental Quality and Water Resources Board.”
•Higher Education Chancellor Glen Johnson: “We are very pleased that Gov. Fallin and our Legislature finalized the FY15 budget with no funding reductions for our state system of higher education, making higher education an important priority for the coming fiscal year.”