Darrell Weaver recalls the last time the state struggled to make ends meet. Weaver, now the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs director, was working with agents who were trying to stop the drug trade here in 2003, when the state suffered a $700 million shortfall. "It was just a very lean time. I remember there was a limit on everything,” Weaver said. "You never know. Did we lose ground to the drug dealers at that time? It’s hard to know. Maybe, maybe not. But now, just like many households, we’re going to have to adjust our budgets.” The Board of Equalization on Monday certified revenue projects for the next budget year that are 4.4 percent less than this year’s standstill budget. Figures show the state budget will shrink to $6.8 billion from $7.1 billion. Gov. Brad Henry said the state will continue to make education, human services and health care priorities with less funds available, but state agencies should be prepared to make "surgical” cuts.
What would be cut?Agencies are going to have to compete for funding as lawmakers set priorities. State agencies have requested about $1.6 billion, according to figures from the Office of State Finance. The agencies made requests in October, before revenue projections showed the state will see less money next fiscal year. Without additional money, some programs could go unfunded. One of those programs could be the Prescription Monitoring Program, which tracks people who fill prescriptions for regulated painkillers. The program began in 2006 and has been funded by a federal grant that ends this summer. Weaver said the department needs an extra $300,000 to keep staff members who oversee the program. Oklahoma has one of the highest rates of painkiller usage in the country, Weaver said. Oklahomans take about 120 million painkiller pills a year, according to the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. About 83 percent of drug overdoses in Oklahoma are from prescription drugs, he said. "It’s like a slow cancer in our communities,” he said. Priorities could shift with limited resources. Common education gets the largest allocation of the budget, with about 40 percent of funds going to schools. The Department of Human Services gets about 9 percent and the Department of Corrections gets about 8 percent. Smaller agencies hope their needs are not ignored when priorities are set. The Tourism and Recreation Department gets about $27 million a year and is accustomed to running on a lean budget, said Hardy Watkins, executive director of the agency. "We’re an economic engine for the state,” Watkins said. "Our appropriation is such a small part of the state budget, so any cuts have the potential to hurt.”