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Why did Oklahoma Department of Corrections ask for money when it has a surplus?

by Randy Ellis Modified: April 23, 2013 at 10:52 pm •  Published: April 23, 2013
/articleid/3801646/1/pictures/2032582">Photo - Steve Burrage <strong>Jim Beckel - THE OKLAHOMAN</strong>
Steve Burrage Jim Beckel - THE OKLAHOMAN

This is not an issue of malfeasance, Jones insisted.

“It's a change in philosophy about how we budget those accounts,” he said.

Jones said money in the Corrections Department's main revolving fund account traditionally has been used to fill gaps in budgets, cover deficits and pay for repairs and improvements that the Legislature declined to fund.

The fund was tapped to reduce the need for department furloughs a few years ago during the state budget crisis, he said.

“During the height of recession, it was almost zeroed out to reduce the amount of furlough days we were taking,” he said.

In recent years, after funds built back up, a majority of the money has been used to expand prison bed space in the private sector and to fund construction at minimum security prisons to expand bed space, he said. It also has been used for medical payments and for projects needed to protect the lives and safety of employees and inmates, Jones said.

“We haven't had any capital outlay money for infrastructure in more than two decades,” he said.

Jones said a $460,000 study in 2009 identified “$344 million in immediate life and safety issues.” Corrections officials have been using the revolving fund to gradually try to resolve some of those issues, he said.

Burrage, a former state auditor, said he understands how the department has been using the revolving funds, but believes the money should be budgeted up front, just like other state funds.

“I know what these agency heads are doing,” Burrage said. “They're hiding these funds in case they come up with a dry spell or something.

“But that still doesn't make it right to build these funds up,” he said.

Jones said the Corrections Department can budget revolving funds up front if that's what the Legislature wants, but he cautioned such a move would reduce the department's flexibility in dealing with unexpected problems and would likely require the agency to go back to the Legislature for supplemental appropriations more frequently.

Burrage said the three revolving fund accounts are expected to be discussed at the next Board of Corrections meeting, which will begin at 1 p.m. Thursday at the Hillside Community Corrections Center, 3300 N Martin Luther King Ave.

by Randy Ellis
Investigative Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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