State’s 2020 Budget Announced
Ponca City Now - May 16, 2019 3:53 pm
By Sen. Bill Coleman
A historic $8.2 billion budget agreement has been reached – the highest budget in state history.
For the first time, teachers and state employees both got pay raises two years in a row. Oklahoma’s teachers will now have the highest pay and benefits in the region.
We’re also saving $200 million for future economic downturns to better protect state agencies, bringing our total savings to more than $1 billion for the first time.
Since getting into office, I’ve promised to work to continue increasing education funding. This budget proves that education is our state’s main priority. Public education will be receiving a $203 million boost. Common education will get nearly $158 million of that for the $1,220 teacher pay raise for schools on the formula, $5.5 million to fully fund the Reading Sufficiency Act for the first time ever, and more than $74 million for local schools to hire teachers, counselors and support staff or for whatever critical needs they have.
Career techs will also get $18 million for pay raises for their staff and teachers. Higher education will get another $28 million for research programs and a pay raise for college faculty. The Graduate Medical Education program will get nearly $63 million to support physician training for rural hospitals and improve healthcare in rural Oklahoma.
Besides state employees getting up to a $1,400 raise ($37.7 million), this budget also will help continue efforts to modernize and improve state government services through digitization ($15 million). It’ll fund ($1.7 million) the new Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) and another $700,000 will be used to hire more auditors to conduct additional audits of state agencies.
This budget fully funds ODOT’s 8-year plan as well as restores $30 million to the CIRB Fund for county roads.
Public safety was a top priority and funding will be provided for two new trooper academies, which will put an estimated 80 more troopers on the roads next year. Oklahoma’s prisons are at around 112 percent capacity and staffing levels are around 60 percent. The Department of Corrections is struggling with tremendous employee turnover. To help with recruitment, correctional officers will be provided with a $2/hour pay increase, which is a 14 percent raise bringing their pay to the regional average. Finally, $1 million will go towards reducing the backlog of untested rape kits statewide and, hopefully, find justice for those victims.
Reforming our criminal justice system was also a main concern. We approved numerous bills to adjust sentencing for nonviolent offenders as well as get these individuals the help (counseling, treatment, education, etc.) they need to become independent, productive citizens. Those reforms will require the state to utilize more mental health services ($1.7 million) as well as new Smart on Crime programs through the Department of Mental Health ($10 million) and the Women in Recovery diversion program ($1.5 million). We also provided an additional $20 million for our District Attorney offices so that they don’t have to depend so heavily on fees and fines.
This budget will also improve access to high quality health care especially in rural Oklahoma as I mentioned earlier. It’ll provide $105 million to increase provider rates for physicians, hospitals and nursing homes. We’ll also be saving $29 million in a new preservation fund to preserve Medicaid provider rates when the federal government’s 3-year rolling average results in a rate decline. Another $10 million will decrease the Developmental Disability Services wait list and increase provider rates and $4.6 million will increase immunizations and staff county health departments statewide.
As for agriculture, the budget will fund a public-private partnership to maintain clean water in Northeast Oklahoma and areas with high poultry density as well as hire another state veterinarian. The budget includes much-needed wildfire mitigation funding and additional resources for rural fire fighters and to improve rural flood control dams.
The budget seeks to grow our economy by prioritizing business recruitment opportunities through the Quick Action Closing Fund ($19 million) and for additional job growth and economic development in key industries ($1 million). It also provides another $1 million to assist new entrepreneurs and small business innovators through OCAST. Finally, $5.3 million will help modernize and expedite the Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s permit processing for energy development.
For more info, visit www.oksenate.gov.
You can contact me at the state Capitol by calling (405) 521-5581 or by email at [email protected]