Oklahoma finance officials have announced an additional $235 million in cuts amid the slump in oil and natural gas prices, saying schools, prisons and other state agencies will have their budgets slashed by 7 percent for the rest of the year.
Public schools alone will have nearly $110 million cut from their budgets for the fiscal year that ends June 30.
State Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger ordered the cuts, warning lawmakers about the seriousness of the state's finances. Lawmakers are facing a $1.3 billion budget hole for the upcoming fiscal year, which Doerflinger says could result in cuts "right through the bone."
Collections from every major source of revenue in Oklahoma have fallen short of projections amid a slump in oil and gas prices, prompting the mid-year reductions.
The Department of Corrections is struggling to figure out where the extra money will come from. At the Board of Corrections monthly meeting, members discussed prison overcrowding, understaffing, and the looming budget cuts, which are now at nearly $27.5 million for the Department of Corrections.
Interim Director Joe Allbaugh said the agency has enacted a department-wide hiring freeze, including for emergency personnel.
“That means correctional officers are going to be on hold. That just inhibits our ability to protect the population and the public. It's a dangerous situation,” he said.
Allbaugh also said staffing is currently around 70 percent for correctional officers, and turnover for those positions is approaching 35 percent. The interim director called furloughs a “last resort.”
The Commissioner for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Terri White tweeted she is “heartbroken to see additional cuts.”
These cuts are more than a number on a budget sheet. These are actual Oklahoma lives being impacted, families losing services.
— Terri White (@TerriWhiteOK) March 3, 2016
Chancellor of the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education Glen D. Johnson also released a statement about the additional cuts outlining the effects by the numbers. He said the cuts include $32 million to the state system of higher education in addition to the initial reduction of $24 million for the fiscal year ending July 2015. Funding is down nearly 11 percent for fiscal year 2016, or just over $106 million.
Democratic leaders in the House and Senate recommended the use of the state’s “rainy day” fund to cover $109 million in reductions to the Department of Education, and $63.8 million for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority.
“Especially in areas like public education, where personnel account for 85% of the funding, most of our school districts cannot afford to take the kind of cuts that the governor is asking of them,” House Democratic Leader Scott Inman said in a statement.
Earlier in the day, Oklahoma Treasurer Ken Miller announced February 2016 gross receipts were down by more that 10 percent compared to the same month last year. It was the 10th consecutive month of falling revenue collections.
“With oil prices off their 2014 peak by some 70 percent and our state’s anchor industry in the midst of correction, we have apparently not yet found the bottom and continue to see the spillover effect in all major revenue streams,” Miller said in a press release.
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