- Associated Press - Friday, May 16, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and legislative leaders announced a budget agreement Friday for the upcoming year that is $102 million less than the budget for the current year, but still increases funding for public schools by $80 million.

The budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1 includes targeted spending cuts and taps the accounts of several state agencies to close a $188 million shortfall - but avoids cuts to priority areas like public safety, higher education and mental health. The budgets of 52 other state agencies will receive cuts averaging 5.5 percent.

“This is a responsible, realistic budget that makes tough, necessary cuts while adequately funding core government services,” Fallin said. “Still, in a year with $188 million less to appropriate, we must continue to ask agencies to focus on eliminating waste and operating more efficiently.”

The $80 million increase to public schools brings the total increase in education funding to $154 million in the past two fiscal years. Local school districts will also receive a $25 million supplemental appropriation for the current fiscal year for reimbursement of taxes on property that is exempt from local taxation.

“We have gone to extraordinary lengths - even with a sluggish revenue year - to add substantial new resources to common education in Oklahoma,” Fallin said. “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.”

The budget plan includes an agreement on a $120 million, 10-year bond issue to repair and renovate the nearly 100-year-old state Capitol building, where a four-pound chunk of concrete crashed through an employee’s basement office last week and yellow barricades cordon off the building’s south side, where chunks of limestone and mortar have fallen from the facade.

“The bottom line is the building has to be addressed,” said House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview. “It’s the result of a tremendous investment by previous generations of Oklahomans. It’s our job to preserve that investment.”

Hickman said the proposal was a compromise developed by members of the House, where a $160 million, 25-year bond proposal for Capitol repairs was rejected last month. He said the 10-year plan will save as much as $100 million in interest payments over the life of the bond issue.

The Capitol bond issue was one of Fallin’s top legislative priorities.

“We have movement on a bond issue, which is a very important goal we had this year,” said Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa.

Hickman said no agreement has been reached on a proposed $40 million appropriation to complete the unfinished Native American Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City. A Senate-passed measure to appropriate the money was not heard in the House.

“I think it was a simply a matter of priorities,” Hickman said. “We know we have to do something with that facility. We just don’t have a plan today.”

The budget agreement increases the Department of Human Services budget by $44.6 million to continue sufficient funding of the Pinnacle Plan, the multiyear program aimed at improving the state’s child welfare services, and other initiatives.

It also includes $36.8 million for pay raises for 12,378 state employees, including corrections workers, Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers, child welfare workers and the employees identified as the state’s most underpaid according to a recent comprehensive employee compensation study. Workers at 25 state agencies will receive raises ranging from 5 percent to 13.5 percent.

The agreement would authorizes a total of $110 million in supplemental funding for the fiscal year that ends June 30 for school district property tax reimbursement as well as a reduction in provider rate cuts and service interruptions at the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, operational needs at the Department of Corrections, drought relief efforts and the maintenance of state property assets.

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