- Associated Press - Monday, June 1, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Legislation that funds state government and services for the upcoming year while closing a $611 million budget shortfall was signed into law Monday by Gov. Mary Fallin.

Although most state agencies will receive budget cuts ranging from about 1 percent to 7.25 percent, Fallin praised the general appropriations bill for closing the massive budget hole without cutting funding for public education and schools.

“Under this budget, approximately 51 cents of every dollar appropriated by state government will continue to go toward education,” Fallin said of the bill, which funds the agencies starting July 1. “The budget also protects - and in some cases increases - funding for health and public safety while preserving all funding necessary to keep intact the state’s eight-year transportation plan, as well as the five-year county road-and-bridge plan.”

The budget is $74.3 million, or about 1 percent, less than the current fiscal year’s appropriated budget. But critics have said the budget plan does not do enough to rein in millions of dollars’ worth of costly tax credits, deductions and incentives.

The bill, approved by the House and Senate in the final days of the 2015 Oklahoma Legislature, is among 17 bills Fallin signed into law Monday. It plugs almost the entire budget hole with one-time revenue sources, including $150 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund - the first time it’s been tapped to help balance the state budget since Fallin took office in 2011.

Eight agencies will receive appropriation increases, including the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the state’s Medicaid provider, which will receive $18 million more; the Department of Public Safety, which will get $4.6 million more for trooper pay raises; and the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, which will get $2 million more.

Another 12 agencies, including the Department of Education, will receive flat appropriations, and about 50 other agencies will receive budget cuts under the plan.

The shortfall also was filled in part by siphoning $50 million from the Unclaimed Property Fund. The fund has a balance of about $90 million and is funded from things such as unclaimed life insurance policies, oil and gas royalty payments and paychecks. Another $125 million was diverted from 40 revolving funds, and budget writers diverted about $70 million from a program that funds improvements to county roads and bridges to help close the budget shortfall.

Some lawmakers have asked Fallin to call a special session to address county roads and bridges damaged or destroyed by heavy flooding and record-breaking rainfall in May. The House’s Democratic leader, Rep. Scott Inman, has said he wants the Legislature to access as much as $175 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to help county commissioners pay for extensive damage.

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