- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 20, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Budget negotiators for the Oklahoma House, Senate and Gov. Mary Fallin’s office announced a $7.1 billion agreement Tuesday that funds state government for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Here are some of the winners and losers in that budget:

HEALTH CARE AUTHORITY

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the state’s Medicaid provider that funds health care services to low income adults and children, will receive an $18 million boost in its budget from the state, increasing funding about 2 percent over its current budget to $971 million.

Agency CEO Nico Gomez has said because of a reduction in federal money, the program needed a funding increase to maintain services at current levels for the more than 800,000 young, elderly and disabled Oklahomans it serves each month.

“For the Medicaid patients, this means we’re going to be able to maintain a very viable network of health care providers because we’re going to be able to avoid a broad provider rate cut,” Gomez said.

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CORRECTIONS

The Department of Corrections, which oversees the incarceration of about 28,000 state inmates as well as paroled former inmates and others serving probation, will receive a $14 million increase, pushing its budget up about 3 percent to about $485 million.

“We deeply appreciate the efforts of the Legislature not only in the appropriations but in other legislation this session,” said agency Director Robert Patton.

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PUBLIC SAFETY

The Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, will receive a $4.6 million boost in its budget, a boost of almost 5 percent in its current budget to $100 million.

A spokesman for the agency, Lt. Randy Rogers, said public safety officials have not had adequate time to study the budget plan and declined comment.

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HUMAN SERVICES

The Department of Human Services, which supervises the state’s foster child program and provides other services to vulnerable Oklahomans, will receive an additional $4 million, an increase of less than 1 percent that will boost its annual budget to about $679 million.

Sheree Powell, communications director for the agency, said although the agency’s total budget rose, the proposal actually represents a budget cut of $11.8 million because it is required to spend $15.8 million next year on the Pinnacle Plan, the five-year effort to reform the state’s child welfare system.

Powell said the agency is facing a $33.4 million hole in its current budget due to increased costs associated with an increase in the number of children in foster care and an increase in the number of adoptions in the state.

There are currently 11,300 children in foster care in Oklahoma, Powell said. The agency is also receiving less federal matching funds for various programs it administers, she said.

“We are making our best efforts to protect our client services as much as possible, but with these budget numbers it’s going to be impossible not to affect our clients in some way,” she said.

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EDUCATION

The Department of Education, which funds public education and receives the largest appropriation of state tax dollars, will receive a standstill budget of almost $2.5 billion, the same as the current year’s budget.

The budget proposal does not include a pay raise for the state’s public teachers, a goal of first-year Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister. Education officials have said low salaries are a principal reason why Oklahoma has about 1,000 fewer teachers than it needs.

A spokesman for the agency, Phil Bacharach, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.

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HIGHER EDUCATION

State colleges and universities receive a $24 million cut in state funding in the proposed budget, reducing funding to about $963 million.

In March, Higher Education Chancellor Glen Johnson told the Senate Committee on Appropriations that a 2.6 percent cut would reduce funding by almost $25 million for colleges and universities, including cuts of more than $6 million to both the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University systems. The budget cut would mean the elimination of 102 academic courses and the loss of at least 79 faculty members, Johnson said.

Johnson said the budget proposal includes payment of $8.6 million in debt service from a 2005 higher education bond issue.

“The State Regents and our 25 public colleges and universities remain committed to providing Oklahoma students an exceptional higher education opportunity at a very affordable cost,” Johnson said.

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TRANSPORTATION

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation, which is responsible for the maintaining 6,800 bridges and 31,000 lane miles of road throughout the state, will receive about $12 million less in the proposed budget, a 6.25 percent reduction to about $185 million.

Agency executive director Mike Patterson said the agency will absorb the budget cut by lowering costs for travel and equipment replacement and that the agency’s road and bridge maintenance program will not be affected.

“One of the things that we’re absolutely going to do is maintain our maintenance budget at its current level,” Patterson said. “We are committed to maintaining that infrastructure rather than allowing it to deteriorate.”

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