The Pryor Times

Opinion

December 13, 2013

Too much month at the end of the money

PRYOR, OK — I am often asked, “What does the Legislature actually do over there in Oklahoma City?”

The main task of the Legislature is to craft a budget for our state’s government – the state agencies and the services they provide. Those services range from prisons to roads and bridges to schools, universities and colleges and to social services, such as child protective services, welfare and Medicaid. The budget even includes funding for OETA, our educational television station. The list, at times, seems endless.

Early estimates say we may have a potential increase of state dollars amounting to $43 million more than was available last year. “Well”, you may say, “that should make the Legislature’s job easy.” The problem is that most agencies have all given good reasons why they all need more money than they were given last year. These new requests add up to far more than the increase in available funds.

For instance, the Department of Education has already asked for $175 million in additional funding over last year, of which more than $59 million would be used just to cover the increased cost of health care insurance.

The state’s universities and colleges have requested additional funds of $76.3 million over what they were given last year. Career Technology centers say they need $40 million more than they had last year.

The Health Care Authority has requested $211 million additional funding for the Medicaid (SoonerCare) program, of which approximately $44.9 million would be used just to replace a decrease in the annual federal funds that Oklahoma received from last year.

The Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services have requested $155 million in additional funding.

The Department of Human Services says they need an additional $94.4 million.

The Department of Transportation has asked for $13 million new dollars for county roads and $59.7 million for state highways.

So far, the requested total of $724.4 million of additional money far exceeds the available $43 million, and we haven’t even heard from the Department of Corrections, which operates our prisons, the Department of Public Safety, which operates our Highway Patrol and law enforcement academy, the Department of Health, and all of the many smaller state agencies!

In addition to the requests for new money next year, some of the above agencies have also requested immediate appropriations of $56.3 million from the state’s savings account, known as the “Rainy Day Fund.”

So now you can see the hardest job of the Legislature. Like you and your family, we have to live within our means. We have to have a balanced budget. Therefore, with requests far exceeding available funds, it should make for a very interesting legislative session when it starts in February.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as your state representative. I can be reached at dougcox@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7415.

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