I’ve heard it said that the sign of a real compromise is that no one is completely happy, but all agree it is the best that can be achieved with given circumstances and opposing views. I think that certainly summarizes the state budget agreement that was finally reached by the governor and legislative leaders and voted on by lawmakers.
There were two stark truths we had to deal with from the beginning on this budget. First, that Oklahoma was no more immune to the national recession than any other state—it just arrived here a little bit later. After the Equalization Board, which determines how much money the Legislature has available for appropriations, looked at the data, they gave us official word—Oklahoma would have $1.2 billion less available for appropriations. The second fact was that we had to balance the budget one way or another.
The final agreement has utilized targeted cuts in an attempt to prevent even worse outcomes for many of our state services. We examined and approved legislation removing certain tax credits for a while, as well as increasing specific permit fees. We were also able to use federal stimulus funds and Rainy Day money to bridge that gap.
Most state agencies received an average of about a 7 percent budget cut, though some agencies received less. The problem is that these cuts are in addition to other reductions made during the current year. I am concerned that this will represent a formidable challenge for state workers at these agencies and the citizens who rely on the services they provide. When the economy does rebound, we need to revisit these agencies and ensure they have the resources necessary to fulfill their missions.
I am extremely pleased that the final budget agreement included a $5 million line-item appropriation for senior nutrition programs, as well as $12.4 for the Rural Economic Action Plan (REAP). These two programs are particularly important to rural Oklahoma.
It is disconcerting that while the agreement shielded Corrections and Public Safety from the larger cuts taken by other agencies, they could not be held completely harmless. Again, as soon as resources are available, these are among the many areas that will require our attention.
As I’ve said several times this year, this has been a particularly challenging session. But I remain optimistic, because I know that eventually this recession will end and that better days are ahead.
As always, I welcome your comments on state government. Please feel free to contact me by writing to Senator Charles Wyrick at the State Capitol, Room 530, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105; call me at (405) 521-5561.