February 16, 2011
Governor Mary Fallin issued her first executive budget to the 2011 Oklahoma State Legislature at their opening session nearly two weeks ago.
The budget called for a total expenditure of 6.3 billion dollars, about 361 million dollars less than the current year.
The state is facing a budget shortfall of about 600 million dollars from the current fiscal year’s income and must find a way to balance the upcoming year’s budget.
The newly elected members of the executive branch are all Republicans for the first time in state history, and the GOP has super majorities in both the state house and senate.
They have made it clear that shrinking the budget is a shared goal.
“The people spoke loud and clear — they want us to live within our means,” said Secretary of State Glenn Coffee in a recent interview with The Oklahoman.
The governor has made it clear that she wants to balance the budget without raising taxes.
In fact, she plans on lowering taxes.
Her current proposal contains a trigger that would drop the highest income tax bracket, currently 5.5 percent, to 5.25 percent if the state experienced a four percent growth this next fiscal year.
The proposed financial plan would cut most state agencies’ budgets by five percent.
This rate will not apply to programs directly concerning education, public health and safety and transportation.
Agencies concerned with the aforementioned would face a smaller three percent budget cut.
The proposed budget cuts add up to approximately 200 million dollars.
The remainder of the balance would come from consolidating various state agencies to make them more efficient through the reduction of bureaucratic expenses and cost sharing.
The governor has also proposed that the state goes to complete paperless payment plans to save on postage and check cost.
The proposal has received favorable reviews from the Oklahoma Policy Institute.
“She certainly didn’t come in saying we’re going to slash programs. Upon analyzing the proposed budget it is clear that her goal is to minimize cuts as much as possible while still realistically trying to balance the budget,” said David Blatt, Director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute in a recent interview with The Oklahoman.
What do these budget cuts actually mean for the everyday Oklahoman?
It means that there is a possibility of increased furloughing of state workers, especially in agencies not directly associated with education, public health and safety or transportation.
Also, public schools and universities will have to deal with three percent less this next fiscal year.
University of Oklahoma President David Boren has already instigated a hiring freeze and internal budget cuts in preparation for a smaller budget.
The state budget cuts and consolidations will soon be debated and voted on by members of the Oklahoma State Legislature.