Session will wrap up this coming week. Some believe we only work on the budget during session but work begins the year before. Subcommittees spent the interim meticulously studying their agencies’ FY’19 budgets and visiting with agency directors. Working on the budget is a full time job. Fortunately, we’ve had significantly more revenue the last two years, which makes our job much easier.
I’m thrilled that for the second year in a row both our school certified personnel and state employees (more than 70,000 hardworking Oklahomans) will be getting a raise. Combining the two raises, teachers’ pay will increase by around $7,300 and state employees’ will increase by up to $3,500. Oklahoma now has the highest teacher pay in the region.
Common education (Prek-12) will receive more than one-third of the FY’20 budget with nearly $158 million in new funding. When combined with higher education and career techs, public education will receive more than 52% of state appropriations. Education is our state’s priority. A few highlights of the agreement include fully funding the RSA third-grade reading initiative for the first time ever and putting more than $74 million through the formula for local districts to use as they see fit including hiring more teachers to decrease class sizes among other needs.
Higher ed ($28 million) and Career Techs ($18 million) will also get new funding for faculty raises and to support research programs.
Another core function of state government is maintaining our state and county transportation infrastructure. The agreement calls for fully funding ODOT’s 8-year plan as well as restoring $30 million in funding to the County Improvements for Roads & Bridges Program.
We’re making significant investments into our healthcare system. Roughly $105 million will be reallocated to increase provider rates for nursing homes, physicians and hospitals. We’re going to save $29 million to help the Oklahoma Health Care Authority protect Medicaid provider rates when the Oklahoma Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) decreases. Another nearly $63 million will go to train physicians to work in rural hospitals, which is desperately needed statewide. We’re going to invest another $2 million to decrease the Developmental Disability Services wait list and increase the developmental disability provider rates by 4% ($8 million). With the outbreak of measles in numerous states, including Oklahoma this week, it’s important that citizens have easy access to immunizations. The budget will provide $4.6 million to county health department staff and immunizations statewide.
Being that Oklahoma mostly consists of rural area, another important aspect of the budget is providing $1.1 million for wildfire mitigation and additional resources for rural fire fighters as well as $1.5 million to improve rural flood control dams.
Criminal justice reform and addressing our high incarceration was a major focus this session. We have the highest incarceration rate in the nation and one of the highest recidivism rates at a great cost to our state. A majority of our prison population is nonviolent offenders, many suffering from addiction or mental health issues. This budget will invest more than $13 million into more mental health and diversion programs to help these people become self-sufficient, productive citizens. By providing $20 million to the District Attorney offices, these offenders will also not be hit with so many fees and fines when they’re released. They’ve paid their debt to society through their incarceration. We can’t keep continuing to burden them with unnecessary debts once they’re released.
This budget will help us get as many as 80 new Highway Patrol troopers on the roads next year by funding two new trooper academies. We’re also hoping to address the high turnover rate in our state prisons and recruit new correctional officers by providing a $2 per hour raise.
I’m proud of my colleagues for working together to provide much-needed funding to our core state services like education, public safety and health as well as acknowledging our dedicated educators and state employees who provide those services daily. It’s not a perfect budget but with ever-increasing revenues next session appears to be another great opportunity for us to further invest in our state services.
To contact me at the Capitol, please write to Senator Ron Sharp, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 412, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105, email me at email@example.com, or call (405) 521-5539.