OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Zack Taylor, R-Seminole, has commented on the governor’s signing of the state’s general appropriations bill.
“This $8.1 billion appropriation is the largest in state history, accomplished without raising any new taxes,” Taylor said. “It represents an increase of about 6 percent to all core government service areas including education, transportation, public safety, health care and others.”
Taylor said this budget prioritizes public education, devoting 54 percent of the appropriation to education from preK to college and CareerTech. The budget includes money for a $1,220 teacher pay raise and an additional $74.3 million over the amount appropriated last year for classroom funding. This puts Oklahoma teacher pay at the top of the scale in the region and will help stem the loss of teachers to other states that paid higher salaries. It will also help recruit more traditionally certified teachers for our public school classrooms.
The budget also fully funds the Reading Sufficiency Act, which will help children in early grades read on grade level. And, it funds concurrent enrollment classes for high school juniors and seniors to earn college credits. CareerTech centers and state colleges receive money for employee and teacher pay raises, and universities receive additional funding for research programs.
In addition, the budget includes money for additional state employee pay raises, including a 14 percent increase to correctional officers.
“These men and women serve behind the fence at our state correctional facilities,” Taylor said. “They do a hard and dangerous job to keep our public safe at very low pay.”
Taylor said the $2-an-hour pay increase will help keep seasoned correctional officers on the job and help reduce high turnover rates in state prisons and will help recruit new officers to help with understaffing.
This budget also retains more than $200 million in savings to keep the state from having to cut core services during the next economic downturn. By the end of the fiscal year, the state will have $1 billion in its savings account.
“We are changing the way the state budgets,” Taylor said. “We are making sure we save for our downturns. This is the long-term thinking we have been lacking. It would have been easy to spend all of our growth revenue, since we had $1.3 billion in requests from state agencies, but the fiscally responsible thing was to begin the process of saving. Without the long-term thinking of savings, we will continue to perpetuate the cycle of growth in our baseline budgets and then having seemingly devastating cuts when the economy cycles down.
The budget also restores $30 million to the County Improvements for Roads and Bridges fund and fully funds the Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s 8-year plan. It increases provider rates for nursing homes and pays for physician training for those who will serve in rural hospitals. It increases funding for rural fire management, Rural Economic Area Partnerships, county extension offices and senior nutrition centers as well as other rural services. It also increases funding for mental health and drug addiction programs to divert people from incarceration.
“This is a sound state budget that I am proud to support,” Taylor said.