Shared from the 11/14/2017 The Oklahoman eEdition

Four dozen agencies targeted for cuts


Oklahoma lawmakers in two key budget committees will decide Tuesday whether to recommend cutting 49 agency budgets to make up for lost revenue from an unconstitutional cigarette fee they passed in May.

Over the past seven weeks of the special session, lawmakers have struggled to reach any kind of agreement that would raise new money to plug the $215 million hole. The revised budget pulls a combined $60.3 million from agency spending plans; the cuts average 2.5 percent.

If the revised budget passes the Legislature and is signed by the governor, agencies will have to force the spending cuts into just the final eight months remaining of fiscal year 2018, which ends in June.

Legislative leaders also will seek to use more than $60 million from agency revolving funds, which are like savings accounts, to make up for the $215 million that was lost when the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled the cigarette fee unconstitutional. Just three agencies, each with a critical health care mission, were set to receive the cigarette fee revenue: the Department of Human Services, Oklahoma Health Care Authority and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

Under the new proposed budget, each of those agencies would still receive less than lawmakers hoped to give them in May.

The OHCA, which oversees Oklahoma’s SoonerCare program, would lose $15 million. Mental Health and Human Services each would lose $4 million from their budgets this year.

The raid on revolving funds take money from accounts used by the Department of Transportation, Oklahoma’s Tourism and Recreation Department, the insurance commissioner, treasurer and secretary of state.

The bill scheduled for important committee votes on Tuesday also would withdraw $3 million from the Drug Money Laundering and Wire Transmitter Revolving Fund, which is used by the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control for drug enforcement.

That’s in addition to the bureau’s loss of $71,686 in the proposed budget.

T r a n s p o r t a t i o n ’ s budget would be reduced $3,593,447. In addition to the department’s cut, more than $38 million from accounts used to pay for repair of highways, county roads and bridges, weigh stations and for public transit initiatives would instead be spent on health care.

Another $8 million could be pulled from the Unclaimed Property Fund, which is an account used by the state to hold money when a beneficiary cannot be located. It’s common for lawmakers to appropriate a small part of the fund each year, but the state treasurer sets a limit to how much can be withdrawn.

A spokesman for Treasurer Ken Miller said Miller had not yet received a request for more funds.

“The treasurer was uncomfortable with the amount requested and ultimately taken last regular session because it stretched the fund too thin,” Deputy Treasurer Tim Allen wrote in an email. “Plus, he was told at that time by budget writers that there would not be another request until (fiscal year 2019).”

While the proposal would send an extra $30 million to the Department of Health during an investigation into financial mismanagement, the revised state budget would force the state auditor’s office, which is investigating, to trim more than $84,000 from its budget.

“We’re hoping they have the money to pay the bill,” State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones said of the Health Department, which asked for an audit in October. “We literally are living month to month now hoping agencies and counties pay their bills. We are literally, every month, having to hold bills seeing if we can make payroll.”

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