When you look at the most important functions of state government, you can break them down into a handful of areas—education, public safety, transportation, health and mental health.  After years of fighting to hold these areas harmless as much as possible, it is so gratifying to know we can now make critically-needed investments in each of these areas.  That’s what we will accomplish with the budget agreement announced this past week at the State Capitol, and it is being accomplished without any tax increase.

We’re increasing our investments in public schools, colleges and our career-techs significantly in the 2020 fiscal year budget. We’re boosting public school funding by $157.7 million which will include enough funds to make our teacher salaries first in the region, giving teachers an average raise of $1,220 beyond what they received last year.  There’s also an additional $74.3 million for the classroom to hire additional teachers or meet other critical needs as determined by our local districts. We’re fully funding the state’s Reading Sufficiency Act for the first time since its passage, providing resources to boost reading levels and improve learning. The education investment includes $18 million for our career-techs and $28 million for higher education.

Additional funds in public safety mean we can pay for two new trooper academies, helping us put an estimated 80 more troopers on the roads in 2020. The budget also provides for a 14 percent raise for correctional officers.  This boost will help the Department of Corrections address staffing shortages, increasing security in our state prisons.  At the same time, the budget also provides funding for much-needed criminal justice reforms that will save our state money in the long run.  Examples of programs prioritized for these investments include Smart on Crime Programs through the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, the Women in Recovery diversion program, additional funding for mental health services and resources to begin reforming the funding of District Attorney offices .

The budget agreement means we are fully funding the Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s 8-year plan and restoring $30 million to a special program supporting county roads and bridges.

Access to healthcare is critical for our state, and this budget addresses that with additional investments for programs supporting physician training in rural hospitals, a significant reallocation to increase provider rates for doctors, hospitals and nursing homes, additional money to decrease the Developmental Disability Services wait list and increase provider rates and additional resources for our county health departments.

We’ve also targeted additional funds to job development and economic growth in our state, and boosted our state savings account in order to better stabilize the state budget during future economic downturns.

Of course all of these core services depend on the state employees who provide them.  This budget agreement provides additional state employee pay increases of up to $1,500 beyond the raises given last year.  There are also funds for digital transformation of state government services to enhance transparency and improve customer services.  The agreement also includes an appropriation for the creation of the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency to improve efficiencies and target duplication and waste throughout state government.  

This session has been extremely productive in terms of public policy that will move our state forward with this agreement we will be able to pass a budget that will further assist that effort, providing investments that will benefit Oklahoma for years to come. 

 If you have any questions about legislation or other issues dealing with state government, please contact me at 405-521-5592, or email bice@oksenate.gov. Thank you for allowing me to be your voice in the Oklahoma State Senate.