theadanews.com - Ada, Oklahoma

May 17, 2014

Senate review by Sen. Susan Paddack

Susan Paddack State Senator
The Ada News

Ada — One of my main concerns throughout this legislative session has been the need for additional funding for our public schools.  I was also very concerned when the executive budget called for a 5 percent cut for our colleges and universities.  However, there are usually significant differences between the executive budget and the version actually passed at the end of the session.

For the past several weeks, leaders of the legislature and the governor’s office have been negotiating the final version of the budget for the new fiscal year, FY 2015, which begins July 1.  On Friday we got our first look at what we’ll be voting on in the coming days.  As with every budget, there are plusses and minuses.

The good news is our schools did receive additional funding—not nearly the level that I or other members would like to see, but it is an increase. Public education will receive an additional $40 million for increased insurance costs and another $40 million that will go directly into the funding formula.  The FY 2015 budget also includes an additional $25.5 million to make the ad valorem reimbursement fund whole.  There will be no cuts for higher education or for career and technology education.

Another pressing issue has been the lack of pay increases for state employees—some have gone years without any change in their salaries even though the prices of everything from groceries, to clothing to medicine have continued to climb.  This budget will give targeted raises for more than 12,378 employees, including officers with the Department of Corrections, Highway Patrol Troopers, child welfare workers and more than seven thousand of the state’s lowest paid workers. 

Many state agencies, including the Senate, will receive budget cuts of 5.5 percent.  But a handful of agencies will see flat budgets, including the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the Military Department and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. 

Mental Health will actually get an additional $1 million for drug court and other programs.  The Department of Human Services will also see a 7 percent increase for the Pinnacle Plan to better protect Oklahoma’s most vulnerable children.  A handful of other entities will receive varying supplemental funding, including some for drought relief.

Lastly, I am pleased that the agreement also includes a $120 million bond plan to finally begin addressing the serious structural needs of our State Capitol.  The problems have continued to worsen, and while the Senate has long been supportive of a bond issue, the House has been unwilling to approve such a measure, but as part of the budget agreement, their leadership has agreed to this plan, which will not require a vote of the people.

According to Oklahoma’s Constitution, we must conclude our work by no later than 5 p.m. on the last Friday of May.  With this agreement, we should be in good shape to meet that deadline, and perhaps adjourn even earlier, which would at least result in some savings for the state.

As always if you have a question about a legislative matter, please do not hesitate to contact my office at (405) 521-5541 or by email at paddack@oksenate.gov.  It is an honor to serve as your voice at the State Capitol.  If I may be of help, please contact me. May God bless you!