ENID — We’ve seen plenty of stories coming from state agencies predicting gloom and doom if lawmakers don’t do something to fill the $878 million budget hole.
In recent weeks, we’ve seen:
• Oklahoma Association of Health Care Providers, which advocates for nursing homes, say thousands of elderly Oklahomans may have to find a new nursing home or risk ending up homeless unless lawmakers find a way to increase payments to Medicaid, the state-managed insurance program.
• School administrators say class sizes will balloon next year if education takes a budget hit. Many districts won’t buy new textbooks, many will consider job cuts, and almost all will make cuts to arts, athletics, advanced coursework, summer programs and field trips. Many school districts are considering going to four-day weeks.
• Department of Public Safety officials say they may have to close more than two dozen driver’s license exam sites across the state, including the one in Enid.
• Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department is saying 16 of Oklahoma’s 33 state parks could be closed, affecting jobs of 75 employees.
Parks on the department’s list include three in Northwest Oklahoma: Great Salt Plains State Park, Alabaster Caverns State Park and Boiling Springs State Park.
As this news comes out, we’ve also heard some people in the Legislature decry the reports as “scare tactics.”
There may be something to that, but legislative leaders did ask state agency heads to prepare plans for what now remain hypothetical budget cuts — on the order of 14 to 15 percent.
It’s to be expected that agency heads will detail their worst-case scenarios.
But, budget cuts that large, on top of cuts that have been made for the past several years, add up.
At some point, agencies are going to have to make drastic cuts to make ends meet, and people will be affected more than they already have been.
With about a month and a half left in the legislative session, there has been no news released publicly about how lawmakers are doing on the budget. We don’t know the status of cuts or measures to raise more revenue.
All we have is a lot of speculation, and none of it looks good.
Lawmakers eventually will get a budget done, and it will balance. They have to do that, and right now we can only hope they are doing what they said when they said everything is on the table.
With the silence from the Capitol, it’s hard not to look at the “scare tactics” and worry.