Following several weeks of negotiation, a budget agreement was announced Wednesday. The proposed Fiscal Year 2020 budget allows the state to put $400 million into the Rainy Day Fund, which currently already has a balance of upwards of $480 million, in addition to saving another $200 million in a separate state savings account. The new budget agreement requires no new taxes, while at the same time, boosts the state’s investment in core services by more than five percent.
Continuing to protect the state’s investment in education was a priority this year, and FY ’20 will be the first year in state history that common education will receive over $3 billion in appropriated dollars. Under the new budget, we will see a $203 million increase for public education across the spectrum. This appropriation will provide $157.7 million in increased common education funding, provide a $74.4 million increase in classroom funding and give an average $1,220 pay raise to teachers. This is in addition to last year’s average $6,100 pay increase for teachers; meaning teacher pay has been increased over $7,300 in the past two years. Because of last year’s pay increase, we also have more than 1,100 newly certified teachers this year in Oklahoma. This is outstanding news, and because of the hard work that went into HB1010xx last year, next year’s pay raise will boost Oklahoma to the top spot in the region in teacher pay.
Corrections and public safety will also receive a boost in funding under the new budget. Pay increases for correctional officers will raise salaries by $2 per hour, bringing pay levels up to the regional market average. Two new trooper academies will also be funded, putting an additional 80 troopers on the roads by next year. Another million will be spent to reduce the backlog of untested rape kits.
Next year’s budget will also help to better fund our roads and bridges and will support county roads by restoring $30 million to County Improvements for Roads and Bridges (CIRB). Both of these items will be instrumental in helping the state compete for new jobs and attracting new businesses in order to diversify the state’s economy.
Criminal justice reform will also get some help under next year’s budget through further investment in drug courts and diversion programs. Funding will be allocated to reform the District Attorney offices as well as expand the Smart on Crime programs through the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. The Women in Recovery diversion program and mental health services will also receive funding under next year’s budget. This will all serve to alleviate the reliance on the high fines, fees and court costs that have created a debtor’s prison in the past.
Health care was also a priority when crafting next year’s budget, which allocates $62.8 million for the Graduate Medical Education program to support physician training for rural hospitals. It also gives $105 million to increase provider rates for physicians, hospitals and nursing homes, as well as $10 million to decrease the Developmental Disability Services wait list while increasing provider rates. Another $4.6 million will go towards increasing immunizations and staff county health departments statewide. The budget also allows for $29 million to be set aside in a new preservation fund to stabilize Medicaid provider rates if the federal government’s 3-year rolling average results in a rate decline.
The new budget makes significant investments in classroom funding, allowing districts to hire additional teachers to reduce class size or increase teacher pay. It also funds mental health, corrections and other core areas while still showing fiscal restraint that will allow the state to prepare for years when economic times may not be as strong. Everyone involved in crafting the budget is to be commended on their hard work and commitment to build a fiscally responsible budget while taking into account the essential needs in critical areas of state government. Our focus remains on making Oklahoma competitive with other states. Whether it’s our economy, infrastructure or education, our goal is to continue to build a better Oklahoma.
I’m now completing my ninth legislative session and this has been the most successful session we’ve had during my time to serve. Much of that success can be attributed to the continued efforts to be financially responsible and being willing to prioritize the needs of our citizens. In the past eight years, we’ve made many difficult decisions, but the reasonable, conservative approach is now paying dividends as we continue to see progress across many core areas of service. Oklahoma’s economy is always at risk for peaks and valleys given the nature of the oil and gas industry, and because of that, it’s important to save for the inevitable downward swings. The budget crafted this year has not only helped us fund core services, but it has also allowed us to continue to build a cushion to insulate against future uncertainties.
If you have any questions about state government or concerns about legislation, please do not hesitate to contact my Senate office at the Capitol by calling (405) 521-5555 or writing to me at Senator Marty Quinn, 2300 North Lincoln Blvd. Rm. 419, State Capitol Building, Oklahoma City, OK 73105. I can also be reached via email at email@example.com