By Rep. Mike Sanders
Gov. Stitt last week signed the state appropriation’s bill, which I believe accomplished great things for Oklahomans without raising any new taxes.
This budget received overwhelming support in both the House and the Senate, and ensures we are properly funding core government services. It also puts Oklahoma on a path toward the largest savings account in state history – something much needed after coming through one of the steepest recessions in state history. By setting aside $200 million in this appropriation’s bill, we will have nearly $1 billion dollars in savings by the end of this fiscal year. Continuing to build our savings account will keep us from having to make severe cuts to core state services in times of future economic downturn. That’s prudence.
More transparency and oversight over the spending of taxpayer dollars is ensured by adding money to the state auditor and by funding the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency. These two offices will help us better assess the programs and services being offered to Oklahomans and the efficiency of spending. That’s accountability.
Lawmakers prioritized education in this budget. We gave common education (preK-12) an additional $158 million this year over last. This allows us to give Oklahoma teachers their second pay raise in two years – a first in state history. This brings teacher pay to the top in the region and will help keep seasoned teachers in our classrooms as well as help us recruit new teachers. We fully funded the Reading Sufficiency Act, making sure we are helping children in early grades learn to read on grade level. We also put $74.3 million additional dollars into our classrooms this year. Our CareerTech centers will receive $18 million for pay raises and course additions, and higher education will receive an additional $28 million to bolster research programs and provide a professor pay raise. Also, we put $7.5 million more toward concurrent enrollment courses for high school juniors and seniors so they enter college with credits. This creates stability for our students and puts them on a path toward success.
Transportation is another area of high importance. We restored $30 million to the County Improvements for Roads and Bridges Fund, a priority for me as I work with county commissioners constantly to improve the state of roadways in our district and throughout the state. We also fully fund the Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s eight-year plan. With recent flooding, these funds will be all the more necessary in days to come.
On the public safety front, we are giving our correctional officers a 14 percent pay raise. This equals about $2 an hour increase. This is needed to keep seasoned people in these very difficult jobs and will help with understaffing and high turnover at our corrections facilities. We are also helping to pay for two new trooper academies to help add more Highway Patrol troopers to our state highways. This keeps the public safe.
We also provided $37.7 million for another pay raise for our state employees. This helps close the gap between those who provide government services to our citizens and those who work in the private sector.
In health care, we added $62.8 million for Graduate Medical Education programs to support physician training to increase the number of doctors working in rural hospitals. We reallocated $105 million to increase provider rates for physicians, hospitals and nursing homes. Again, this will help our rural areas most of all. We saved $29 million in a new preservation fund to preserve Medicaid provider rates when the federal government’s 3-year rolling average results in a rate decline. We put $2 million toward decreasing the Developmental Disability Services (DDSD) wait list and $8 million to increase DDSD provider reimbursement rates by 4 percent. And, we dedicated $4.6 million to increase immunizations and staff at county health departments throughout the state. This is taking care of the health care needs of our most vulnerable Oklahomans.
For rural Oklahoma, we added $1.1 million for wildfire mitigation and additional resources for rural fire fighters and $600,00 for rural fire grants. We also appropriated $700,00 to help with wildfire prevention and protection. Our rural fire departments are the backbone of our defense in rural areas. I fought hard for this funding. We also gave $1.5 million to improve rural flood control dams, and boy is that needed now more than ever. We allocated $1 million to our county extension offices to help them continue to provided needed services to our rural residents and to provide for our great 4-H programs for our youth. The Department of Agriculture is able to add a veterinarian to help farmers and ranchers protect against potential diseases in animals and crops. And, we added $3 million to Rural Economic Action Partnerships (REAP) programs to help us attract jobs and economic activity to our rural areas.
I’m proud of this budget and all it offers to Oklahomans. Now, it’s time to begin work on the next budget and on legislation for next year.
On a separate note: I’m praying for all affected by recent storms and flooding. Many private property owners lost homes and have suffered damage to other property; many farmers and small business owners are likewise affected. I am in constant communication with the governor’s offices and our area emergency managers and county officials to make sure needs are being addressed.
Remember, I’m still at the Capitol and in our district even though the legislative session has adjourned for this year.
If I can help you in any way, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or email@example.com.