By Rep. Mike Sanders
The House on Friday passed a $7.6. billion appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2019, including money for the largest teacher pay raise in state history, more money for K-12 classrooms and additional funding for health care and humans services as well as other state services.
This budget gives $2.9 billion – a 19.8 percent increase over FY18 – to K-12 schools. This is the largest appropriation for common education in state history, even accounting for the rate of inflation. Teachers will get an average pay raise of $6,100 beginning in the 2018-19 school year and beyond. School support staff also will get an additional $1,250. Health care benefits are increased, and classrooms will get an additional $50 million for the coming school year.
The teacher pay raises move Oklahoma teachers to second in the region for average annual pay and to 12th in the nation when accounting for the cost of living.
The Legislature also approved $7.5 million for concurrent enrollment, allowing high school juniors and seniors to earn college credit without paying the high cost of college tuition, hopefully resulting in early college graduation.
The budget also includes $52 million for state employee pay raises of between $750 and $2,000 per year depending on current salary levels.
In addition to other budget items, one of the things I fought hardest for in this state budget was an additional $4 million to the state emergency fund to be used by rural fire departments as they assist communities hit hardest by the recent wildfires in Dewey and Woodward Counties. The Agriculture Department will receive $3.4 million for Rural Fire Operational Assistance Grants, and $325,000 for the 80/20 Reimbursable Grant Program to help with equipment and gear replacement.
An 11 percent, $1 million, increase to the Rural Economic Action Plan (REAP) will assist with economic development programs in our communities. This brings the REAP annual budget over $10 million for the first time.
This budget also increases funding for health and mental health care programs, including $24 million for the state’s child welfare system, managed under the Pinnacle Plan, and $110 million to the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University for their graduate medical schools. This is money the feds removed that was being used for doctor training and residency slots.
The budget also includes $2 million, a 100 percent increase, to help ease the Developmental Disability Services waiting list, and also restores reimbursement rates to those who provide medical and mental health services in our rural health care facilities and rural nursing homes. Overall, public health received an 8.6 percent increase over the last fiscal year. It’s been years since we’ve been able to increase health and mental health care funding. This will benefit so many of our agencies, including the Center of Family Love of Okarche and other facilities.
While it’s great to be able to restore some services cut in the state’s recent recession, we also must continually strive to ensure we’re operating government as efficiently as possible and that we’ve cut out every area of waste, fraud or abuse. I’m particularly pleased we were able to devote $2 million in this budget to the Agency Performance and Accountability Commission, enacted by the Legislature last session to audit the top 20 state appropriated state agencies. I have been championing such reform measures for years in an effort to modernize and streamline government. It’s important to remember that government works for the people not the other way around.
One additional note: we will be able to deposit more than $300 million into the state’s Rainy Day Fund at the end of this fiscal year, an Oklahoma Constitutional requirement when revenues exceed the official estimate. Boy is that nice to be able to say for a change instead of having to declare a revenue failure because we haven’t met our estimate.
This budget is the result of a lot of hard work and some tough decisions made by House leadership. It’s not perfect, but it helps us meet the needs of our citizens in a responsible manner. In next week’s column I’ll give some additional details and break things down a bit further.
In the meantime, if I can help you with anything, please feel free to contact me. I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.