I wanted to share with all of you my thoughts on the #OKLA2020 budget that has passed the House and that I voted for. First, I commend all of the fiscal staff personnel who have worked diligently on organizing the various components in this budget agreement. I also want to thank all of the leaders who’ve been negotiating during the past few months between the House, Senate, and Governor. These include my colleagues Appropriations and Budget Chair Kevin Wallace and Vice Chair Kyle Hilbert, along with all of the Appropriations and Budget subcommittee chairs who have contributed toward developing their respective budgetary areas.
Our governing process requires us to be pragmatic and seek forward-thinking solutions. Instead of setting unrealistic expectations for perfect policy, we must concentrate on good policy that is continuously improved. In Oklahoma, we understand that our rankings and statistics on major indicators like education, health, and incarceration need to change in order for us to be competitive in the 21st century. We all want this change to occur expeditiously, but our governing system is designed in a way that means policy proposals are supposed to be deliberately considered through various procedural obstacles that lead to the best possible ideas signed into law. There are always going to be folks who critique this process and proposed solutions because they believe more can be done in a different way. Having these differences of opinion and debating them is a strength of our democratic republic.
Certainly, the #OKLA2020 budget is the result of stakeholders coming together and prioritizing our core services. I’ve consistently stated that we need to pass an additional $1,220 teacher pay raise and increase classroom funding, and this budget includes both of these elements. In fact, the legislature has now increased the Common Education budget 26.25 percent during the last two years. There is also an additional $1,400 state employee pay raise that I strongly support. I hope that we continue to make progress during the next legislative session on getting our retired state employees a much-needed COLA increase.
There has been discussion throughout this session about the merits of saving a portion of the surplus instead of appropriating all of it. This budget does put $200 million into our savings, which I believe is fiscally responsible to ensure we are adequately prepared for a future economic downturn. Because of our commodity-based economy, it’s absolutely paramount that we make fiscally prudent decisions when economic conditions are favorable for increasing our savings.
Moreover, this budget also includes several critical policies that can help move our state forward. The State Auditor’s office is appropriated $700,000 to hire more auditors, and the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) will have $1.7 million to provide objective fiscal data to the legislature. Concurrent enrollment for high school seniors is fully funded. Criminal justice reform investments include $10 million for Smart on Crime programs through the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, $1.5 million for the Women in Recovery diversion program, and $1.7 million to address increasing demand for mental health services.
In terms of health care, there is $10 million allocated to decrease the Developmental Disability Services wait list and increase provider rates, along with a $105 million reallocation to increase provider rates for physicians, hospitals, and nursing homes. There are even more investments in the areas of agriculture, infrastructure, and public safety that will make a positive difference for Oklahomans.
Overall, I believe the #OKLA2020 budget is fiscally responsible because of its emphasis on savings and good policy because of the numerous investments in our core services. Of course, we still have more work to be done in making Oklahoma a top ten state, but I believe this budget puts us on the right track moving forward. I look forward to working with my colleagues to build on the momentum from this budget.