Capitol Insider: Money Heads Back To State Agencies, Osborn Out As Budget Chair
Despite finishing the fiscal year nearly 3.5 percent below general revenue estimates, Oklahoma will pay back state agencies that received mid-year cuts.
About $35 million was cut across the board after a revenue failure in February. Now state officials say those cuts were unnecessary.
“Today’s return of funds is a bit of good news at the end of a long and challenging fiscal year,” State Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger said in a statement. “The return will certainly help agencies out, but it doesn’t signal a recovery as the year-end total was still below the estimate.”
The State Department of Education will receive $11.1 million, higher education will get $4.6 million and the State Department of Human Services will receive $4.2 million.
“When you look across the various revenue sources, you see ups and downs,” eCapitol News Director Shawn Ashley told KGOU. “Individual income tax collections were not as high as they had been in some years past, sales tax collections were down a bit, and this seems to reflect the problems we’ve which seen throughout the economy, which have begin to turn around.”
Department Of Human Services Budget Dispute
The Oklahoma Department of Human Services announced last week it will cut more than $29 million in services.
The reductions will mainly affect programs that support children and the elderly. The announcement included a 5 percent decrease in payments to families of adopted children and the closure of 30 senior meal sites across the state, among cuts to other services.
“DHS funding has been sort of on a roller coaster the past few years,” Ashley said.
The department has lost about $80 million from its operations costs in the last two years. While the agency received an extra $18 million this legislative session, director Ed Lake said the agency needed to make the cuts because the department is covering additional services and because the state is contributing more funds to Medicaid programs.
House Speaker Charles McCall (R- Atoka) and House Majority Leader Mike Sanders (R-Kingfisher) publicly criticized DHS leadership for not communicating their needs to the legislature. McCall and Sanders said DHS could probably absorb the cut if they balanced their budget better.
State Reps. Leslie Osborn (R-Mustang), Pat Ownbey (R-Ardmore) and Earl Sears (R-Bartlesville) released a statement Monday saying the blame falls on a lack of funding, not the agency itself.
"This agency serves foster children, the disabled, the elderly, and those who cannot help themselves. It is not directing dollars to a nameless agency; it is directing dollars to lives,” Osborn said. “Any and all decisions to make cuts were devastating to the staff, the management, and the appropriators.”
Osborn Out As House Budget Chair
One day after the DHS statement was released, McCall removed Rep. Osborn as chair of the powerful House Appropriations and Budget Committee.
McCall emailed legislators saying Rep. Kevin Wallace (R-Wellston) would take over the post.
“He works well with our entire caucus, and he has the experience, diligence and skillset to serve Oklahoma well in this very important role,” McCall wrote in the email.
A spokesman for McCall says Osborn's removal was "absolutely not" related to the DHS disagreement.
Ashley says McCall may have not liked Osborne’s differing opinions on budget strategies.
“Given the timing one can only assume it had to be those comments, perhaps tied to others she made throughout the legislative session and since legislators have adjourned, about the need to approach the budget differently,” Ashley said.
Osborn says the decision to replace her was McCall’s to make.
“I am disheartened by his decision, but I am not deterred in my desire to work for the betterment of our wonderful State,” Osborn said in a statement.