http://www.cherokeephoenix.orgOklahoma Watch is a nonprofit corporation whose mission is to produce in-depth and investigative journalism on public-policy and quality-of-life issues facing the state. COURTESY
Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit corporation whose mission is to produce in-depth and investigative journalism on public-policy and quality-of-life issues facing the state. COURTESY

Largest state budget falls short of restoring years of cuts

Oklahoma Watch
05/08/2018 04:30 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY – Lawmakers have passed the largest state budget in Oklahoma history. But that doesn’t mean state agencies have recovered from years of cost-cutting.

The House of Representatives voted 63-31 April 27 to approve the $7.5 billion appropriations bill that will be $724 million – or 10.9 percent – more than the state’s current fiscal year budget.

The bulk of the new funds will be used to boost salaries for teachers, school support staff and state employees. And millions of additional dollars will go into the school funding formula and targeted initiatives for criminal justice, social services and other programs.

GOP legislative leaders celebrated the passage of the measure that now will go to Gov. Mary Fallin for her consideration. They acknowledged it wasn’t perfect but hailed it as an achievement – the first time in years that the state budget wasn’t cut.

But an Oklahoma Watch analysis shows the budget will ultimately do little to reverse years of reductions to education, health care, public safety and other state agencies.

About two-thirds of the 63 agencies getting a funding boost this year are receiving extra money strictly to fund employee pay raises as a result of legislation that passed this year.

More than half of the state’s larger departments will still receive less this year than they did in 2009 – the last year before revenues began to drop as a result of a nationwide recession followed by a downturn in the oil industry. Lawmakers largely responded by cutting budget and using one-time savings.

The difference between the state agencies’ 2009 and 2019 budgets is even more striking when the numbers are adjusted for inflation.

Just to keep up with the inflation rate, the Legislature would have needed to pass an $8.1 billion budget – nearly half a billion dollars more than what was approved for the 2019 budget.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Kim David, R-Wagoner, called the 2019 budget a “fantastic beginning” that is “just the first step” toward pouring more money into education, health and other key services.

Others cautioned against applauding the 2019 budget, saying the proposal falls far short of undoing the damage from years of reduced or stagnant budgets.

“After a decade of failed tax cuts led to multiple revenue failures and devastating budget cuts, there is still much work to be done to repair the damage,” said Minority Leader Sen. John Sparks, D-Norman. “Instead of celebrating that the proposed budget avoids agency cuts, we should take the time to negotiate revenue measures that will allow us to really invest in education, health care, core services and infrastructure.”

Who’s Getting What

Public schools are among the biggest winners in this year’s budget, with the Department of Education receiving an increase of $480 million, or nearly 20 percent, over the current $2.4 billion budget, which was cut halfway through the fiscal year.

Common-education increases include $365 million for the teacher raise package, $52 million for support staff raises, $33 million for textbooks and $17 million to be added to the funding formula.
Budget increases for other state agencies include:

• $24.6 million for the Department of Human Services for foster care, elder care and developmental disability services, including beginning to address the years-long waiting list for such services.

• $11 million for criminal justice reforms.

• $2 million to the Legislative Service Bureau for agency performance audits.

• $4.8 million for the Department of Corrections to implement an electronic offender-management system.

• $4 million to the Office of Emergency Management for disaster relief.

• $400,000 to the Department of Agriculture for rural firefighters.

Much of the rest of the new money goes toward state employee pay raises totaling $54 million that the Legislature approved. That money, spread out among agencies’ budgets, accounts for all or most of the funding increases most agencies will see.

That leaves little or no money to restore the years of budget cuts lawmakers have approved due to the numerous budget shortfalls or mid-year revenue failures seen over the past decade.

The State Regents for Higher Education, for example, received a $7.8 million increase compared to their current funding. This represents only a 1 percent increase over the past year and barely makes a dent in more than quarter-billion dollars cut over the decade.

Chancellor Glen D. Johnson said the regents are thankful to Fallin and the Legislature for the increase, as well as an extra $7.5 million that will go toward concurrent enrollment. But he said in a statement Thursday that he will continue to stress the importance of higher education funding.
“Data clearly show that states with a high percentage of college degree holders have higher per capita incomes and stronger economies,” he said. “We will continue to make the case that there is no better investment to ensure a brighter future for Oklahoma than the investment our policy leaders can make in higher education.”

Other agencies that have seen a drop in state funding since 2009 include:

• Department of Transportation (decrease of $41.8 million, or 20.1 percent).

• Office of Juvenile Affairs (decrease of $19.5 million, or 17.3 percent)

• Department of Health (decrease of $20 million, or 26.9 percent)

• Department of Veterans Affairs (decrease of $7.9 million, or 19.7 percent)

• Department of Environmental Quality (decrease of $3.2 million, or 33.2 percent)

• District Attorneys Council (decrease of $6.7 million, or 15.8 percent)

Joe Dorman, a former Democratic state lawmaker, 2014 gubernatorial candidate and current head of the nonprofit Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, said it is a relief that many of the agencies his group works with won’t be cut again. But in light of the decades of budget cuts, this budget shouldn’t be celebrated, he said.

“I’m happy we’re seeing a little boost, but we can’t rest on our laurels,” he said. “After seeing multiple years of financial crises, it is going to be some time before we get a lot of these agencies to be fully funded so they can perform their mission.”

Oklahoma’s growing population is also putting pressure on state coffers.

Census Bureau estimates show Oklahoma has gained about 213,000 people over the past decade. This often translates into more duties for many of the state’s safety-net programs.

“Child welfare services is a perfect example,” Dorman said. “It’s great that our state employees are getting a boost in their salary, but we also need money to hire more employees as their caseloads go up.”

Money Only Goes So Far

When adjusted for inflation, only four of the state’s larger agencies will be getting a higher appropriation than they did in 2009.

Funding needs persist even for these departments.

The Education Department’s proposed budget of $2.9 billion is $40 million over 2009’s inflation-adjusted amount.

But as the two-week teacher walkout showed, many educators don’t think that is enough. This is partly because since 2009, student enrollment statewide has increased by about 40,000.

Meanwhile, the Department of Human Services, Oklahoma Health Care Authority and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services have also seen their budgets increase during this period even when adjusted for inflation.

But these three agencies have been hit with a mixture of increased demand, federal funding constraints and mandated costs, such as the Health Care Authority’s having to assume a greater portion of the cost to train doctors.

The agencies also have experienced cuts in recent years.

The new budget for the mental health department still remains below its peak funding level despite getting a nearly $12 million funding bump this year.

“This doesn’t even get us back to your 2016 funding levels,” said Wendi Fralick, chief administrative officer with the Mental Health Association Oklahoma. “And this is not enough because we weren’t even meeting our needs with that funding.”

Fralick acknowledged that avoiding another round of budget cuts was good news because she doesn’t think the system could “manage” with fewer funds. But, she said, she hopes lawmakers won’t be content to simply avoid additional cuts in future budgets.

“I don’t want this to be just seen as a Band-Aid to keep advocates pacified,” she said. “We want them to come back with more funding.”


Multimedia Producer – @cp_rgraham
07/16/2018 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH - The Cherokee Nation’s Election commission held a special meeting on July 10 in the Cherokee Nation Election Commission building. Commissioners revised various segments of the EC bylaws, rules and regulations. The commission also discussed actions to be taken on the recent water damage to its headquarters. The commission then voted to allow EC Chairwoman Shawna Calico to vote on all motions. Before this decision, Calico only voted when votes ended in ties. Later Commissioner Carolyn Allen motioned for the commission to go into executive session after attorney Harvey Chaffin told the five commissioners he saw no need for executive session. Once the commission came out of the private discussion, Calico announced no action was taken during the executive session. The Cherokee Phoenix covered the event and produced the following video of the entire meeting, not including the executive session.
07/15/2018 02:00 PM
TULSA, Oklahoma (AP) — Activists in Oklahoma are looking to entrench the right to use marijuana in the state's constitution by promoting a pair of ballot measures. The Tulsa World reports that the first state question would classify marijuana as an "herbal drug" and amend the Oklahoma Constitution. The other initiative says a person 21 years or older can possess or consume up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use. Both were filed in April. Voters in Oklahoma backed the medicinal use of the drug last month. Yet, Isaac Caviness with Green the Vote says the two state questions being promoted are an "insurance policy" to make sure State Question 788 is not over regulated.
07/15/2018 08:00 AM
TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma's 4.0 earthquakes are up significantly this year, but the overall rate of earthquakes is declining. Oklahoma has had six quakes of at least magnitude 4.0 halfway through this year, which is one more than all of last year. But the overall rate of earthquakes has declined, with 96 quakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater through June 30, compared with 144 at this point last year and 302 by the end of 2017, the Tulsa World reported. A magnitude 4.6 in April near Perry was the 12th largest in state history. Scientists are largely seeing earthquakes on unmapped faults that were activated in 2014 by wastewater injection, said state seismologist Jake Walter. Scientists are researching specific mechanisms by which the state's ongoing seismicity is triggered, he said. Wastewater can trigger the initial earthquakes, but quakes themselves can lead to more quakes. "So in some ways the wastewater injection has created a new paradigm that defies how we would categorize main shocks and aftershocks if this were a fault that had slipped in a more natural setting," he said. Walter said that Oklahoma's seismic risk appears to be similar to the latest hazard forecast put out by the U.S. Geological Survey in March. The agency calculated Oklahoma's short-term hazard levels to be similar to active regions in California. The chance of earthquake damage in high-hazard areas of Oklahoma this year ranges from 1 percent to 14 percent, "much higher" than most parts of the U.S.
07/14/2018 02:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Civil lawsuits have been filed in two Oklahoma counties accusing state health officials of improperly imposing strict rules on the state's recently approved medical marijuana industry. Separate lawsuits were filed Friday in Cleveland and Oklahoma counties over the policies that were adopted this week by the State Board of Health and then quickly approved by Republican Gov. Mary Fallin. The board of Fallin appointees voted 5-4 on Tuesday to approve a ban on the sale of smokable marijuana and requiring pharmacists at dispensaries, infuriating activists who had worked for years to get medical marijuana on the ballot. The measure passed June 26 with nearly 57 percent of the vote. Interim Commissioner of Health Tom Bates said July 10 his office anticipated legal challenges and was prepared to defend the new rules.
07/12/2018 08:15 AM
TAHLEQUAH – Nearly 500 representatives of the 25 at-large and 88 in-jurisdiction Cherokee organizations recently traveled to Tahlequah for the Cherokee Nation’s 14th annual Conference of Community Leaders. The two-day conference hosted by the tribe’s Community and Cultural Outreach was held June 22-23 at Northeastern State University. Attendees attended workshops led by experts in sustainability and culture, and also met with tribal leaders, including Principal Chief Bill John Baker, Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Tribal Councilors. The tribe concluded the conference with the Community Impact Awards banquet, which honors community organizations that do outstanding volunteer work, promote the culture and make other significant contributions. “The community organizations, both in the 14 counties and at-large, are some of the tribe’s most valuable partners, because they allow us to reach and help our citizens more effectively and efficiently,” Hoskin said. “Whether it’s mentoring youth or offering cultural enrichment programs or providing housing through temporary shelters, these groups define the values of community and family that are important to us as Cherokee people, and that is something to be commended and recognized.” Cherokee Citizens League of Southeast Texas, an official at-large Cherokee Nation organization based in Houston, was honored with the 2018 Organization of the Year award. After Hurricane Harvey struck the organization’s community, members stepped up to help neighbors recover from the flooding and coordinated efforts to take donations to those in need. The organization also received the Strong Hands Award for its efforts after Hurricane Harvey. “We were all surprised and humbled to be recognized for our work following Hurricane Harvey,” Wade McAlister, Cherokee Citizens League of Southeast Texas president, said. “We were just doing what we do. It was a team effort and exemplifies both the Cherokee ethic of gadugi and the Houston can do spirit.”?? Boys & Girls Club of Adair County received the Youth Leadership Award at the Cherokee Nation Community and Cultural Outreach conference. The nonprofit organization maintains in school, after school and summer programs for the youth of Adair County. “Boys & Girls Clubs of Adair County is based on inspiring and enabling youth to realize their full potential,” Kristal Diver, Boys & Girls Club of Adair County CEO, said. “Receiving the Youth Leadership Award is a great honor and has shown us that we are moving in the right direction. The continuous support of Cherokee Nation has made it possible for us to provide a safe, positive place with fun and engaging activities, supportive relationships with adults and opportunities for our youth.” <strong>Other organizations honored with Community Impact Awards were:</strong> Newcomer of the Year Award – Northern Cherokee County Community Booster Club Newcomer of the Year Award – Illinois River Area Community Organization Mary Mead Volunteerism Award – Native American Fellowship Inc. Mary Mead Volunteerism Award – Greater Wichita Area Cherokees Most Improved Award – Marble City Activity Organization Best in Technology Award – Indian Women’s Pocahontas Club Best in Technology At-Large – San Diego Cherokee Community Continuing Education Award – Spavinaw Youth and Neighborhood Center Hunger Fighters Award – Tailholt Community Organization Roy Hamilton Historical Preservation Award – Adair County Historical and Genealogical Association Roy Hamilton Historical Preservation Award – Mt Hood Cherokees Strong Hands Award – Mid County Community Organization Strong Hands Award – Cherokee Citizens League of Southeast Texas Grant Writer of the Year Award – Adair County Historical and Genealogical Association Technical Assistance Award – Cherokee National Historical Society Best in Reporting Award – Stilwell Public Library Friends Society Best in Reporting At-Large – Kansas City Cherokee Community Community Partnership Award – Tailholt Community Organization Community Partnership At-Large – San Antonio Cherokee Township Community Inspiration Award – Noweta Cherokee Community Foundation Community Inspiration Award – New Mexico Cherokee Community Cultural Perpetuation Award – Washington County Cherokee Organization Cultural Perpetuation At-Large – Cherokees of the Northern Central Valley Donna Chuculate Cemetery Preservation Award – Webbers Falls Historical Society Museum Donna Chuculate Cemetery Preservation Award – Cherokees of the Northern Central Valley Youth Leadership Award – Boys & Girls Club of Adair County Youth Leadership At-Large – Valley of the Sun Cherokees Conference Attendance Award – Cherokees for Black Indian History Preservation Foundation Conference Attendance Award – San Antonio Cherokee Township Above & Beyond Award – Cherokees for Black Indian History Preservation Foundation Above & Beyond Award – Capital City Cherokee Community Community Leadership Award – Orchard Road Community Outreach Community Leadership At-Large – Cherokee Society of Greater Bay Area Lifetime Achievement Award – Gary Bolin (Brushy Cherokee Action Association) Lifetime Achievement Award – Dude Feathers (Oakhill Piney Community Organization) Organization of the Year Award – Mid County Community Organization Organization of the Year At-Large – Cherokee Citizens League of Southeast Texas Sponsor Award – Cherokee Nation Businesses
07/11/2018 04:00 PM
VINITIA – Less than three months after the U.S. Surgeon General released a public health advisory urging more Americans to carry a lifesaving medication that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, Vinita firefighters used that medication, naloxone, to save a life. In June, Vinita firefighters responded to a call about a female who had chewed a fentanyl patch. Vinita Fire Chief Kevin Wofford said when they arrived at the scene, firefighters found the patient unresponsive. After obtaining baseline vitals, they administered one dose of Narcan nasal spray, which is a brand name for naloxone. Within minutes, Wofford said, the ambulance arrived and the EMTs helped the patient into the ambulance where her symptoms abated. “In about three minutes after they had administered the Narcan, she was becoming more responsive and they got a reversal,” Wofford said. Wofford said the Narcan nasal spray for helping save this patient and describes the medication as being “a big help” to area first responders as they deal with the growing crisis of opioid overdose deaths. The Narcan nasal spray used in the June rescue was supplied to the Vinita Fire Department during a naloxone training hosted by in part by Cherokee Nation Behavioral Health Prevention Programs earlier this year. On Feb. 27, 100 representatives from Craig County area law enforcement agencies, fire departments and emergency medical services, as well as school administrators, teachers and coaches received naloxone training and were given free naloxone kits to use in emergency overdose situations. The training and naloxone kits were supplied by Behavioral Health, which received a $1 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration as part of the First Responder Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. “The first part of the grant is to get all ‘traditional’ first responders — police, fire departments, EMS — trained and supplied throughout the 14 counties of Cherokee Nation,” Sam Bradshaw, Behavioral Health Prevention Programs manager, said. “Once we’ve done that, then we’ll come back around and offer the training and naloxone kits to ‘nontraditional’ first responders — doctor’s offices, nurses and other people in the community.” Due to grant requirements, first responders can only receive the naloxone kits from CN if they undergo training. To date, naloxone trainings have been held in 12 CN counties and will soon be presented in the last two. Bradshaw said he hopes to be able to offer the ‘nontraditional’ first responder training toward the end of the year. Anyone interested in attending a naloxone training and obtaining kits should call 918-276-2192. “We will resupply naloxone kits that have been used,” Bradshaw said. “To get the replacement kits, first responders must fill out a form, which allows us to collect the data we need for the grant. They can fill out the form they were given with the naloxone kits or contact Grand Nation, which has the forms and will help them get the form filled out correctly so we can get more kits to the first responders who need them.” Naloxone kits that aren’t used may also need to be resupplied, Bradshaw said. “This is a four-year grant and, hopefully, not all of the kits will be needed,” said Bradshaw. “But even those who don’t ever use it, need to be aware that these kits will expire. So we’ll resupply if they’ve expired.” While the naloxone training focuses on dealing with the consequences of opioid addiction, Behavioral Health Prevention Programs is also working to reduce prescription drug-related harm and increase awareness of the opioid epidemic. To learn more, visit the ThinkSMART Oklahoma Facebook page or <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.