Oklahoma health department requests a reduced budget
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – The Oklahoma State Department of Health requested less money for its proposed budget, a move lawmakers are calling counterintuitive and confusing.
Oklahoma Commissioner of Health Gary Cox asked legislators on Dec. 2 to decrease his agency’s funding by 1.5%, bringing the proposed budget to $56.2 million for fiscal year 2021. The current state budget allocates $60.8 million to the department, The Oklahoman reported.
Legislators grilled Cox on Dec. 2 during the budget hearing at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City where the budget proposal was considered.
Rep. Marcus McEntire, R-Duncan, called the budget proposal “counterintuitive” to reducing Oklahoma’s public health problems while Democratic Sen. Allison Ikley-Freeman, from Tulsa, said the budget proposal was confusing.
Sen. Frank Simpson, who chairs the state Senate’s Health and Human Services Appropriations subcommittee, said legislators are unaccustomed to having agency heads request budget reductions.
“In my nine years here, this is the first agency that has come to a committee meeting I’ve been a part of and asked for less money,” said Simpson, R-Ardmore.
Oklahoma ranked 47th in overall health among U.S. states in 2018, down from 43rd in 2017, according to a report by America’s Health Rankings.
Gary Cox was the executive director of the Oklahoma City-County Health Department last year before Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt appointed him in September to lead the state health department. Commenting on that health report, he said last year that the state may not be investing enough in programs to target people who are at higher risk of poor health, the newspaper reported.
On Dec. 2, he told legislators that he wants to focus on cutting costs and make the department more efficient.
“We’re trying to be frugal and, I guess you would say, accountable for the resources we have,” Cox said.
Cox noted that he would eliminate unnecessary administrative jobs, combine jobs that could be done by one person and remove unfilled jobs. He added that he would use the cost savings to hire nurses, health educators and other employees to work at local health departments, the majority of which are overseen by the state.
The department’s total proposed budget for FY 2021 is $427 million, which come from state and federal funding and revolving funds and a variety of other accounts.