Will Legislators Support State Workers During Appropriations?

Nearly every legislator will tell state employees that they “support them” but do their actions back up what they say? Do you know if providing core services to Oklahomans is really a top priority to your legislator?

May is traditionally the month when the Oklahoma legislature tackles its annual budget during the appropriation process. Lawmakers determine how much money state agencies will have to operate during the state’s next fiscal year beginning July 1. However, polices enacted years ago still impact the appropriation process and priorities set by legislative leaders earlier in the session affect what will be funded. Much of the work to shape the state’s budget was done earlier in the session.

Recently, this issue was highlighted by Oklahoma’s Secretary of Finance, Administration and Information Technology Preston L. Doerflinger. “Oklahoma’s economy still shows growth and momentum that has total tax collections continuing to hit historic all-time highs,” he said. “The catch is a variety of totally noneconomic government policy factors are preventing those collections from being used for state budget purposes,” he said “These revenue issues are the creation of government, not the economy. Off-the-top apportionments, corporate income tax declines, tax credits and other tax and budgeting choices that in some cases date back decades are the reason this situation exists.”
These factors have impacted state agencies during recent years’ appropriations.

Even though Oklahoma’s economy has improved over the past few years, the amount of money available for state agencies has remained essentially the same. In fact, only 44 percent of the state’s revenue goes into the general revenue fund and it is from this fund that the money to operate state agencies (including employee salaries and benefits) is found. A few years ago, more than 50 percent of the state’s revenue went into the general fund. According to the Oklahoma Policy Institute, 39 out of Oklahoma’s 73 appropriated state agencies received cuts are flat funding in State Fiscal Year 2014.

A comparison can be drawn between this process and state employees’ payroll deduction. Many employees have payments withheld from their paycheck each payday. The money used for payroll deducted items is still earned but it never reaches the employee’s bank account so those funds are not available to pay for other household expenses. The Oklahoma state budget also has money that comes in but it is used for other things and can’t be used for the general appropriation process.

It is also important to remember that most things funded during the upcoming year will also be ongoing future expenses that will need to be paid for in future years. This is true for employee pay raises, making it difficult to fund ongoing pay raises with “one time money” or money from the state’s rainy day fund.

At the capitol, there are many groups vying for the limited amount of funding available this year for Oklahoma’s state government. In addition, there are several projects competing for funding. Different projects can take away from the money that is available to fund Oklahoma’s core services. OPEA continues to engage lawmakers at the capitol to tell them that it is urgent that they support state workers with a pay raise. Now is the time to contact your legislator to find out if they really support state programs and services, and the people who provide them.


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