OKLAHOMA CITY – Gov. Mary Fallin today proposed using the state’s savings account, the Rainy Day Fund, to partially offset last week’s deepened budget cuts to common education and prisons.
The governor suggested using $51 million for public schools and $21 million for the Department of Corrections. The Rainy Day Fund contains $385 million, of which $144.4 million is available to address the 2016 fiscal year revenue failure.
"Four-day school weeks and draconian cuts at prisons are not acceptable and are not going to happen. The deepened revenue failure cuts have changed the budget situation in a way that requires immediate action, so I support accessing the Rainy Day Fund for common education and prisons," said Fallin. "This is the most responsible option available today to keep vital state services at acceptable levels until the Legislature and I reach agreement on the recurring revenues necessary to fund these services in the long run.
"We must put recurring revenues on the table this session, like I proposed in my executive budget, or we will be having this same problem next year, the year after that and years after that. The Rainy Day Fund option is a one-time fix, but we need to do the tough work to establish a permanent fix in the budget we pass this session."
First bill signed
Fallin has signed the first bill of the 2016 legislative session, a measure that moves the Will Rogers Memorial Commission under the control of the Oklahoma Historical Society.
Senate Bill (SB) 1570 goes into effect immediately since it was passed with an emergency clause.
"This is the kind of state consolidation and efficiencies that make sense as Oklahoma struggles to cope with falling revenues," said Fallin. "Moves like this are important as we work to control government spending."
SB 1570 was the first bill passed by the Oklahoma Senate and House of Representatives in the current legislative session. It garnered near universal approval in both chambers.
The new law, by Sen. Clark Jolley and Rep. Earl Sears, makes the Will Rogers Memorial Commission a part of the Oklahoma Historical Society rather than a stand-alone entity.
The commission’s mission is to collect, preserve and share the wisdom and humor of Claremore native Will Rogers for future generations.
Houses panel OKs reforms
Fallin recently commended the House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee for approving four bills related to reforms spotlighted in her State of the State address earlier this month.
"Keeping our public safe from dangerous people will always be a priority, however with our state prisons filled to well over capacity, it is vital that we make some changes to our criminal justice system," said Fallin. "The measures I have proposed will address Oklahoma’s prison population, which is among the highest in the nation, without jeopardizing public safety.
"I applaud the House committee, led by Rep. Pam Peterson, for its willingness to advance these much-needed reforms."
Two of the bills were passed last week, while the committee approved the other two earlier this month. The bills are:
· House Bill 2472 gives prosecutors discretion to file charges as misdemeanor instead of felony.
· House Bill 2479 reduces the mandatory punishment for subsequent drug offenses.
· House Bill 2751 raises the threshold for property crimes to be charged as a felony to $1,000.
· House Bill 2753 establishes means for broader use of drug courts
These bills were proposed by the governor’s Oklahoma Justice Reform Committee. They also have garnered the support of the Oklahoma District Attorneys Association.
The bills will be heard by the full House at a later date. If passed, they will go to the Senate for approval.
Fallin said the bills would provide serious sentencing changes that will help control prison costs and reduce prison rates, while preserving public safety.
"Oklahoma has to take steps to reign in its prison population," she said. "We just can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing. It’s not working."