OPINION

State budget for 2023 fiscal year approved

Sen. Bill Coleman

The day we’ve all been waiting for has finally come – the Fiscal Year 2023 budget has been approved. The $9.7 billion budget protects core state services; increases funding to a majority of our state agencies; makes critical investments in our veterans, law enforcement and public health, while also providing much-needed financial relief to Oklahomans. We did all of that while also boosting savings to a historic $2.6 billion to protect our state against future economic downturns or natural disasters.

I’m thrilled to see that our public safety agencies received some of the largest budget increases, including the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (OBNDD), the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI), the Department of Public Safety (DPS) and the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training (CLEET). The increases will provide pay increases for our Oklahoma Highway Patrol Troopers and OSBI agents, as well as additional funding to hire more troopers. DPS dispatchers and officers at the Capitol, CLEET-certified state park rangers, law enforcement officers in the attorney general’s (AG) office and other state agencies will also receive pay bumps. We’re also increasing funding for law enforcement training and academies, creating a human trafficking division in the AG’s office, strengthening enforcement of the medical marijuana industry, and providing better mental health support for our brave law enforcement personnel.

This budget also puts money back in the pockets of hardworking Oklahoma families as we face historic inflation and skyrocketing prices on goods and services. Every taxpayer will receive a $75 rebate in December or $150 for joint filers. Those purchasing a vehicle or tractor trailer will also save some money after we eliminated the 1.25% motor vehicle sales tax. Small, rural towns like those in our district will also benefit from a substantial increase in Rural Economic Action Plan (REAP) funding for water and infrastructure projects, along with additional monies for our rural fire departments.

Major investments were made to improve public health, including nearly $33 million to eliminate the state’s 13-year waiting list for developmental disability services, which will positively impact some 5,100 Oklahomans. This includes a 25% increase to reimbursement rates for service providers. Our state public health workers will get salary increases and we’re also boosting funding for nursing programs to get more healthcare workers around the state and increasing mental health provider rates and access to acute behavioral health for children.

We also took a historic step recently, when we convened a special session to address federal funding. Last summer, the Legislature created the bipartisan, bicameral Joint Committee on Pandemic Relief Funding to prioritize proposals for our state government’s $1.8 billion share of the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. While I’m not on the committee, I’ve been following their work and know they’ve received hundreds of proposals, including various infrastructure projects and expanding rural broadband statewide. These proposals were eventually supposed to be submitted to the governor for his final approval, but to expedite the process, the Legislature has decided to go ahead and move forward with approving those projects in special session.

I’ll have more information about the historic budget and special session next week. If you have any questions on the budget or other legislative matters, you can contact me by calling 405-521-5581 or emailing Bill.Coleman@oksenate.gov.