News Column

Oklahoma Finance Secretary: Indian museum funding proposal 'dead'

May 16, 2014

By Rick Green, The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City

May 16--State troopers, correctional workers and child welfare employees would get a pay hike in a budget deal that also envisions a bond measure to fix the crumbling state Capitol but no money to complete a half-finished American Indian cultural center and museum, officials said Friday.

Gov. Mary Fallin said the budget includes $36.8 million for pay raises ranging from 5 percent to 13.5 percent for 12,378 state employees at 25 agencies. The lowest-paid workers are included in the hike, which, for many state employees, would be their first increase in several years.

Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger described as "dead" a proposal for $40 million in state money to finish the long-stalled Indian center project in Oklahoma City. The money was to be paired with $40 million in private funds. Backers of the project have said that without state funding this year, the private pledges will disappear.

Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, said the Oklahoma Senate had a plan to provide that $40 million from the state's unclaimed property fund, but the House refused to support that proposal or come up with a viable alternative plan. He said if the private funds are withdrawn "the state will be left with an $80 million problem."

"It is a failure of the Legislature to act for the last 20 years," he said.

Meantime, the biggest repair and refurbishment project in the history of the 96-year-old state Capitol is to be accomplished through a $120 million, 10-year bond measure. Longstanding problems in the plumbing, electrical system and facade of the landmark building would finally be fixed.

A four-pound chunk of concrete nearly hit a worker's desk recently in a basement office, a backed up pipe in the same area spewed smelly water into the carpet and parts of the grounds outside the building are blocked off to prevent people from being hit by falling pieces of the building's crumbling facade.

House Speaker Jeff Hickman called the repairs long overdue and noted that an oversight committee would ensure the project is completed "in an efficient and fiscally conservative manner."

Common education will get an $80 million increase.

"We have gone to extraordinary lengths -- even with a sluggish revenue year -- to add substantial new resources to common education in Oklahoma," Fallin said.

She noted the $80 million increase adds to the $74 million in additional common education funding in the 2014 budget, bringing a total of new common education funding to $154 million in the past two fiscal years.

Flat budgets are included for the Health Care Authority, higher education and vocation-technology education, among others. A small budget increase is expected for state Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, with this focused on funding for drug courts. A total of 52 agencies received reduced appropriations, with most reductions at 5.5 percent.

The budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 is roughly $7.12 billion, which is $102.1 million, or 1.4 percent, less than the previous year's budget.

The governor said the budget required some spending cuts to close a $188 million shortfall in appropriations funds.

The agreement increases the Department of Human Services budget by $44.6 million to continue sufficient funding of the Pinnacle Plan, the multi-year program aimed at improving the state's child welfare services.

"This is a responsible, realistic budget that makes tough, necessary cuts while adequately funding core government services," Fallin said.



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Source: Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City)

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