Senate and House Democratic leaders, Senate Republican leadership and Governor Brad Henry have agreed on emergency funding solutions that will prevent Medicaid cuts for more than 139,000 Oklahomans and reduce prison guard furloughs for the remainder of the fiscal year.
Senate President Pro Tempore Cal Hobson and House Speaker Larry Adair joined Senate Minority Leader James A. Williamson and Governor Henry in announcing plans Wednesday for a $9 million supplemental appropriation for the Department of Corrections and $7.2 million for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority.
"We made finding funds for these needs a priority because cuts by these agencies would threaten public safety and the availability of health care for thousands of children and senior citizens," said Hobson, D-Lexington.
"We have an obligation to support funding for our children and the elderly and to insure that public safety needs are met," said Adair, D-Adair.
Governor Henry agreed.
"It is our duty, especially when budget times are tough, to do everything humanly possible to protect the people of Oklahoma and ensure that they have adequate access to health care. By approving emergency funding for our health and public safety agencies, we will prevent thousands of Oklahoma children, disabled and elderly citizens from losing their health benefits, in addition to reducing prison furlough days and keeping correctional officers on the job. This action won't solve our long-term budget problems, but it will provide some help to the people who need it now," Governor Henry said.
The announcement marks the second bipartisan agreement on emergency funding solutions during the current legislative session. In February, Henry signed a $25.5 million supplemental appropriation for public schools, a measure that received bipartisan support.
Senate Republicans joined Senate and House Democrats Wednesday in supporting the latest plan and calling for a continued bi-partisan approach to budget issues.
"The supplemental provides funds for several important government priorities, including health care and corrections. Senate Republicans are pleased to be part of this bipartisan agreement on supplemental funding, but Democrats and Republicans must work together to reach agreement on next year's common education funding and the rest of the Fiscal Year 2004 budget as soon as possible," Williamson said.
As part of Wednesday's agreement, four other agencies would share another $2.18 million in supplemental appropriations.
The proposal calls for nearly $10.6 million to be taken from the state's Rainy Day Fund. In addition to the $9 million for the Department of Corrections, the Office of State of Finance would receive $1 million for a crucial upgrade of its computer system, the Office of Juvenile Affairs would receive $100,000 and the Oklahoma Tax Commission would get $477,000.
An emergency declaration by Governor Henry is needed before any money can be expended from the Rainy Day Fund, which currently has an available balance of slightly more than $10.7 million.
The $7.2 million for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority will come from the cash carryover of the Department of Human Services. It will be paid back by lawmakers as part of the Fiscal Year 2004 DHS appropriation.
The proposal for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority includes $2.7 million promised to the authority by legislative leaders late last year and another $4.5 million needed to off-set the latest round of budget cuts for the current fiscal year.
It is intended to prevent proposed OHCA cuts that would raise eligibility standards resulting in the reduction or elimination of Medicaid benefits for children, senior citizens and other needy Oklahomans. Without the funds, Health Care Authority officials have said they would need to implement the cuts beginning May 1.
The $600,000 for the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System will be taken from the Court Fund.
"We're pleased we were able to find funding solutions to meet these needs, but our available cash is quickly running out. We've used practically all of the Rainy Day Fund and started tapping cash reserves other agencies will need next year. There are more needs and we're looking for the money to meet them, but it's not going to be an easy job," Hobson said.