Now the deadline has passed for the House to consider Senate bills and vice versa, legislators will meet in conference committees to hammer out the details of those bills that need more work. In addition, legislative leaders and the governor will put together the final numbers on the budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1.


 


State Sen. Johnnie Crutchfield said the results are going to be “miserable.”


Now the deadline has passed for the House to consider Senate bills and vice versa, legislators will meet in conference committees to hammer out the details of those bills that need more work. In addition, legislative leaders and the governor will put together the final numbers on the budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1.

 

State Sen. Johnnie Crutchfield said the results are going to be “miserable.”

 

With revenues projected to be flat for the upcoming fiscal year, legislators have about $1.2 billion less to budget than last year. Even with money from the state’s Rainy Day Fund and the federal stimulus program, legislators are facing a shortfall of more than $500 million. State agencies may get additional cuts between 8 and 12 percent after the final numbers are in, although not every agency is expected to experience the same level of reductions.

 

“We’ll be funding at 2006 levels,” Rep. Sam Buck said during Friday’s legislative luncheon.

 

More than half of the state’s budget goes to pay for public education, and more than 85 percent of the cost of running a school is for personnel — teachers, principals, administrators, bus drivers, coaches and maintenance workers.

 

“Schools will be losing teachers and eventually lose programs,” he said. “We are taking apart (the advances made under) House Bill 1017.”

 

Agency heads have been meeting with legislative leaders to discuss how cuts of 10 percent will affect their agencies. Higher Education Chancellor Glen Johnson said a 10 percent cut would force universities to eliminate hundreds of faculty positions and courses, as well as stop hiring student workers. Terri White, commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Prevention warned that suicides are likely to increase, and local hospitals and jails will see more mental health and substance abuse patients if services are eliminated.

 

State Health Commissioner Terry Cline was equally pessimistic and said the proposed cuts would “jeopardize the integrity of our overall health infrastructure” and Oklahoma would risk become the least health state in the nation.

 

Legislators have limited options since the state must operate under a balanced budget, and any tax increases must be approved by a vote of the people. And Crutchfield said unless the revenue picture improves significantly, legislators will have even less money to appropriate for FY 2012-13, when there will be no federal stimulus dollars available.