Legislators Dealing Dollars

Observations of the Oklahoma legislative session from Steve Lewis, former Speaker of the House and the Child Protection Coalition Advocacy Liaison, in his weekly Capitol News Update …

As this year’s session nears closing, Lewis notes that “there are no winners in this budget” due to a shortage of dollars and maneuvering among the two Chambers and the Governor.

“Most agencies took another big hit, the same as the past few years. Big losers were agencies that administer the Medicaid program providing healthcare services to poor people. Oklahoma Healthcare Authority will have to find a way to eat a $90 million hole in the Medicaid budget. That will likely mean a combination of cutting benefits and cutting provider fees.

“Same is true with the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. On a smaller overall budget they have a Medicaid match deficit of $13.5 million plus other cuts. DHS also has state match needs for Medicaid services.

“DHS received $36 million to meet its obligation under the Pinnacle Plan, the child welfare lawsuit settlement and an additional $8 million. The most interesting feature of the budget was the so-called pay increase for selected state employees.

“The agreement includes SB 2131 that mandates the raises, but except for a few agencies, no money was appropriated to pay them. That means the agencies will have to eat the cost within their budget, cutting employees and/or the services they provide.”