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Big little budgets

Smaller agencies need more funding to help Oklahoma thrive

Large state agencies and the big problems they address—including education, health care and mental illness—naturally get most of the attention (and money) at budget time. But smaller agencies also provide services that are equally important to our state’s people and future. They investigate crimes and operate courts; they care for the environment; they collect taxes and administer government. If they are not adequately funded, we all suffer.

All agencies faced repeated and serious budget cuts over the past decade in Oklahoma, but small agencies were hit hardest. The 2019 Legislature started restoring funds for some of these agencies, but most small agencies still receive less funding than they did in FY 2009. The state must increase funding for these agencies and their programs.

The share of appropriations for the ten largest agencies in FY 2020 is the smallest in over a decade, at 87.9 percent. Thirty-five of Oklahoma’s smallest agencies will receive less funding than they did 11 years ago, even without accounting for inflation or population growth. Twenty-two (20 percent) have been cut by 20 percent or more. For example, since FY 2009, we have seen a:

  • 56 percent reduction in the Office of Emergency Management and a 64 percent decline in the Governor’s Emergency Fund, both with responsibilities to help recover from wildfires in 2018 and flooding in recent months;
  • 19 percent decline in the budget of the Health Department, the agency whose responsibilities include responding to West Nile and measles outbreaks;
  • Reduction of 56 percent in the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs in the face of an opioid crisis;
  • Decline of 23 percent in the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training, while the number of officers and public expectations upon them are growing;
  • 31 percent decrease in funding for the Department of Tourism at a time when high employment and low gas prices will have record numbers of families on the road looking for new adventures; and
  • 38 percent reduction in the Department of Libraries, which serves the lowest income and least connected Oklahomans with internet access and literacy and General Education Development (GED) courses.

Economic growth and revenue increases adopted in 2018 provided the opportunity to begin restoring smaller agencies’ budgets by $140 million. This will make Oklahoma safer, invest in our future, promote innovation and hold government more accountable.

The FY 2020 budget promotes public safety in additional funding for firefighting efforts for the Department of Agriculture; increasing staffing and materials for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation; water quality and laboratory improvements at the Department of Environmental Quality; and flood control in the Conservation Commission. It invests in Oklahoma workers and their families through the Physicians Manpower Training Commission; increases economic development funding for the Department of Commerce; and allows the Commission for Children and Youth to better coordinate their work. 

The state can further increase smaller agencies’ budgets with little budget impact. An additional $110 million in funding—1.4 percent of overall state appropriations—will restore smaller agency budgets to the FY 2009 level. This small investment will pay off many times over in a healthier environment, safer communities, a better quality of life and a stronger economy. 

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Paul Shinn is the Budget and Tax Senior Policy Analyst at Oklahoma Policy Institute