Tahlequah Daily Press

Features

December 22, 2009

State budget crunch hurts local agencies



Every month, the news gets worse for state agencies, state employees, and Oklahoma residents who increasingly rely on state services after losing jobs and benefits.

Although national reports point to an improving economy, just try to convince Oklahoma lawmakers, and state workers who face furloughs and increased budgets cuts at least for the remainder of this fiscal year – and probably into the next one that begins July 1.

Last week, state officials ordered agencies to cut 10 percent from their budgets. Most agencies have had to reduce budgets 5 percent each month for the first half of the fiscal year.

On Monday, State Treasurer Scott Meacham announced Oklahoma will experience a revenue shortfall of more than $729 million for this fiscal year. He told the Associated Press state agencies will have to tighten their belts even further, or receive funds from the constitutional Rainy Day reserve fund or other sources. Meacham forecasts a revenue decline for the 2011 fiscal year of almost $967 million, or 17.6 percent, from the current fiscal year.

To make things even bleaker, a November state budget report issued by the National Conference of State Legislatures ranks Oklahoma worst in the nation in revenue shortfall, with collections down more than 25 percent from a year ago.

The report ranks Oklahoma’s shortfall at 18.5 percent for the current fiscal year, with the No. 2 state being Arizona, at 18 percent, followed by Illinois, with 16.5 percent. Nationwide, states have cut $145.9 billion from their budgets for the previous year.

Local agencies are struggling to provide services with less money. Cherokee County Department of Human Services Supervisor Steven Edwards says his office is receiving more new clients, including many who never have sought DHS help before. At the same time, he has fewer social workers and other staff members to serve the increased caseload.

Northeastern State University and Tahlequah Public Schools are getting by — at least for now — without noticeable cuts, but that could change as state revenue continues to fall, officials from both institutions said.

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