Oklahoma corrections, public safety departments look for additional funds
Officials with the state Corrections Department and Department of Public Safety say they are working on money-saving measures, but they likely will need more cash to pay bills and protect the public for the 2011 budget year.
In a $6.7 billion budget agreement announced last week by Republican legislative leaders and Democrat Gov. Brad Henry, the budget for corrections was trimmed by 3 percent, and the budget for the Department of Public Safety was cut by 1 percent.
At the Corrections Department, the budget hole could be as much as $46 million, said Justin Jones, director.
“We are asking for a supplement that equals $46 million,” Jones said. “Public safety is compromised if we have to do maximum furloughs and continue to lay off employees.”
While the department’s budget was cut by $14 million, it also loses $21 million in one-time funds that were used to offset budget cuts in the current budget year. Increased contributions to employee retirement and health plans also have stressed the department’s budget, Jones said.
“We want to do our share, but as long as we have uncontrollable net offender growth, it’s impossible to balance the budget with unfunded mandates and continuous cuts,” Jones said.
In the past year, the number of people in prison has increased by 708, Jones said. At the same, the department’s staff has decreased by 180 through buyouts and layoffs. Four or five work centers across the state will be closed this year to help the department adjust to budget cuts.
“As the ratio of staff to inmates continues to increase, my staff will be in harm’s way,” Jones said. “When offenders believe we cannot protect them from each other they will engage in activities that they wouldn’t do, which could result in an array of actions that could put the public safety at risk.”
A supplemental budget increase will be needed to help the Corrections Department get through the year, said Rep. Randy Terrill, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety and Judiciary.
“We are approaching a point of critical mass,” said Terrill, R-Moore. “It’s to the point where we are really asking DOC personnel to do things that I’m not sure are really safe for them to be doing, and it’s placing them at risk.”
Terrill said he is working with the department to cut costs, but the department will likely need a large cash infusion to get through the 2011 budget year, which ends June 30, 2011.
The Department of Public Safety likely will avoid furloughs, but they also will need additional money to get through next year.
“We’re still in talks with leadership, but we’re comfortable that we’re looking at a furlough-free scenario,” said Maj. Rusty Rhoades, with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.
The Department of Public Safety has a $15 million gap that could be filled with extra dollars from a fee collected on wire money transfers.
Funds set aside for the construction of troop headquarters and the purchase of new cars now will be used to help fund operations, Terrill said.
“By the end of the day, they will be in a situation where they will be fine,” Terrill said.
“Are they going to have much of a cushion? No. We are operating on a very razor-thin margin. The goal is and always has been to make sure there are no furloughs and there is no loss of coverage in the state.”