BY JOE DORMAN
Under the law, Oklahoma’s chief financial officer, appointed by the governor, is responsible for assuring that a monthly distribution of funds to agencies as appropriated by our Legislature does not exceed the available amount. State statutes spell out that, if necessary, a cut must be made in the ratio of the reduction, no more and no less.
No issues have arisen in the past with reducing more than was needed, but this happened for the first time in state history just a few months ago. There was an initial 3% reduction at the beginning of the year, followed by another 4% cut in April. This second cut exceeded the necessary amount to balance the budget.
There are some who feel this excessive cut was to avoid another revenue failure which would have been the third in one year, setting an embarrassing record in our state history.
The cut, totaling more than $140 million beyond what was required, has not been returned to the agencies. The Oklahomans who filed this lawsuit, with the help of attorney David Slane, are seeking relief for every agency which sustained a cut.
The plaintiffs are not seeking fees for personal damages or court costs; they simply want to see this money returned to the offices which have had to fire personnel and cut vital programs for children and elderly alike.
Gov. Mary Fallin and Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger have instead discussed a special legislative session called to allocate this unspent money for teacher pay raises. This would create a recurring future expense with one-time, unguaranteed dollars.
Some of the cuts are well-publicized, such as the reductions within the state Department of Human Services and Education, but other agencies were also slashed. It was reported that 37% of the Department of Corrections staff qualify for food stamp assistance. The 2-1-1 suicide hotline took a 30% cut, likely eliminating, but certainly severely limiting the service. Many other critical services took severe cuts.
The judicial branch will soon hear this case. They should act not just to distribute the appropriated dollars, but also to restrict the precedent this cut allows. This action allows a chief executive to singlehandedly defy the law and reduce agency services beyond what the state Constitution and statues would require as enacted by the legislature.
The system of three separate but equal branches of government allows for the people to have checks and balances to protect freedoms. This also prevents an overthrow of our rights through a dictatorship. It is important for Oklahomans to have the assurance their government acts properly and follows the law.
While I hope we will see the relief for citizens through the return of these funds to where our Legislature allocated, equally important is that no official act above the law, especially those charged with executing them.
– Joe Dorman served House District 65 as a state representative for 12 years and was the 2014 Democratic nominee for governor of Oklahoma. He is the currently the community outreach director for True Wireless and a member of the Rush Springs Town Council.