Oklahoma governor wants to use reserve fund to shore up schools, prisons

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 07, 2016 7:58 PM

By Rory Carroll

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin on Monday proposed drawing $72 million from the state's Rainy Day Fund to spare public schools and prisons from severe cutbacks as the oil-rich state grapples with deepening budget cuts linked to the collapse of energy prices.

Fallin, a Republican, suggested using $51 million for public schools to prevent a four-day school week and $21 million for the Department of Corrections to head off draconian cuts to prisons.

The Rainy Day Fund contains $385 million, of which $144.4 million is available to address the 2016 fiscal year revenue failure, according to Fallin's office.

"The deepened revenue failure cuts have changed the budget situation in a way that requires immediate action, so I support accessing the Rainy Day Fund for common education and prisons," Fallin said.

She said withdrawing from the fund was the most responsible option available to keep vital services at acceptable levels until an agreement on recurring revenues can be reached between the governor and the legislature.

"The Rainy Day Fund option is a one-time fix, but we need to do the tough work to establish a permanent fix in the budget we pass this session," she said.

Oil-related tax revenue accounted for 10 percent of Oklahoma's budget at the peak of the shale oil boom in 2014.

The state has already cut spending on education, which accounts for a third of its $7 billion budget, by $25 million in the 2015-2016 fiscal year, and another $20 million cut looms.

On Monday global oil prices jumped more than 5 percent to $40 a barrel, the highest price so far this year.

(Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Leslie Adler)