From the editorial board
Some good news and some bad news came out of the state Capitol earlier this week.
The good news is Gov. Brad Henry and legislative leaders have agreed on a $7 billion state budget for the next fiscal year before the end of April.
The bad news is none of that should come as a surprise to anyone. The agreement reached calls for essentially a standstill budget. That means most state agencies will receive the same amount of money they received for the current fiscal year.
One notable exception is Department of Corrections, which will receive $21 million more next fiscal year. It’s unfortunate we have to spend so much money on prisons, but an outside audit commissioned by legislative leaders identified our corrections system as a critical need. The $21 million more going to DOC won’t be enough to fix all the problems the audit identified, but it will help.
The big losers in the budget appear to be teachers and state employees.
Henry had proposed in his state of the state address at the beginning of the fiscal year to give teachers $1,200-a-year-raises and state employees a 5 percent pay hike. Unfortunately, those proposals came before it was determined the Legislature will have $114 million less to spend than it did last year.
So, the raises have been eliminated.
Henry has made boosting teacher pay to the regional average a priority since he has been in office, so teachers have received raises in the past. We hope their situation continues to be addressed in the future.
State employees, though, have not seen any pay increases in years. They need to become a priority.
The budget also does not include more money for road and bridge repairs, another pressing need in our state. However, there is not much that can be done to satisfy everyone during a lean budget year.
It’s obvious many people are not going to like this budget. However, no agencies were forced to take cuts, so that is something to consider.
Agency heads, though, will have to watch expenses, especially considering high gas prices.
All in all, it’s not a great budget, but it sure beats the massive cuts agencies had to endure just a few years ago.