OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Mary Fallin signed 17 bills into law on Tuesday, including a much-debated $6.8 billion plan to fund Oklahoma state government for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
The general appropriations bill was the result of negotiations between Fallin's office and leaders in the House and Senate, and it emerged last week in the waning days of the legislative session.
The bill failed on its first vote in the House when the Democratic minority, who were concerned it didn't provide enough funding for education, teamed up with Republicans who thought the bill was bloated or were upset with how the deal was reached. The measure ultimately passed on a second vote in the House, when a handful of Republicans switched their vote.
"The budget passed this year is a fiscally conservative blueprint for state government that largely holds the line on spending," Fallin said in a statement. "It does so while providing targeted increases for specific needs and areas in which we know the state must improve, including child welfare services, education, road and bridge repair, access to health care, and public safety."
While the budget for most state agencies were flat and received no increase in state appropriations, the bill did include targeted increases for a handful of state agencies. Overall, the bill represented an increase of more than 3 percent over last year's spending.
Among the budgetary increases was an additional $50 million for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services to beef up its child-welfare services as a result of the settlement of a lawsuit over the care of children in its custody. The bill will allow the agency to hire more child-welfare case workers and increase their training. The measure also includes $4 million to pay for legal fees connected to the federal class-action lawsuit.
Among the other bills signed into law by Fallin on Tuesday were measures to complete the consolidation of several state agencies into the Office of State Finance, which is renamed under the legislation as the Office of Management and Enterprise Services. The Department of Central Services, Office of Personnel Management, Oklahoma State Employees Benefits Council, and State and Education Employees Group Insurance Board were moved under OSF last year, but a "cleanup bill" was needed to complete the process, said Rep. Jason Murphey, the chairman of the House Government Modernization Committee.
"This year, we consolidated the boards, the policy setting bodies," said Murphey, R-Guthrie. "We consolidated a lot of administrative overhead here."
The agency consolidation is expected to result in a net savings of $6.5 million, while the bill also places a freeze on increases in the flexible benefit allowance for state employees that is expected to result in an additional $8.5 million in savings next year.
Other bills signed by Fallin transfer oversight of the Commercial Pet Breeders Board to the Department of Agriculture, modify the requirements of the Native American liaison position in the governor's office, and rename more than 20 bridges and highways across the state.