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Lawmakers ask for 'crippling' budget cut scenarios, state employees say

(KOKH/FILE)

Oklahoma lawmakers have asked state agencies to come up with budget scenarios for 14.5% budget shortfalls, the Oklahoma Public Employees Association said.

The OEPA said making such large cuts, after drastic cuts last year, would cripple core services and close local offices.

"The only way for some agencies to make significant reductions is to close offices and turn out the lights," OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley said in a statement. "DHS has already cut nearly 500 positions in programs like SNAP and SoonerCare. A significant budget reduction means they permanently close some county offices. Other agencies are in the same position."

Carrie Coy, an Oklahoma probation and parole officer supervisor, said it has been challenging to work through state budget issues.

"There's not much you can do to build anybody up on that," she said to FOX 25. "It's very hard because you don't know what's to come. I've been through furloughs and times when we had nothing and we've kind of been told up front, we're going to have huge budget cuts this year too. So we don't know what's left to come for us anyway."

In addition to cuts in services to Oklahomans, because of the nature of her job, Croy said she sees potential budget cuts as a threat to public safety.

"I know where I work, staffing is very low for us, and it's very hard seeing the people who I supervise struggle to try to meet the mission of our department with high caseloads, and the demands of making sure the public is safe," Croy said.

The OPEA said lawmakers wanted to look at budget cut scenarios in order to balance the budget, while making room for teacher pay raises and keeping public education off the chopping block.

OPEA officials said they hoped lawmakers would find additional revenue options instead of just making cuts this year.

Lawmakers have about a $900 million deficit they need to consider as they draft the next state budget.

"We must not balance next year's budget by further hurting local communities, state employees and services," Zearley said. "If lawmakers approve this type of budget, that is exactly what they will be doing."

Croy said she hopes lawmakers think of agencies like hers and state employees as they work on the budget.

"As we all know in history, they're going to wait until the last few weeks of session to decide where everything goes," she said, "and then after that it's up to the agencies to disperse it how it needs to be done."

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