OKLAHOMA CITY (KOKH) — Oklahoma legislators continue to grapple with the state's billion dollar budget shortfall. One attempt at a solution has included deep cuts to all state agencies, even those providing services deemed essential by the state.
Though all agencies have had to slash their budget, one line item has gone unscathed for many, advertising. Fox 25 obtained records for three state agencies: Oklahoma State Department of Health, Oklahoma State Treasurer's Office, and the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
Tim Allen with the Treasurer's Office says advertising is crucial so that it can properly perform an important service. The treasurer's office spent more than two-hundred thousand dollars on advertising in the last year on projects like the Sirius Lee Scissortail puppet commercials that reminded Oklahoman's to check the unclaimed property fund.
"The reason that we advertise to begin with is that we could have the best program in the world, but if nobody knows about it, what good is it?" said Allen.
It is unlikely the agency will see its advertising budget cut because they are not directly using taxpayer dollars. That portion of their budget is funded by the unclaimed property fund itself. Allen also says there has been an uptick in the number of people getting their unclaimed money back since the puppet commercials debuted.
The health department has one of the most robust advertising budgets compared to other state agencies Fox 25 examined. The department spent 1.7 million dollars in advertising last year, but only one-hundred thousand dollars are state dollars. The rest comes from federal money and grants. The health department says it needs to advertise to ensure Oklahoman's in need, are aware of things like classes for new mothers to ensure the health of their babies.
"People are not automatically going to walk in the doors of the health department. They aren't automatically going to go to the website," says Tony Sellars, spokesperson.
Sellars also says the state monies that are used for advertising are not granted by the legislature, but come from fees and fines charged by the health department itself.
The State Department of Human Services, or DHS, technically has an advertising budget of zero, but that doesn't mean they don't spend money. The agency pays the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters $66,000 a year for promotional content, and the air time is donated by broadcast companies.
Since much of the advertising is already funded in creative ways for these agencies, it is unlikely that current budget problems will have an impact.