Writing and approving a balanced budget is the most important responsibility the constitution places on the Legislature. Back in February, we knew we’d be facing a budget gap of about $85 million because of low energy prices. But revenue figures that had already been impacted by lower oil and gas prices were hit even harder by the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, the State Board of Equalization projected we’d be facing a hole of at least $1.3 billion for Fiscal Year 2021.

Rather than simply approving deep across the board budget cuts—a move that would have been devastating for state agencies and the citizens they serve—the budget hole was instead closed by utilizing reserve funds, cutting one-time spending, temporarily redirecting non-appropriated money into the budget, and spending reductions of 4.1% or less. Our schools were prioritized in this budget, with reductions for education held to 2.5%, which could be offset by federal COVID relief funds. The teacher pay increases we worked hard to enact and per pupil spending should not change.

These measures will stabilize the budget, and we’re optimistic that as the economy picks back up, we could eventually be able to restore some funding to the FY 2021 budget during the next legislative session. Both the Senate and House approved this budget last week and it now awaits action by the governor.

We also approved measures this past week to further assist Oklahoma’s response to the pandemic. Doctors, nurses, hospitals and clinics and other facilities have been working around the clock in response to COVID-19. Legislation we approved gives those providers limited liability protection from those alleging injury as a result of their treatment or care during this health emergency. This bill is also awaiting consideration by the governor.

The Senate also approved a measure that will ensure law enforcement and first responders can continue to receive information about whether they’re responding to a call where an individual has tested positive for COVID-19. They currently have this ability during the governor’s health emergency, but this will ensure it remains in place once the order expires. This is important as we will likely still be dealing with new COVID-19 cases, even after the order ends. This non-identifying information enables law enforcement and other first responders to determine when they need to use personal protective equipment (PPE), which in turns helps them to better manage their supplies. The bill was sent to the House for approval.

Finally, I want to update everyone on how our census response numbers are looking for Senate District 27.

As of May 10, the national average response rate was 58.5%, and for Oklahoma, it was 52.4 %. Looking at the counties in Senate District 27:

Beaver County – 18.9%

Cimarron County – 10.5%

Dewey County – 21.2%

Ellis County – 26.3%

Harper County – 21.9%

Major County – 49.1%

Texas County – 36.4%

Woods County – 48.9%

Woodward County – 47.6%

Among local communities:

Boise City – 11.1%

Guymon – 49.9%

Beaver – 29.4%

Woodward – 51.7%

Shattuck – 30.3%

Fairview – 58.6%

Alva – 51.7%

Seiling - 10%

Buffalo – 23.8%

The outcome will have an impact on every single person in this district for the next 10 years. Billions of federal dollars are distributed every year for transportation, public schools, health and mental health and much more. Those dollars are sent to communities, counties and states based on the population count in the census. If you and your family aren’t counted, our communities and counties will be shortchanged for a decade.

It only takes a few minutes to complete the census, and you can respond by mail, over the phone by calling 1-844-330-2020, or online at 2020census.gov. Please, let’s all do our part to make sure Oklahoma gets a full count this year.

It is my honor to serve you in the Oklahoma State Senate. You can reach me by calling 405-521-5626 or emailing Casey.Murdock@oksenate.gov.

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