When the 2020 legislative session convened last February, no one could have predicted how quickly so many things would change here in Oklahoma because of COVID-19. While we’ve passed legislation to help with Oklahoma’s response and given approval to emergency health orders, the biggest impact has been on the Fiscal Year 2021 budget.

In April we were told by the governor the anticipated funding gap had grown from $85.5 million to $1.3 billion due to the effect of the pandemic on our economy and state revenues. We knew the budget would be impacted but had questions about how that $1.3 billion figure was projected. However, when we asked for the data they used to arrive at that figure, we got no response whatsoever. We had no choice but to use that figure.

To balance the budget, the governor called for deep cuts to education, health care, public safety, and other core services. We felt that was the wrong approach, particularly during this pandemic.

The budget we produced protected our schools, holding education cuts to 2.5% and most other agencies received cuts of 4.1% or less. The governor vetoed the budget and supporting legislation that helped us protect education funding. We moved quickly with the House to override those vetoes.

The governor incorrectly claimed two of our bills would hurt our retirement systems, but we’ve actually been paying extra into those funds for the past several years. We simply have deferred some of those additional payments, but we have not taken any money from those systems.

Furthermore, the Senate last week joined the House in approving a cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, for Oklahoma’s retirees, including teachers, firefighters, law enforcement, and other public employees. Those who’ve been retired five years or more as of this July 1 will receive a 4% COLA. Those who’ve been retired two to five years will receive 2%. Those retired less than two years are not eligible for the COLA. This marks the first cost-of-living increase state retirees in 12 years.

Lastly, I want to continue to remind everyone, that even as the state is opening back up to please continue to follow CDC guidelines for limiting the spread of COVID-19, including using social distancing and being careful to thoroughly wash your hands and stay home if you are having any symptoms of the virus, including fever, coughing or trouble breathing, or if you’ve come into contact with someone who has the virus.

Last week we learned Texas County had the third highest number of positive cases in the state, so we need to keep our guard up. I’m working with officials to try and get more test kits here in the panhandle. In the meantime, if you want to be tested, please contact your health care provider, or call your county health department. In Beaver County, call 580-625-3693; in Harper County, call 580-921-2029; Major County, 580-227-3362; Texas County, which also serves Cimarron County, 580-338-8544; in Woods County, 580-327-3192; and in Woodward County, which also serves Ellis and Dewey Counties, call 580-256-6416. If you still are having difficulty getting tested, please contact my office.

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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