Once again, our state is in a deep budget crisis that threatens health care for the most vulnerable Oklahomans. But the courageous spirit of the people who will be most affected by budget cuts refuses to be daunted. Thousands are turning up at the Capitol to try and convince lawmakers to come together and find a solution to this crisis, but more drains on the budget are shaking loose. Could Oklahomans with disabilities be on the brink of a health services nightmare?
When Oklahomans with Disabilities Rise Up to Be Heard
Tuesday, October 24th, the state Capitol was filled to capacity as 1,100 visitors—the maximum allowed according to fire code—came to save imperiled health services provided by the state. Outside the Capitol, hundreds stood in a line that circled the building. They too wanted their chance to convince lawmakers to balance the budget and save the health services so many people with disabilities depend on.
Earlier this year, the Oklahoma Supreme Court declared that a $1.50 per pack cigarette tax was unconstitutional. The bill had been passed without the requisite majority, and so the fallen legislation left a $215 million hole in the budget. Those funds were meant to provide health care, mental health and social services to people all over the state, but without those funds services may soon be cancelled and Medicaid payouts may soon shrink. And that’s only the beginning of the problems.
Other Problems with the Oklahoma State Budget
The state Supreme Court also ruled that a registration fee for hybrid and electric vehicles was also passed without the requisite votes. This could leave another $500,000 hole in the budget. Adding to that, the Oklahoma Health Commissioner and Senior Deputy Commissioner have both resigned over allegations of mishandling funds. Interim Health Commissioner Preston Doerflinger is going over the books to see what went wrong, but has already asked the state House and Senate for $30 million on top of the $215 million deficit in order to pay employees at the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
Will lawmakers be able to get this budget crisis under control? Will the voices of Oklahomans with disabilities be heard? There’s very little time left to arrive at a deal. If the state can’t fix the budget crisis by December 1st, then service cuts will go into effect. The Tulsa disability attorneys at Troutman & Troutman will continue to monitor the crisis and give you updates.