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State Budget Cuts Impact Corporation Commission

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[File Photo] [File Photo]

Dozens of state agencies are preparing for the reality of cuts to their budgets, in the wake of the Legislature's approval last week of a $7.1 billion state spending plan. The Governor has not signed the budget bill into law yet, although she is expected to do so. 

Those who wrote what, by law, must be a balanced budget had an unenviable task, considering there was a $611 million shortfall to overcome. But now the difficulty shifts to the individual agencies, which are having to absorb much of that shortfall.

And at an agency like the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which handles several core government functions, there's real concern that this latest cut could undermine their ability to carry out those functions.

"I think all the agencies were preparing for a difficult budget situation," said Dana Murphy, Vice Chairman of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, "I just didn't anticipate it was going to be something like this."

Commissioner Murphy is referring to what she understands to be a $5.8 million decrease in available funding, which is about ten percent of current year spending. This for an agency that's responsible for everything from regulating oil and gas wells to making sure 18-wheelers aren't overweight; from regulating wind farms to -- this was just added to their list -- regulating Uber.

"I think it's important to make sure that, with the services we provide to the public," said Murphy, "the leadership knows what's going to happen to our services, and I think the public needs to know."

That's why, as soon as details of the budget agreement came to light last Thursday, Murphy sent a letter to the Governor, Speaker of the House and President Pro Tem of the Senate. Among other things, Murphy told them the cuts would "hamper oil and gas well site inspections".. "slow [their] progress on addressing the issue of triggered seismicity".. and "mean little or no money for emergency plugs of wells that pose a direct threat to health."

"We're given statutory mandated services to fulfill," noted Commissioner Murphy, "we need to be sure we're going to be able to fulfill those, and to fulfill those, we have to have the money to do that."

Murphy says that's now in question.

In a statement to News 9, the Governor's spokesman, Alex Weintz, said Commissioner Murphy misunderstands the size of the cut. He says they will have $592,643 less in appropriated funds, not $5.8 million.

Weintz wrote: "The misunderstanding centers around revolving funds. It appears that Commissioner Murphy thought the Commission was being stripped of $5.25 million in Commission revolving fund money. In reality, that money is being kept at the Commission to be used for general operations in the next fiscal year."

There are differences of opinion as to whether money from revolving funds can be used for general operations, or can only be used for the specific purpose laid out in the statute creating the revolving fund.

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