What Do State Agency Budget Cuts Mean for Public Safety?

Wednesday, December 16th 2009, 5:18 pm
By: News 9

By Kirsten McIntyre, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- After Tuesday's order to cut 10 percent from the bottom line, many state agencies spent the day figuring out where to find the dollars.

Some are concerned how these cuts could affect public safety.

The Department of Public Safety and the Department of Corrections both are faced with some tough decisions as they have to make cuts, but how far can they go before public safety becomes an issue?

Right now in Oklahoma 25,000 people are incarcerated, and that number is growing despite a shrinking budget.

"It's a severe cut we're going from having to reduce our monthly allocation from $1.9 million to increasing it to $3.8 million," Jerry Massie, Spokesperson for the Department of Corrections, said.

Massie says with the new budget cuts, DOC is considering several options including more furlough days, layoffs, closing smaller facilities and reducing the prison population, which would require the approval of the legislature.

"There may come a time during the budget cycle there may be some bills that come in that we just can't pay so we protect the public and the employees," said Massie. "So, we're looking at one furlough day in January and one in February."

But Oklahoma Highway Patrol Capt. Chris West says all DPS employees, including troopers, may eventually have to take three to four furlough days per month.

To save even more money troopers are being forced to drive only 100 miles per day and maintenance on vehicles is being stretched out.

"Our basic mission is traffic safety," said West. "If we have to fly few less hours in an airplane or do something a little less over here so we can continue to have the manpower on the road that's what we're going to do."

"Yes, people should be concerned if we don't have places to house inmates, if we don't have enough staff to watch them, if we can't keep them busy involved in something then time ticks along and something bad would happen," Massie said.

The Department of Corrections is waiting to see if there's a special session before making some of the hard decisions. They're hoping to get some supplemental funding from the legislature.