Corrections agency begins hiring freeze
Citing uncertainty with the current fiscal year budget, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections on Wednesday announced a hiring freeze.
The freeze would apply to all posts except for correctional officers, food service workers and maintenance staff. It also would not apply to those with employment offers already on the table.
“Nearly 90 percent of our budget falls into four categories,” said Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Joe M. Allbaugh. “That does not leave much wiggle room. We can’t just close the Department of Corrections to save money.
“Therefore, I have put this agency on a hiring freeze until uncertainty with the fiscal year 2018 budget — a year which is more than half over — gets resolved.”
The action comes in the wake of the House's rejection of a revenue package Monday that would have provided a $5,000 teacher pay raise and funding for core government services. The revenue package — which included hikes in the gasoline tax, cigarette tax, a new tax on renewable energy and increasing the gross production tax to 4 percent from 2 percent — was part of the Step Up Oklahoma plan supported by business and civic leaders.
State policy makers are planning to make an additional $45 million in cuts to state agencies as a result of the failure of the measure. Gov. Mary Fallin was expected to amend her second special session call to include budget cuts.
The prison system has been plagued by staff shortages, overcrowded facilities and serious maintenance problems.
State institutions are operating at 113 percent of capacity, according to the department.
The agency has asked for $1.5 billion for the upcoming fiscal year, an increase of slightly more than $1 billion from last year.
The request includes $813 million for two new medium-security prisons. Also, current facilities need millions in repairs, Allbaugh has said.
Meanwhile, the fallout over the failed revenue bill continued Wednesday.
Tulsa Regional Chamber President and CEO Mike Neal sent his members a letter with the names of those who voted for and against the measure. “We at the Tulsa Regional Chamber remain extremely disappointed by this failure,” Neal’s letter said.
The letter went to 7,000 members, multiple representatives from various companies and its regional partners.
Neal said it was an attempt to hold lawmakers accountable, adding that failure to secure approval for the measure was a huge failure and an extreme missed opportunity.
He said the business community is begging for further negotiations from all sides and immediate reconsideration from those who voted against it.
The maximum security cellblock at the North Fork Correctional Center in Sayre is shown in this photo from 2016.