The Oklahoma Health Department asking lawmakers to cut its budget for next year by more than $4.5 million.
With Oklahoma consistently ranking nearly the bottom for health issues, some lawmakers are questioning the cut. There is a concern less money will mean fewer services, but the health department argues it can do more with less.
Department of Health Commissioner Gary Cox said his department’s budget would be reduced by about one percent.
"We think that the taxpayers expect us to be lean and efficient in the way we do business to use modern business principles,” Cox said.
That idea of cutting the department’s budget has state Senator Allison Ikley-Freeman, a Democrat from Tulsa, concerned.
"The bare minimum isn't gonna cut it for Oklahoma,” she said.
In a Facebook post, Ikley-Freeman said while it's “important to be frugal… it is dangerous to withhold crucial services in order to brag about a shrinking budget."
"This is a move to show a savings of money that may not be actual savings,” she said in an interview. “That very likely is going to lead to a reduction in services to Oklahomans who need it most.”
Governor Kevin Stitt just appointed Cox to the position in September. Cox said his department has enough administrators. He said if things go his way, some positions could be combined, and some vacant positions may not be filled.
Cox said his plan involves hiring more nurses and health educators, with a focus on rural parts of the state.
"We'd really like to focus on programs that actually are targeted toward low-income kids, because research shows that's where we get our biggest gain in health,” Cox said.
State appropriations for the health department in the current fiscal year are $60,768,712. The proposed budget for the 2021 fiscal year is $56,232,382.
The budget needs to be finalized by the end of the next legislative session, which is next May.