Friday, November 6, 2009

Senator Gumm’s “Senate Minute” for Nov. 6-12, 2009 - Clear the Smoke, Cut the Deal and Restore the Funding

DURANT, Okla. – Hello again, everybody! As I write this, a proposal is on the table that would restore funding toOklahoma’s senior nutrition sites.

The senior nutrition program is one of the programs hardest hit by the budget cuts every agency is enduring because of declining tax collections. Affects of the national economic slowdown have finally reached Oklahoma. Because of declining tax collections, state agencies have already taken a 5 percent cut from the budget the Legislature passed in May.

As part of the Department of Human Services’ response to their cut, the Human Services Commission slashed $7.4 million from the senior nutrition program. In our area, that meant four senior nutrition sites lost funding. Those locations are Caddo, Calera,
Kingston and Wapanucka.

When we first learned of the cuts, I was among the first to call for a solution, up to and including special session if necessary, to restore funding to these sites.

There is money to it. Our state’s “Rainy Day” fund is full; also, we in the Legislature put aside about $600 million in the federal stimulus dollars allocated to
Oklahoma for use in writing next year’s budget. Dollars from either of those sources could be used. While we still face continued difficult economic news, the cuts to the senior nutrition program could be restored.

Earlier this week, we learned the governor and the director of the Department of Human Services have agreed to shift dollars within that agency to restore the senior nutrition cuts. That should allow all the nutrition sites to reopen. There is, however, a catch.

The money that would be moved to plug the senior nutrition budget hole is money committed for programs later in the year. The only way this deal is done is if the House Speaker and Senate president pro tempore agree to push a bill to restore that money to the Department of Human Services when the Legislature returns for the 2010 session in February.

I strongly support the proposal; it is a solid, good compromise, and the Speaker and president pro tempore ought to agree immediately. The deal would allow the senior nutrition sites to reopen without a costly special session of the Legislature.

Further, it shows the respect for “the greatest generation” they have more than earned. More importantly, the proposal would ensure that while
Oklahoma is going to endure difficult budget cuts, we will not balance the state budget on the backs of our senior citizens.

This issue has been the source of partisan bickering, finger-pointing, grandstanding and a smokescreen of press releases from both parties. Oklahomans do not care in the least about backroom political games; they care about senior citizens.

My message to both sides in this dispute has been simple and clear: Clear the smoke, cut the deal and restore the funding.
Oklahoma’s senior citizens deserve no less.

Thanks again for reading the “Senate Minute,” have a great week, and may God bless you all.

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