Oklahoma governor signs two bills for funding during crisis
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Gov. Kevin Stitt on Thursday signed two bills taking funds from Oklahoma’s Rainy Day fund to offset a $416 million budget hole blamed largely on an economic downturn due to the coronavirus.
The bills will fully fund state government through April, Stitt said, but not through the end of the fiscal year, June 30.
The governor took no action on a third bill that would provide more than $3.2 million. Stitt objected to the measure because it didn’t protect the state’s new digital transformation office from cuts.
“We had a deal with the Legislature to fully fund state government for April, May and June. I am committed to standing by our deal, but House leadership wanted to use this time to play Washington, D.C., politics and sneak in some last-minute changes while Oklahomans are hurting.”
In a statement, House Speaker Charles McCall said the House and Senate “remain united by our actions to swiftly stabilize the budget and call on the governor to finish the job” by signing the three bills.
“There is no benefit to having the budget certainty the Legislature swiftly provided jeopardized because of opposition to a noncritical issue representing 0.003% of the budget,” McCall said of the digital transformation office. “This is especially true when the Legislature just gave the governor authority to allocate $50 million at his discretion during his catastrophic health emergency declaration.”
A hospital system has temporarily closed all but its emergency room and some outpatient services at an Oklahoma City facility and will furlough employees because of a drop in patient numbers due to a state ban on elective surgeries during the coronavirus crisis.
An unspecified number of patients are being moved from Integris Baptist Medical Center Portland Avenue in northwest Oklahoma City to another Integris Health hospital in the city by Friday, spokeswoman Brooke Cayot said Thursday.
She said Integris doesn’t know how long that campus will be closed.
Stitt in March issued an executive order suspending elective surgeries and minor medical procedures to preserve supplies of protective equipment such as gloves, masks and face shields.
The hospital will reopen if and when the number of coronavirus cases surges, Cayot said.
In addition to furloughing an as yet undetermined number of employees, Integris executives who are vice presidents or above will take a 20% cut in pay and payments to employee retirement plans will be suspended, she said.
At least 1,684 people in Oklahoma have been diagnosed with the coronavirus and 80 have died, according to the state health department. The state reported 1,524 cases and 79 deaths Wednesday.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.