Despite improved economy, state government freeze on hiring remains

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Despite the state’s improved economy in recent months, a hiring freeze ordered by Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin seven years ago will continue until a new governor takes office.

State law dictates that executive orders remain in effect for three months after a governor’s term begins, unless they are explicitly terminated. The cost-cutting measures also extend to restrictions on salary hikes and travel Fallin implemented after Oklahoma faced a $611 million budget shortfall.

Since that time, however, a series of reform measures and tax hikes seem to have stabilized the state budget. Improved oil and gas production has again put the economy on an upward trajectory.

Fallin spokesman Michael McNutt told The Oklahoman on Thursday that the governor has no plans to change the status of those executive orders.

The first hiring freeze came in 2011 just a few months after Fallin took office and during a time when lawmakers pared back $500 million in state spending. In October that year, Fallin ordered agencies to avoid hiring, reinstating, promoting their employees or accepting transfers from other agencies.

That executive order remained in effect through 2015, even as higher revenues from oil and gas production lifted the state budget.

Then as her second term in office began, she replaced that hiring freeze with other orders that included pay raise and out-of-state travel limits. At the time, Oklahoma faced a $300 million budget shortfall that only grew as energy industry tax revenue declined along with the price of oil.

Fallin’s executive orders did offer exceptions, however. While there was a general ban on expanding the number of public employees on the state payroll, her cabinet secretaries could approve new positions. That provision was also included in the 2015 executive orders.

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