Someone once said, “A budget tells us what we can’t afford, but it doesn’t keep us from spending money on it.” This is certainly true when you look at how we’ve gotten to our current budget shortfall in Oklahoma. Legislators will be facing a $1 billion dollar hole to try and fill this year. Along with revenue failure, that means automatic cuts in agency appropriations will take place to constitutionally balance the budget.
Oil and gas prices have certainly contributed to our current fiscal crisis. Since 2014, prices have dropped 70 percent from $106 to $35 a barrel.
The 1,000-pound elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about, however, is that we could have made our fiscal fall less harsh if we would have reined in spending and initiated a better policy to promote economic development here in Oklahoma. This would have allowed us to begin diversifying our economy and not be so reliant on the energy sector.
Here are the numbers – back in FY 2005, the Legislature appropriated about $5.49 billion and in FY 2015 it appropriated $7.2 billion – that doesn’t include the federal stimulus funds we received in FY 08-09. The sad fact of the matter is that government spending in Oklahoma has far outpaced inflation and population growth – this should never occur. The “tax-and-spend” side always wants to blame tax cuts, but you never hear the liberal media talk about the benefits of tax cuts in our revenue collections here in Oklahoma (62 percent growth over a 10-year period) producing billions of dollars in additional revenue for Oklahoma during that time.
What we really need to look at is tax credits and exemptions that are well over $1 billion dollars and continue to compromise our budget abilities. You want more money for teachers – lets stop the handouts. When all this state money automatically comes off the top, we only reinforce what Thomas Jefferson once said, “Never spend your money before you earned it.”
Listen, most people like myself are extremely proud of our energy sector here in Oklahoma, but it’s long past time to take the burden off them to pay for everything and start diversifying our economy. Just in case anyone has forgotten, that includes trade, manufacturing, agriculture, aerospace, high tech and financial services, etc. Would you put all your “eggs in one basket” in your personal portfolio? Never – so why do we do it here in Oklahoma with our lack of policy foresight?
Here are some common sense solutions to Oklahoma’s financial woes:
1.) Responsibly lower the personal and corporate income tax over a period of years by 0.25 percent per year to spur economic income and job growth in our state
2.) Put a constitutional limit on spending and tie it to population growth and inflation.
3.) Make each state agency meet a CBA (Cost Benefit Analysis) of the money we appropriate to them.
4.) Before we reauthorize another tax credit or exemption in this state, each one must meet a nominal number of return on investment (ROI) and be approved by a joint legislative committee. Once that particular industry meets the criteria, produces jobs and a profit, they need to “stand on their own” like every other free market business who doesn’t receive those benefits.
5.) Institute priority based budgeting based on core functions of government.
6.) Zero based budgeting – go over every expenditure line by line so we don’t rely on increases or decreases so an accurate assessment of financial need is identified.
7.) Promote a financial and regulatory environment that does away with all these unrealistic fees and regulations on Oklahoma businesses. Unelected bureaucrats and their desire to sustain themselves need to stop running our state.
Folks, it is said that with “each adversity comes opportunity.” It is my hope that the Legislature will use this fiscal crisis to change policy direction and reduce its “addiction” to spending on non-core services. Let’s start getting our budget priorities in line and require performance for the taxpayers’ hard earned dollars.
Economic development will only occur when financial conditions support business diversification like lower taxes and less regulation that add costs to bottom line profits. This upcoming legislative session is a great opportunity to change what we’ve done in the past and move Oklahoma forward to a more vibrant and diversified economy.
We need to stop” blaming tax cuts,” which have actually helped our economy immensely even in recession and address the real issue.
Winston Churchill said it best when he stated (and I paraphrase); “One of the cruelest delusions to befuddle the human mind is to think that we can tax ourselves into prosperity”
Words to live by.