January 19, 2011

Time for Fallin to Cut the Budget, Then Clean House

[This Marlin Oil advertorial appears in the January 20 edition of The City Sentinel.]

Last year, the Legislature of Oklahoma passed, and Governor Brad Henry approved, a budget of $6.7 billion. It was balanced with the help of a Rainy Day Fund, federal stimulus funds, and some creative use of cash flow.

This year, the “built-in” spending -- if everything could stay constant -- is projected at $6.8 billion.

Projected tax revenue, without Rainy Day or stimulus money, is $6.2 billion, but is actually coming in above that, as the state economy continues to perform much better than the national. At the end of the whole process, late this spring, chances seem good (but not guaranteed) that the revenue versus spending gap will close another $245 million.

What our state actually spends includes other revenues, including fees, special levies, and federal matching funds. The total annual churn of spending in state government is far more than two times the announced budget figures.

Combining some government functions will save Oklahomans some resources, but in the end there will be no substitute for trimming government spending to match available resources. Simply put, that means budget cuts.

As Governor Mary Fallin said last week, "One of my top goals is right-sizing government, to look at our different state agencies, boards and commissions." That's good and in keeping with her historic campaign for the chief executive's position.

However, for Fallin's supporters, it's a little bit nerve-wracking that there are still no details on what is to be cut, where it is to be cut, and when those cuts will go into effect.

In short form, here is the problem. At a time when the gap between taxpayer revenues and government activities is known to fall somewhere between $225 million and $600 million, those who run the various departments nonetheless came in with budgets 25 percent higher than expected.

That says just about all you need to know about those who are still in charge of day-to-day work in our state government. Submission of such inflated budget figures may be the way business has always been done, yet it strikes many Oklahomans as a kind of casual defiance of not only Fallin, but also of voters who could not have been clearer in their endorsement of change at the Oklahoma Capitol.

For Oklahoma government, it’s time to cut the budget, and then clean house.

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