Budget & Tax

Gov. Henry kicks the can down the road

January 31, 2010

[Posted below is the text of a Marlin Oil Corporation advertorial which appears in the February 3, 2010, edition of The City Sentinel.]

Governor Brad Henry had a lot of the right rhetoric in his State of the State address, saying that after months of across-the-board budget cuts, more budget cuts are inevitable. But when it came to providing leadership and helping legislative Republicans decide what those cuts should be, the Democrat governor was, to put it charitably, disappointing.

Brian Downs, executive director of Oklahomans for Responsible Government, cut to the chase, saying "Governor Henry knows that it took several years of unprecedented revenues to get the Rainy Day Fund to the level it's at right now. By draining more than $550 million from the Rainy Day Fund, Oklahoma will have a tiny reserve at a time when stimulus dollars will no longer be available, leaving a $600 million hole in the budget next session."

Downs noted that the chief executive, in what was his last "State of the State" address, was quite specific about spending money here and there, but didn't once mention a specific spending cut.

To be clear, depending on how the numbers are crunched, the governor's executive budget has somewhere between $66 million and $130 million in new cuts to agencies, beyond the prior (and legally required) across-the-board allocation reductions.

Downs gave the governor some credit for a modest push for agency consolidation that could save another $5 million. But this is in a year where Treasurer Scott Meacham has agreed there will be at least $1 billion in lower "certified funds" next fiscal year.

Downs and many others believe agreement could be reached to leave more than $300 million in the Rainy Day Fund, a lot more than the $43 million or so that will be left if Henry's budget goes through in its present form. And, only several million of that would actually be available for expenditure next year.

The strongest criticism from Downs came in terms of Gov. Henry's legacy. Unless the governor's optimistic scenario for the Oklahoma economy rolls out (including a major spike in energy prices and subsequent tax revenues), he will actually be leaving a big budget hole for his successor -- more than likely a Republican.

Cynics might even say that's the whole point.