Oklahoma government still spending too much money

May 25, 2010

[The following Marlin Oil advertorial appears in the May 26, 2010 edition of The City Sentinel.]

Oklahoma government is still not "right-sized," judging by the state budget framework that is probably going to be enacted by Friday, May 28, at 5 p.m.

To fashion a $6.7 billion budget, state leaders had to use all of the $540 million in federal stimulus money, as well as $272 million from reserves (including the "Rainy Day" fund), and some $225 million in cash flow to get within range of balance.

But that's not all: Most troubling is the million in "revenue enhancements" or "cost recovery" mechanisms that were needed to finish balancing the budget. Of concern is the "moratorium" worth about $180 million less in pro-business tax credits. There is room for better oversight of those programs, but the direction is worrisome. Preserving government at the expense of private-sector recovery is a formula for a "double-dip" recession.

State Sen. Randy Brogdon was on the mark when he pointed out that in five of the last 10 years Oklahoma has failed to meet proposed spending levels. "If you can't pay your bills half of the time, you are spending too much money," Brogdon said.

The budget fashioned by Democratic Gov. Brad Henry and Republican legislative leaders is an imperfect compromise. While better than might have been feared, it is not what is needed for Oklahoma's long-term fiscal health.

Much of this compromise favored the powerful teachers' union. While some important agencies are headed toward nearly 20 percent cuts over the past two years, the education establishment had a 2.9 percent nip-and-tuck.

Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee said bluntly that a "budget hole" of $800 million is likely for fiscal year 2012, and he's not happy about it.

A true fiscal conservative budget might have to await the arrival of an all-Republican team in state leadership. Even then, the power of the education lobby will remain a factor with which to reckon.