| December 13, 2010

Time for government 'right-sizing' is overdue

[This Marlin Oil advertorial appears in the December 16 edition of The City Sentinel.]

There are a few easy choices that can be made to reduce the burden of state government spending, and a lot of not-so-easy choices. Issue avoidance is no longer an option in Oklahoma. The time for choosing is upon our elected representatives and statewide officials.

To her credit, Governor-elect Mary Fallin has said in recent interviews she wants further income taxes if a “trigger mechanism” -- 4 percent annualized growth in tax revenue -- is reached.

House Speaker Kris Steele and Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, both Republicans like her, agree with her and say they want to put more money in the pockets of taxpayers.

Pressure for more spending is rising. The Corrections Department wants another supplemental appropriation (as it has 13 of the last 15 years), the Health Care Authority says it will need $120 million to maintain current services and -- as always -- the state Department of Education wants more cash, to the tune of $295 million.

During the campaign, Fallin spoke in generalities about the need to consolidate some government agency functions, and hinted she might be open to privatizing or leasing out others. The cumulative budget gap is at least $400 million this year, but there are no federal stimulus dollars to soften the blow. Meanwhile, the Rainy Day Fund has around $100 million.

Some revenue might be generated by ending some business incentives and tax breaks, although virtually every tax credit and incentive program has a constituency, just as the various agencies named above have strong interest groups advocating for maintained or increased expenditures.

At the end of the day, “right-sizing” state government has become non-negotiable in an age when both programs and government employee benefits, including pensions, cost a lot more than the available money to pay for them.

Public opinion surveys indicate voters blame politicians for the budget gap, and that they support reduced spending rather than higher taxes.

Fallin and the new legislative leaders need the support of all liberty-conscious Oklahomans who want to see government eventually disciplined and actually made smaller and less intrusive. After generations of assuming that taxpayers can endlessly carry tax consumers on their backs, the time for change is overdue.

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