| May 24, 2012

Transparency lacking in budget agreement

With Oklahoma government spending at an all-time high (see chart), the time has come to set priorities and to exercise spending discipline. Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be happening.

Last week, the governor and legislative leaders announced what they called a “fiscally conservative” budget agreement. Indeed, in their press release they managed to use the word “conservative” a record-breaking six times in the first six paragraphs alone. This adjectival onslaught notwithstanding, they actually agreed to spend virtually all new available revenue. Make no mistake: Despite all the other activity taking place during the last week of the legislative session, there’s only one thing that matters right now. Plain and simple, it’s the spending.

Though policymakers released information about the appropriations each agency will receive, they failed to provide details about the source of the funds that will facilitate this increase in appropriations of more than $331 million. You may recall that last year policymakers played a similar game with the appropriations process, when appropriations exceeded certified revenues by approximately $300 million. Appropriating money in excess of certified revenues is often facilitated by raiding revolving funds, using fees in a manner not consistent with their original intent, and a host of other less-than-transparent games.

Is that happening right now? It appears that our policymakers don’t want us to know. I have requested information from the Oklahoma Office of State Finance (OSF), the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and the Oklahoma Senate regarding the source of funds for FY-2013 appropriations. My initial request for this public information received no response from any of the recipients in the first 24 hours. My follow-up requests received a response from the Office of State Finance and the Oklahoma Senate. OSF said they would try to provide the information (I’m still waiting), and the Senate helpfully informed me that I could get the information after the June Board of Equalization meeting. The House has not responded to my initial request or to my follow-up request.

As someone who used to work in the Office of State Finance and in the House of Representatives, I can assure you that this delay is unjustified. The information is there. It is impossible to draft bills and budgets without it.

One has to wonder: What are these policymakers trying to hide?

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