Oklahoma Policy Institute issued the following statement after the State Equalization Board certified $869 million less for next year’s budget than this year’s authorized budget:
As we enter the holiday season, Oklahomans today learned that the state faces a budget shortfall of over $850 million for the year ahead. The news of another massive shortfall is especially troubling to the tens of thousands of dedicated teachers and state employees who have already gone years without a raise; to children subject to larger class sizes and inexperienced teachers; to those on long waiting lists for critical mental health, substance abuse, and disability services; to health care and social service providers whose reimbursement rates have been repeatedly cut; and to all Oklahomans who have seen a steady decline in public services after years and years of budget cuts.
This year’s shortfall is the result not only of a struggling economy but of policy choices that have shrunk our revenue base and resorted to one-time revenues to plug budget holes. The result is a structural budget deficit that won’t be fixed just by a recovery in oil and gas prices.
This session, lawmakers will have to make the difficult decisions to boost recurring revenues in order to avoid devastating cuts and to address the teacher pay crisis and other urgent needs. All options should be on the table, including reversing some of the $1.5 billion in tax cuts that have been enacted in recent years, as well as closing tax loopholes, broadening the sales tax to more good and services, and raising certain excise taxes.
The one silver lining to today’s announcement is that another ill-timed tax cut is now unlikely to be triggered automatically next year. Already, overall state appropriations are 15 percent below where they were a decade ago when adjusted for inflation and will likely fall again next year. Knowing that it will take at least several years for revenues to recover to where they were before this latest economic downturn, lawmakers this session should cancel the next tax cut or ensure that it can only take effect once the budget has time to recover.