On January 1st, tax cuts with a revenue impact exceeding $100 million, which include the full repeal of the state’s estate tax and a steep increase in the standard deduction, will take effect in Oklahoma. Do these tax cuts reflect our priorities at a time when budget shortfalls are leading to layoffs of school personnel, cuts in Medicaid benefits, and the closing of treatment facilities for people suffering from mental illness? If Oklahoma legislators, and the voters they represent, were asked to make these choices today, most would likely decide to target scarce resources to limiting the magnitude of cuts. But because of multi-year revenue commitments made by the Legislature several years ago, during very different economic and fiscal circumstances, these tax cuts will take effect automatically next month.
As state leaders grapple with the short-term challenges of bringing the budgets for this year and next into balance, it is not too early to draw lessons from the current state fiscal crisis to design policies that will allow us to respond better the next time the economy falters. This post, the third in a series that will recommend changes to our budget and tax system, looks at options for putting multi-year commitments on hold during downturns. Our first post recommended enhanced and expanded budget forecasting; the second looked at strengthening reserve funds. The final piece will consider tax expenditures. Our proposals are all intended to enhance the Legislature’s ability to manage budget downturns without having to implement deep cuts to vital state services or enact tax increases.
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