Lessons of Our History: Oklahoma’s past accomplishments teach us how to build a better budget and a better future

[Download the full report as a pdf.]

Oklahoma is a young state. In the 110 years since statehood — only about four generations of people — we’ve gone through good years and bad, through oil booms and busts, through the Dust Bowl and the long recovery. Many came here with nothing but hope for a better future, and they built the modern communities we live in today.

Our parents and grandparents accomplished all this because they knew that a thriving community doesn’t happen by itself. It takes all of us chipping in to pay for things like schools with good teachers, modern infrastructure, quality health care, and first responders looking out for our safety. That’s what public revenue and the state budget is for. That’s why our state budget is not just a financial document, but also a moral document. The budget is our shared investment to make a better future for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren.

Today we seem to have forgotten some important lessons from that history. Growing tax breaks and loopholes have undercut public investments and undermined our prosperity. After inflation, Oklahoma’s appropriated state budget fell 14.7 percent between 2007 and 2017 — a loss of nearly $1.2 billion that has left the state unable to pay teachers a competitive salary, maintain important public health and safety programs, or do many other things that Oklahoma citizens expect and businesses and workers depend on.

Oklahoma’s teachers, social workers, state troopers, and other state workers have made heroic efforts to fulfill their missions with shrinking financial resources. State agencies and the private contractors they work with are still fulfilling thousands of important tasks every day — providing a safe learning environment for the nearly 700,000 students in Oklahoma public schools, caring for seniors, veterans, and those with disabilities or mental illness, ensuring that streets and homes are safe, lawbreakers are punished, roads and bridges are maintained, economic ground rules are enforced, natural resources are protected, and those most in need are taken care of.

We’re doing all of that as best we can with the resources we’ve invested, but we can do so much better. It’s time for a new commitment by Oklahomans to ensure we have the things that serve as the foundations for a strong economy for the next hundred years.

Good things happen when we invest in ourselves. This report looks back at some of Oklahoma’s important but perhaps lesser known successes arising from our public investments. It then looks at the situation today, including how we’re building on those successes in some ways and falling behind in others. Finally, this report looks forward to solutions for reinvigorating public revenues and the important goals that this could achieve.



Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

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