Last week I sat down with the editorial board of the Tulsa World to discuss the state’s worsening fiscal outlook. Julie Delcour’s column in today’s Opinion section sets out some of our main messages about the severity of the problem and the difficult choices for keeping the budget in balance.
“Budget shortfalls of this magnitude will lead to difficult and painful choices between cutting deeply into public services, raising new revenues, and tapping into budget reserves. If the downturn is of a similar magnitude to the one following the last recession of 2001,” Oklahoma could face shortfalls in the future of $2.4 billion,” warns Blatt, an economist and analyst who monitors the budget and state revenues with the precision of a surgeon.
To keep expenditures aligned with falling revenues, to spare the state and its people from devastating cuts in services when they need them the most, and to prevent Oklahoma from losing hard-fought gains, will require careful and strategic decisions by policymakers.
Delcour stresses the point that OK Policy has been reiterating in recent months that cutting budgets would have painful and harmful effects on the citizens of Oklahoma and the state’s economy, and that all options should be explored to minimize the extent of budget cuts.
This is a virtual certainty but “it should be recognized,” Blatt said, “that when downturns are extended and severe, cutting budgets is difficult to accomplish and involves painful and harmful consequences to citizens and to the economy.”
To the extent that states will still be left with shortfalls that exceed available reserves it is now recognized that budget cuts will do more economic harm than raising taxes as an approach to bring the budget into line. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen to state agencies already living “close to the bone.”
You can also read the full issue brief that Delcour cites.