New budget is a squandered opportunity of massive proportions

Here is our assessment of the budget unveiled on Nov. 13th by House and Senate leaders. UPDATE: The new General Appropriations bill, HB 1019X, has now passed the House and Senate and awaits action by the Governor.

Lawmakers had plenty of sensible options for recurring revenues that could have balanced the budget responsibly. Instead, they are doubling down on one-time money and cuts. This is the inevitable but unfortunate consequence of last week’s failed vote in the House of Representatives on HB 1054.

For those fearing the worst cuts, the new budget represents a partial reprieve. Overall funding is just $30 million, or 0.4 percent, less than the budget passed in May, according to our preliminary analysis. It avoids further cuts to Common Educations, Corrections, and several other critical agencies. In addition, it mostly fills the massive shortfalls that were facing the Medicaid agency, DHS and Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. This will hopefully allow these agencies to rescind the devastating cuts they would otherwise be forced to make starting December 1st.

But the costs of this new budget will be substantial. A majority of agencies, many of which have seen their funding slashed by 20- 40 percent over the past decade, are hit with a further 2.4 percent cut. The list includes Higher Education, the Arts Council, the Department of Public Safety, and agencies responsible for protecting the environment, providing care to veterans, and ensuring labor standards.

Rather than beginning to climb out of a hole, lawmakers are digging themselves in deeper. The new budget relies on an additional $138 million in one-time dollars from the Rainy Day Fund and multiple agency revolving funds, while using up almost two-thirds of last year’s cash surplus. Along with one-time money appropriated in May, the new budget includes over $480 million in cash. When known obligations are considered, the state is staring at another budget deficit for FY 2019 of some $650 million.

This new budget is another instance of a failed approach that has left Oklahoma stuck in a permanent budget crisis and has led to a steady and continual erosion of the public services Oklahomans expect and deserve. Oklahomans will have to express their dissatisfaction and intensify the pressure to ensure that next session finally brings a different and better approach.

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Former Executive Director David Blatt joined OK Policy in 2008 and served as its Executive Director from 2010 to 2019. He previously served as Director of Public Policy for Community Action Project of Tulsa County and as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma State Senate. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and a B.A. from the University of Alberta. David has been selected as Political Scientist of the Year by the Oklahoma Political Science Association, Local Social Justice Champion by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice, and Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers.

11 thoughts on “New budget is a squandered opportunity of massive proportions

  1. I know they are making false claims, they like any business need to cutt the fat out of the state and start with departent of safety, Oklahoma highway patrol, they have over 700 officers and 700 support personel, what kind of business can do that except those who are out of control spending and must me stopped ! Lets look at getting all department to submit cutts for their own departments and not let them just say no, they must reduce their departments by 5 % spending.

  2. All this haggling and reduced benefits to the poor, elderly, and children so that the richest people on the planet can keep a few thousand dollars.

  3. Mel, you do understand the Oklahoma Highway Patrol does more than service the 30,000 plus miles of highway lanes in Oklahoma, right? I mean, how many Oklahomans do you think deserve their services exactly? You know, them being responsible for first response to collisions, safety enforcement, commercial transportation enforcement, etc. Oh, there is also Security for the Governor and the State Capital Patrol, Bomb Squad, and Special Operations (part of Task Forces for issues like the serious child trafficking issues we have). They also have a Tactical Team and a Dive Team. You make it sound like they don’t have any responsibilities or have too many employees. Some may argue they don’t have enough.

    I’m sure there are ways to streamline and cut costs with any state agency, and we should be working with them to ensure they are held accountable for innovating in this way. But there is this point where refusing to generate revenue (even if it’s higher taxes) has a negative multiplying effect on services that taxpayers receive. In other words, we need to quit bitching about the potential for paying higher taxes and get more involved in making agencies accountable for creating a return on our investment. If they need more appropriations, so be it.

    Here is something to think about, Walletthub put some effort into an interesting assessment of states from the perspective of Return On Investment. Through a pretty solid methodology and analytics, they ranked all 50 states. For example… South Dakota, a Republican majority state similar to ours, Ranks 2nd on Taxpayer Return on Investment, but 9th on Total Taxes Paid. Oklahoma, well, we come in at 16th in Total Taxes Paid, but rank 32nd in ROI. If you do any research at all on South Dakota’s legislators… you’ll find there is a high level of competency and more importantly, flexibility. They actually work together to create better outcomes and are more concerned about policy than power. The sooner we are able to reform our political institution to match the pressures we are facing today, and finally get away from the same good ‘ol boy system of governance we’ve been using forever, the sooner we will be able to figure out new approaches to new problems.

    In a nutshell, although our agencies could use some reform, it’s our state and local government that needs to be turned over. Vote for anyone who is not a good ‘ol boy in the next election and see what happens. I bet you see these no bid contracts disappear, and some actual progression towards new sources of revenue that is not Oil and Natural Gas. And be OK with paying a little more taxes. It is possible to be fiscally conservative and still need the money to make sure that programs get implemented with adequate allocation while still ensuring that some of the resources are going to evaluation of those programs. Oklahoma sucks at this, because we are stuck with idiots that continue to try to solve problems with the same methodology that created it.

  4. Three words Audit, Audit and Audit. instead of threatening to cut the agencies that are supposed to do certain jobs, Audit and cut the money, employees or agencies that are not needed. first could be the turnpikes that we pay for over and over again while the state receives no money from. Agencies are at an all time high right now being exposed for the waste that they have done for years. Cut the waste.the only way to do that is Audit ALL state agencies. Don’t just have them say this money went to here or there. make them explain why it goes there and why that amount.

  5. Darin, All agencies are audited every single year. Every agency has had repeated cuts for several years now. If you want to cut agencies, then YOU tell us what you want to give up. Roads, schools, safe nursing home care for your grandmother? What? There is no way to make cuts without eliminating services. Stop living in a dream world. Your comment about turnpikes is completely mistaken – they don’t get or give any money to the state so they are irrelevant unless you are proposing a new tax on the Turnpike Authority. Not a bad idea by the way.

  6. Continue to make cuts to mental health, because we know there isn’t any mentally unstable people in Oklahoma who has a gun.

  7. Beth, where did you get the information that all agencies are audited every single year? I’m skeptical of the accuracy of that statement.

  8. absolutely ! do your jobs ! Audit departments and get rid of the waist and abuse ! I dont think any one up their is capable of doing their jobs and I think people placed in said possessions, really have any ideal of how their department is really suppose to run , because this is the good old boy state and people are put in these possessions without any clue of management or education in this said field . we have seen this for a very long time , Fallin filling the holes with her colonies because they need a job , not even fit to run a department because this is not their filed of expertise. for 8 years we watched as you people gave your selves raises , and covered these up as misaligned Taxes . but never once did you touch corporations and Gas or Oil . for 8 years we watched as you called your selves conservatives, then spend spend spend and look at the mess . for 8 years we watched as municipalities, Junk BOND! raised taxes even higher and whats worse Tax payers have not even payed off the first ones yet . I say if you cant get this right , section 8 for all of you .

  9. Why is no one mentioning that we need to raise the taxes on the oil industry!!?? They are making BILLIONS of dollars on our state, and yet are the lowest taxed industry in our state! It is only fair! If we want to protect the oil industry but we cannot pay our teachers a decent wage so they don’t flee the state so they can feed their families, then this state has some majorly @#@%#$ up priorities!! Also, get rid of the companies that are taking it in on our toll roads unless they pay 90% profit to the state!! In short, ELECT DEMOCRATS! The Republican legislature is screwing us!!

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