A new report from the Oklahoma Policy Institute shows that Oklahoma is among the nation’s least transparent states when engaging its residents during the development of the annual state budget.
OK Policy’s new “Focus on Transparency” report serves as a companion to the organization’s “A Better Path Forward,” a comprehensive analysis of the state’s budget and tax system that the organization released in fall 2021.
The latest report on Oklahoma’s budget transparency showed that during the 2021 Legislative Session, Oklahoma lawmakers unveiled the Fiscal Year 2022 budget (for the year starting July 1, 2021) in mid-May during the last weeks of session. This provided Oklahomans — and even many legislators — only three days between the public unveiling of the $7.7 billion budget and Gov. Stitt’s approval three days later.
OK Policy found that the average state deliberated about their budget for 82 days. The three days Oklahoma used for budget deliberations was the nation’s third shortest such timeframe last year, behind only Utah and Nevada at two days and one day, respectively.
In addition to such a short time frame for public consideration of budget issues, Oklahomans are unable to actively participate in the budget process or testify (either in person or online) about budget issues, the report noted.
“The state budget is essential when it comes to delivering the shared public services that every Oklahoman utilizes during our day-to-day lives, from roads and public schools to public safety and health care,” said OK Policy Executive Director Ahniwake Rose. “However, Oklahoma’s budget process leaves most Oklahomans, and even many lawmakers, on the outside looking in and it keeps citizens from engaging in this vital government function.”
The report — written by OK Policy staff members Paul Shinn and Emma Morris — outlines several ways Oklahoma is not delivering transparency in the budget development process, and it suggests several solutions that lawmakers can consider to make the process more transparent.
Key takeaways from the report and how Oklahoma compares to other states:
- Public Input: Oklahoma residents can visit or contact their representative to register an opinion on a specific budget need, but they cannot actively participate in the budget process or testify on the budget either in person or online.
- Six of 20 states comparable to Oklahoma held public hearings on budget bills in the 2021 legislative session.
- At the local level, Oklahoma governmental bodies are more transparent. All cities, counties, and school districts are required to circulate a proposed budget in a timely manner, publish a summary, and hold at least one public hearing, under procedures established by the state legislature.
- Public Review: Oklahoma’s legislative session is nearly four months long, the process of publicly debating the state budget usually takes a week or less during the final days of the session.
- In 2021, the Oklahoma legislature introduced a budget bill on the 105th day of session.
- Only six states besides Oklahoma publicly deliberated on the budget for a week or less.
- Current Services Budgeting: Oklahoma’s processes for budget development and state agency requests don’t account for normal growth in the costs of services as prices and demand change over time. A “current services budgeting” model would establish a baseline of costs for providing the same level of service during the next year.
- Fourteen of the 50 states include their current services budget baseline in the governor’s budget proposal.
- Agency Requests: Oklahoma state agencies are discouraged from making budget requests that could transform their service to the public. Oklahoma’s governors, as in most states, limit what agencies can ask for, which holds agency costs down but disallows in-depth discussions about what we need our state agencies to do. Agency requests in Oklahoma also are not widely made available to the public.
- Thirteen of 20 comparable states make agency budget requests available before the legislature starts work on the budget.
OK Policy’s “Focus on Transparency” report suggests a variety of reforms that lawmakers can enact to improve citizen engagement and public discussion about expenditures of taxpayer dollars. These include holding budget hearings, introducing budget bills at the beginning of session, requiring agencies to submit current services budgets before sessions begin, encouraging agencies to submit ambitious agency requests that can address the state’s greatest needs, and more.
To read the full report or find additional resources, visit OKPolicy.org.
# # #
Related resources from OK Policy
- “A Better Path Forward” report, Paul Shinn & Emma Morris (October 2021)
- “Focus on Transparency” report, Paul Shinn & Emma Morris (January 2022)
- It’s time to reopen Oklahoma’s budget process to the public, Paul Shinn (December 2021)
- FY 2022 Budget Highlights, Emma Morris (May 2021)
# # #
About the Oklahoma Policy Institute
The Oklahoma Policy Institute advances equitable and fiscally responsible policies that expand opportunity for all residents through its nonpartisan research, analysis, and advocacy. Through data-driven research and programs such as Together Oklahoma, Open Justice Oklahoma, and the KIDS COUNT Network, OK Policy is engaged in advancing dialogue about state budget and tax policy, along with health care, criminal justice, education, poverty, social insurance programs, economic opportunity, voting, and civic engagement. The organization seeks to create an Oklahoma where everyone has the opportunity to be healthy, raise thriving families, and live in safe communities.