Oklahoma’s budget crisis requires new revenue (Guest post: Joe Dorman)

Joe Dorman

Joe Dorman is CEO of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA). He previously served for 12 years in the Oklahoma House of Representatives and has been actively involved in numerous civic, leadership, and youth-development organizations, including Leadership Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Academy.

In the last several weeks, a lot of eyes have been focused on Oklahoma’s $900 million budget shortfall and the effect it may have on our state. We have heard a lot of talk about revolving funds, off-the-top spending, structural imbalances and dozens of other terms capitol insiders use to describe the current budget crunch.

All of that sounds complicated, but if you break down its major components, the state budget is not unlike the personal budgets that families manage. Simply put, you need your income to be greater than your expenses. If it isn’t, you are in trouble.

I like to think of the state’s total revenue as the income that someone might receive from two jobs. The state earns income from collections in the form of several major tax categories, including income, sales, motor vehicle and gross production taxes. Those are permanent sources of revenue, like a full-time job. Cigarette, franchise and other smaller taxes are like a second, part-time job.

Combined, those two “jobs” account for the money coming into the state. The money going out in the form of expenditures is mostly accounted for by various state agencies. Each state agency is like a bill that needs to be paid each month. You pay a mortgage, car payment, and insurance bills. The state pays the Department of Transportation, Department of Education, Oklahoma Health Care Authority and other agencies to perform core government services.

In a good year, a working Oklahoman might get a bonus on their full-time job, which could allow them to cut hours on their part-time job. They don’t need the extra money to pay the bills, so why work the extra hours?

Similarly, the state has experienced some good times over the years because of economic development or oil and gas booms. That has occasionally produced excess revenue, which in some cases has gone into the Rainy Day savings account. Many times, however, that money has been returned to taxpayers in the form of tax cuts, fee reductions, or other reforms that reduce state revenue in future years.

Now here’s where things get tricky. Let’s say a family is going through an economic rough patch, and they need to increase their hours at their part time job by working a few extra shifts. That may not be ideal, but it is one way to balance their budget.

[pullquote]“Our state government is not like a family that has bought a Ferrari and now must return it. We are like a family living in a house with a leaky roof and no heat, driving our kids around in a car that is about to break down.”[/pullquote]

The state, however, can’t do that. Because of the Oklahoma Constitution, cuts made to state revenue in the form of tax cuts are permanent unless the Legislature votes by three-fourths of the membership to increase taxes.

With revenue being difficult to raise, the Legislature often turns to cuts. Some lawmakers say that’s a good thing. Oklahoma families must control their spending; why shouldn’t the state?

That’s a fair point, but here is the truth of the matter: our state government is not like a family that has bought a Ferrari and now must return it. We are like a family living in a house with a leaky roof and no heat, driving our kids around in a car that is about to break down. The solution to that problem is not less spending; it is investment with proper revenue.

Legislators this year must decide whether to make cuts to the budget or bring in the additional revenue to provide services by raising certain taxes. I hope supporters of OICA and a functional government will take the time to contact their legislators and voice support for reasonable policies that raise revenue and help our state agencies stay afloat.

The opinions stated above are not necessarily those of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. This blog is a venue to help promote the discussion of ideas from various points of view and we invite your comments and contributions. To see our guidelines for blog submissions, click here.

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The opinions stated in guest articles are not necessarily those of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. To see our guidelines for blog submissions, click here.

2 thoughts on “Oklahoma’s budget crisis requires new revenue (Guest post: Joe Dorman)

  1. It is absolutely correct that Oklahoma needs its primary source of funding (first job) to meet all of its basic obligations. We can’t keep raising ‘sin taxes’ at the same time we are trying to get people to stop those ‘sinful’ behaviors, a la smoking and cigarette taxes. Oklahomans who have benefitted the most from our system have to pony up, and that is just a fact. In the 50s and 60s, people at the upper echelon understood this, but somewhere along the way they were made to believe that they are the ‘entitled ones’ and entitled to keep all their riches, while everyone else is a freeloader. Without erasing tax loopholes and collecting more taxes on corporations and individuals, our state is doomed to keep falling to 46th, 47th, 48th and 49th in everything. This is no way to promote our state to major corporations and top jobs.

  2. Maybe it is time to seriously think about legalizing medical or recreational cannabis. We can’t turn a blind eye to the amount of money that our neighbor, Colorado, has been taking in, since they legalized. Colorado cannabis sales exceeded $1 billion in 2016. That was roughly $125 million in tax revenue. Maybe Gov. Fallin should look into holding a special election for the legalization of cannabis before the state is unable to fund itself.

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