On October 6, Oklahoma Policy Institute will release its Online Budget Guide. This unique tool for understanding Oklahoma state and local government finances will be valuable both as an introduction for newcomers and as a reference guide for the more well-versed. Because it is online, it’s easier to use than a book. You can read through from “cover to cover” or you can look just at the topics that interest you most. The guide also includes links to sources for more information. We will also update the guide regularly as new data become available. We hope to add new topics based on user feedback and requests.
Next week we’ll post an Online Budget Guide quiz to the blog so you can see how much you already know (or can find out through other sources) about what’s in it. The following week, when the guide is released, we’ll link the quiz to the answers in the guide and give some tips on navigation and content of the guide. Today’s post summarizes the guide’s sections and key themes.
The Expenditure section of the Guide shows how we use public money to meet our goals as a state. It describes the functions of state and local government, the services these governments provide, and indicators of how we are doing. The most important themes from this section are:
- Governments spend money to purchase goods and services for improving the community. Government spending creates and supports public structures to protect quality of life and allow society to get things done.
- Oklahoma governments spend twenty percent less per person than the national average.
- State appropriations represent less than half of state spending and less than a third of overall spending but are essential to maintaining effective public services.
The Revenue section of the Guide summarizes Oklahoma state and local government revenues. The Guide emphasizes our tax structure, but also describes the user fees and federal grants that are needed to fully fund needed government services.The major themes of the revenue section are:
- Oklahoma governments rely on many revenue types to fund essential government services. While taxes are the most visible and largest revenue source, they represent less than half of all revenues.
- Oklahoma taxes are among the lowest in the nation. The gap between Oklahoma tax revenue and the national average has grown over the last decade.
- Over time Oklahoma has increased its reliance on the sales tax and individual income tax, which are the two largest tax sources.
- User charges and federal funds provide significant revenues for public services, particularly for health and social services, education, and transportation.
The Budget Process section describes the legal structures and informal practices that govern Oklahoma state budgeting. It walks through the budget process in a step-by-step format. Its key themes are:
- Oklahoma’s budget is the product of legal, political, and practical limitations that require significant effort every year in trying to satisfy all participants and to use public money wisely and effectively.
- Oklahoma’s budget must be completed within constitutional and legal limits that attempt to prevent spending beyond the available resources, restrict certain revenue streams only for specific agencies and purposes, set aside money for future emergencies and economic downturns, and maintain accountability to taxpayers.
The Policy Challenges section describes significant fiscal policy issues that Oklahoma should address to improve the long-term performance of our state and local governments. Its key themes are:
- Oklahoma often makes financial decisions for the short-term but rarely considers the long-term impacts on taxpayers and government services.
- Oklahoma faces serious fiscal challenges that will require us to think more strategically about how we will continue to provide public services and how we will pay for those services.
The Next Steps section provides links for more information from a variety of local, state, and national sources on budget and tax information. It also gives suggestions as to how citizens can get involved to make the system more responsive to their needs.
We’re excited about the Online Guide and we think you’ll find it useful and thought-provoking. Stay tuned for further updates on our blog and web site.