Prioritizing how tax dollars are spent (Capitol Update)

The monthly state revenue report by State Treasurer Randy McDaniel shows another large increase in receipts by state government for this November over November 2020. The collections for November totaled $600.7 million, which were $154.6 million or 34.7 percent above collections in November 2020. Having watched the reports for the past several months, it appears the legislature should have a healthy amount of new funding available for appropriation when the session begins. There will be a preliminary estimate of funds available when the State Board of Equalization meets on December 27.

It’s too early to make a judgment about whether the budget requests being made by state agencies reflect the reality that, unless the economy does a deep dive, this may be a year of opportunity for state services to begin the long climb toward catching up with other states. So far, only a few agencies have made their budget presentations. 

There’s no denying the need for additional revenue and appropriations. As an example, according to, state rankings for public school per pupil expenditure by state, Oklahoma ranks well behind each of our adjacent states: Oklahoma, $8,239; New Mexico, $9,582; Kansas, $11,653; Arkansas, $10,139; Texas, $9,606; Colorado, $10,202; Missouri, $10,810. Average spending per pupil for the six surrounding states is $10,332 per pupil compared to Oklahoma’s $8,239, a difference of more than $2,000. Some will argue that money isn’t everything, but in most endeavors those who are significantly better funded seem to be the winners. Think campaigns!

Another painful example of underfunding is childcare. Sen. Carrie Hicks, D-OKC, sponsored an interim study recently in which it was revealed that a Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) report showed over the past decade, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) has cut the Childcare Subsidy by 78 percent, forcing many childcare facilities to close. COVID-19 has shined a light nationally on the childcare crisis, but a 78 percent reduction in funding over the past decade has surely put Oklahoma parents and children in a bad place for quality childcare. 

It will be interesting to learn, when the Equalization Board meets, how much funding will be available for next year. But it will be even more interesting to observe the decisions made by legislators as they determine how the money can best be used to help our citizens and move the state forward. At current levels of funding, it’s hard to make a mistake by adding funding for any state service, from probation officers to persons with disabilities. It’s just a question of priorities.


Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

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