Expenditure Options for Closing the Fiscal Gap

Expenditure Options for Closing the Fiscal Gap

Controlling budgets is part of the solution to the fiscal gap. In most cases, however, government spending in Oklahoma is too low to meet the demands of the public. Oklahoma already ranks 42nd in state and local spending per capita. In 2016, we spent $2,073 less per person than the average state. In most performance measures, Oklahoma ranks in the bottom fifth of states. We want more and better paid teachers, better health care options, and a safer environment. Budget cuts will not move us closer to our goals; they will take us further away. They also hurt the economy and they often fall hardest on low- and moderate-income families. Budget controls that do not harm public services may be possible but could only be a small part of the solution.

Several other options are available to control spending. 

  • Spend now to save money later. Education long has been recognized as an area where investing now pays off down the line. There are other areas where we should consider spending smarter now to save later. In criminal justice, for example, reducing sentences, providing more effective support systems in prisons and after release, and ending fines and fees that can push the just-involved into poverty or back into prison can reduce the chances the convicts return to the system and increase the chances they become productive-and tax-paying-citizens. Some Oklahoma agencies and governments have joined the growing movement to encourage healthy lifestyles today to reduce health care costs tomorrow. We should challenge our elected leaders and public servants to find ways to spend smarter now for payoffs down the road.
  • Increase capital spending to make operations more efficient. Many state facilities and much of our state and local infrastructure are aging and need replacing. Governments need to consider using bond and grant financing and other sources to speed up replacement of deteriorated capital. Doing so often cuts or slows the growth of operating costs. Successful examples include replacing three-person garbage collection crews with one person in an automated truck and collecting tolls through the automated Pike Pass system.
  • Increase oversight and accountability strategies. Expanding strategic planning, performance measurement, performance auditing, and sunset reviews can provide taxpayers and those who benefit from services with information needed to demand that the services be delivered more effectively.

We will not solve our fiscal gap only by cutting expenses; that would endanger already marginal public services and hurt the state’s economy. We must, however, explore ways to control expenditures and to increase efficiency and effectiveness in all of our public services.

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