State of the State Analysis: Gov. Fallin is playing catch-up

Governor Mary Fallin

In her State of the State address, Governor Fallin laid out numerous areas where Oklahoma needs to invest to fix serious problems. She mentioned the shortage of troopers on the highways, the millions still owed to local governments to reimburse emergency expenses, the dilapidated state capitol and medical examiner’s office, crumbling bridges, high infant mortality, a beleaguered foster care system, and unfunded teacher health benefits.

These diverse problems have a common denominator: they are all substantially caused by inadequate funding to core public services after three straight years of budget cuts. Rather than setting a bold course for Oklahoma’s future, we are playing catch-up just to repair what we have allowed to fall apart.

In the same speech, Governor Fallin proposed a huge cut to the personal income tax. The plan is estimated to cost $350 million in the first full year. It also includes triggers to automatically cut taxes again any time the budget begins to recover.

The effect is that for the foreseeable future, tax cuts are shoved to the front of the line. It won’t matter what problems or responsibilities we face as a state. It won’t matter if our infant mortality stays high, if our water isn’t safe, if our schools are failing, if our communities are devastated by extreme weather. Whenever there is additional revenue, the number one priority will always be tax cuts.

That’s reflected in the Governor’s full budget proposal, which was also released yesterday. Going down the list of percentage changes from this year to next, we see a long string of zeroes. The budget is almost totally flat, which really means we can accomplish less due to inflation, rising health care costs, and further deterioration of infrastructure and equipment that we can’t afford to maintain.

The Governor does propose moving money around to fix some of the worst problems resulting from previous cuts. Certainly we should do this. However, since the pie is not any larger, we will inevitably defund other areas as we try to fix what’s already gone wrong.

What new problems will we hear about in next year’s State of the State address? Will we pay for teacher health benefits by defunding school buses? Will we fix our bridges and let dams break? If the Governor’s plan passes, we may never escape this vicious cycle.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gene Perry joined OK Policy in January 2011. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism. Gene also serves on the board of the Oklahoma Sustainability Network, is a trustee of the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, is a member of Investigative Reporters and Editors, and has chaired the communications advisory committee for the State Priorities Partnership, a nationwide network of state fiscal policy think tanks. He lives in Tulsa with his wife Kara Joy McKee, who is a Tulsa City Councilor.

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