Oklahoma Policy Institute Executive Director David Blatt released the following statement on the budget deal announced today by state lawmakers:
As a result of last year’s revenue increases and a continuing strong economy, lawmakers had a historic opportunity to reverse a decade of cuts across core public services. This opportunity was only partly realized. In particular, increased state aid funding for schools, pay increases for correctional officers, and reduced law enforcement reliance on fines and fees will address some of the most dire funding needs for Oklahoma kids and public safety.
In other ways, this budget reflects misplaced priorities by lawmakers. Adding $200 million into the Rainy Day Fund, on top of the more than $400 million Rainy Day deposit already scheduled for the end of the year, is misguided while Oklahoma continues to leave so many urgent needs underfunded. Likewise, putting $19 million into a “Quick Action Closing Fund” with a poor track record and little accountability does not match lawmakers’ promises of fiscal oversight and transparency.
Even with the state aid increase in this budget, Oklahoma’s school funding formula will remain well below the per pupil funding levels of a decade ago. This budget plan does little to reverse Oklahoma’s record cuts to higher education. It fails to restore the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for working Oklahoma families. For yet another year, the budget does nothing to provide cost-of-living relief for state retirees. It does not cover critical repair needs for the Department of Corrections and leaves indigent defense severely underfunded. It provides minimal help for mental health compared to the need and no new funds for many agencies that have been cut 20 to 40 percent in the past decade. At the same time, lawmakers have not addressed flaws in the new Revenue Stabilization Fund that could absorb every dollar of growth revenue next year.
Lawmakers still have time this session to restore the EITC, fix the Revenue Stabilization Fund, and make better use of this long-awaited budget growth. While any progress out of years of cuts is welcome, there are too many missed opportunities in this plan.