Summit Paints Bleaker Picture of State Budget (KWGS)

By Matt Trotter

Despite some signs of recovery, Oklahoma’s budget struggles look set to continue for the foreseeable future.

“The budget challenges that we are facing this year in 2015, and looking ahead to 2016, are not one-off problems,” said Oklahoma Policy Institute Director David Blatt.

At the group’s 2015 budget summit in Oklahoma City,¬†Blatt said state tax collections aren’t keeping pace with a growing state economy, and tax cuts exacerbate the problem. Oklahoma is about on course with an OSU economist’s 2007 projection of a multibillion dollar state deficit by 2035.

Although state revenue grew enough last year to trigger an income tax cut, Oklahoma’s fiscal year 2016 budget will basically be flat. And a $300 million shortfall doesn’t tell the whole story.

“Because, in various areas of state¬†government, there’s additional money needed just to preserve programs and services where they are or to address some very urgent priorities,”Blatt said.

Those priorities include education, healthcare and human services, all of which look set to request more money this year.

And while Oklahoma already faces a $300 million budget shortfall for fiscal year 2016, it gets worse.

The shortfall is about the same as last year, but adjusted for inflation, it’s almost $700 million less in the state budget than in 2009.

“In 2014 dollars, most appropriated state agencies remain 20 to 35 percent below where they were before the recession,” Blatt said.

In 2014 dollars, the fiscal year 2009 budget was nearly $7.9 billion. The budget bottomed out in 2012 at $6.8 billion and has since recovered to $7.2 billion.

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