Think tank representative addresses AMBUCS (Enid News)

By Brigette Waltermire

ENID, Okla. — An Oklahoma Policy institute representative spoke about the state budget Friday at an Enid Noon AMBUCS luncheon.

The Oklahoma Policy Institute is “an independent nonpartisan nonprofit that provides factual information and advocates for fair and responsible public policies,” according to its website. Gene Perry, policy director at the institute, presented statistics and figures on the state budget and some of the main areas where the funding was going. He also highlighted the insecure future of the state budget if the Legislature continues to move money around instead of bringing in new revenue to fund core services and agencies.

Oklahoma spends less than the national average on every core area of funding, such as education, public safety and Medicaid. Oklahoma has only gone over the national average for transportation funding, but that is because of a backlog of maintenance, Perry said.

And to correct that oversight, they took money off the top to cover costs instead of bringing in new money, which Perry said could be a dangerous trend that leads Oklahomans “setting ourselves up to be flat” when it comes to the budget.

The tobacco fee and vehicle fees are examples of the state Legislature trying to generate revenue, but with the uncertain future of these revenue makers. With lawsuits set to be reviewed by the Supreme Court, there is no promise that the funding will come through, Perry said.

There was also mention of how education funding is suffering. Oklahoma has the worst general funding per student in the U.S., and Perry said state appropriations for higher education has also put Oklahoma as having the highest cuts in the nation for higher education.

“We’re shifting the cost to the students rather than investing in them,” Perry said.

Perry also mentioned the prison system as another understaffed and overcrowded issue, one that could have federal repercussions for the state.

For all of these issues that need funding, yet are cut every year, Perry offered some solutions.

“There’s been a change of mindset this session,” he said about the state government’s approach to tax cuts. “Trends tell us we’re ready to do something differently.”

He first mentioned that the motor fuel tax, which has not increased since 1987. All the money from this tax, which does not apply to governments and American Indian tribes (and farm users can get tax refunds), goes to either the state transportation fund, local governments for roads and bridges, other forms of transportation, or the Petroleum Storage Tank Indemnity Fund.

None goes to the state’s General Revenue Fund, according to Increasing this tax, in addition to modernizing and extending the sales tax, could be a feasible solution for the state to implement.

Another aspect would be to allow schools and governments more flexibility in spending property taxes, and to restore tax cuts passed in recent years to a certain extent. Perry suggested reinstating the top income tax rate for very high incomes (he suggested those of $500,000 or more) and restoring gross production taxes for oil and gas drilling to the 7 percent rate.

Curtailing and tax breaks and off-the-top spending was also a point in the solution list. Specifically, Perry mentioned the incentives for companies to create jobs. Currently, when the education budget is suffering, companies still can increase jobs at any rate and receive those incentives. Perry suggested a cap or limit on incentives for the years there is no money for job increases.

State Question 640, which requires tax increases received approval from three-quarters of the House and Senate, also was addressed. It was a measure that added restrictions to how revenue bills can become a law; essentially, a constitutional amendment that limited the OK Legislature’s taxing power, according to Perry suggested that a reform of SQ 640 that alleviated those restrictions during emergencies, such as with the state’s Rainy Day Fund, could also help to maintain fiscal stability.

“The state government is still a very large entity, and you’ll always find something that could be more efficient or cut,” Perry said in response to an audience member’s question about where funds for education could be obtained.

He said cuts in those other areas would not necessarily be enough to contribute a significant amount to those core services that need more funding.

Perry cited as a resource for citizens to be more engaged in the issues surrounding their communities. The site says Together OK is a “nonpartisan coalition of citizens working together to secure a robust future for our state.” Its goal is to gather enough support that members can work together to improve the state budget in a way that will aid in the prosperity of a broad base of Oklahomans.

An activity on the website called “How would you fix the budget?” allows visitors to pick what they want to fund and then figure out how they can make up the deficit without rearranging money. Perry mentioned to a degree most of the points and solutions in the activity during his presentation.

Together OK hopes “to give Oklahomans the tools to create and maintain those relationships,” Perry said.


Margaret (Maggie) den Harder obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Christian Theology from Seattle Pacific University and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Oklahoma. Originally from the Pacific Northwest area of Washington state, Maggie has called Tulsa home for the past 8 years. Since living in Tulsa, Maggie has worked in the legal field, higher education administration, and the nonprofit sector as well as actively volunteering in the community. Maggie also recently spent time at the City of Tulsa as a consultant and wrote the content for Resilient Tulsa, an action-oriented strategy designed to better equity in Tulsa. Through her work, community involvement, and personal experiences, Maggie is interested in the intersection of the law and mental health and addiction treatment issues, preventative and diversion programs, and maternal mental health, particularly post-partum depression and post-partum psychosis. While working at Oklahoma Policy Institute as a research intern, Maggie further developed an interest in family dynamics and stability, economic security-related stress, and intergenerational trauma.

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