To Comfort The Afflicted
And Afflict The Comfortable

To Comfort The Afflicted And Afflict The Comfortable

Thursday, May 28, 2020

New Observercast

Budget Blues

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BY ARNOLD HAMILTON

The numbers are worse than we thought: State lawmakers will have $309.6 million less to spend next year than they had last spring.

Government-haters will no doubt be cheering. But those who care about improving roads and education or caring for the mentally ill and poor – just to cite a few key areas – will be disheartened.

Next year’s shrinking pot comes on the heels of FY 2009’s standstill, no-growth budget – which translated into real budget cuts when inflation and other factors were included.

At a Capitol briefing today, state Treasurer Scott Meacham tried mightily to pump the darkening revenue picture full of sunshine, arguing things aren’t as bleak in Oklahoma as other states – and certainly not as bleak as when Gov. Henry’s administration took over in 2003.

He also asserted that a series of income tax cuts in recent years – promoted by Republicans, embraced by some Democrats and signed into law by Gov. Henry – really hadn’t made matters worse.

Really? He noted that the tax cuts now are having about a $580 million annual impact on state revenues. But he contended Oklahoma’s budget crisis wouldn’t have been appreciably different had there been no tax cuts.

His point: The money lost to tax cuts would have been spent by lawmakers, resulting in a larger overall budget – yet the revenue shortfall ratio would have been about the same.

He may be right, but he’s missing a larger, more important point: During a time of plenty – i.e. skyrocketing oil and gas production tax revenues – Oklahoma could have used the revenue to make impressive investments in its pitiful infrastructure.

How about replacing overcrowded, crumbling prisons – like the century-old state penitentiary in McAlester? How about increasing education spending to the regional average? How about bolstering CareerTech to ensure thousands on the waiting list can be trained [a highly-skilled workforce is a magnet to help attract the kind of industry and good-paying jobs – which produces even more tax revenue – the state so desperately needs]?

How about a campaign to more quickly replace Oklahoma’s worst-in-the-nation bridges? How about seriously investing in mass transit? And, yes, how about raising teacher salaries so we can attract, and retain, the best-and-brightest?

The darkening revenue clouds, of course, haven’t stopped lawmakers from proposing even more tax cuts.

The latest: Rep. Eric Proctor of Tulsa and Sen. Kenneth Corn of Poteau, both Democrats, want to eliminate the sales tax on guns and ammunition.

This is another in a long series of legislative pucker-ups – smooches firmly planted on the National Rifle Association’s derriere.

How about we have a serious discussion of this idea … after lawmakers have a serious discussion of eliminating the sales taxes on groceries?

Can anyone argue with a straight face that it’s OK to create a tax-free zone around guns and ammo, while mommas are forced to pay sales tax on milk for their babies?

Shameful.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Kudos.
    My husband and I moved her 3 yrs ago from TX. We could not believe the condition of OK’s roads and bridges. When our friends visit they joke about the poor infrastruture here. It does seem like OK Reps. should have thought about these repairs when they were making tax cuts!
    I work in senior social services in OKC. My clients are hurting so bad right now. If tax should be cut it should be on groceries not a recreational sports and hobby.
    For the record: We are pro-gun. It’s an expensive hobby but one I can afford with the additional tax on it. If I couldn’t afford my bills…I sure wouldn’t be out shooting!
    On a positive note thank goodness we arent as bad off as California. Our state officials need to be extremely careful. If you check the states finacial records you can see a clear pattern of recessions hitting our state at the full impact one to two years after a national recesion. The prime example was in the 80’s with the big oil boom and bust. I am not an economist but I have seen other articles pointing to the same. So Oklahoman’s should really be careful. We have set ourselves up again. Oil was trading $147 6 months ago and now it is down to $41/ barrel. Oklahoma isn’t “feeling” it so bad right now but 2009 and 2010 could be much worse. Social service sectors are already seeing the influx of new clients.

Arnold Hamilton
Arnold Hamilton
Arnold Hamilton became editor of The Observer in September 2006. Previously, he served nearly two decades as the Dallas Morning News’ Oklahoma Bureau chief. He also covered government and politics for the San Jose Mercury News, the Dallas Times Herald, the Tulsa Tribune and the Oklahoma Journal.
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