Monday, February 11, 2019

OCPA column: Gov. Stitt’s budget is the most transparent in years


Gov. Stitt’s budget is the most transparent in years
by Curtis Shelton, policy research fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs

Gov. Stitt’s first State of the State address officially marked the start of the legislative session. Along with his speech, he delivered his first annual Executive Budget Book. This is the governor’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

This year’s Executive Budget Book stands out from those in years past by including not just appropriations but also total spending. While state appropriations for fiscal year 2018 were $6.8 billion, total state spending reached $17.3 billion. The proposed budget highlights the top 12 state agencies, showing how much money they receive from state appropriations, direct apportionments and agency fees, and federal money. It is encouraging to see the new governor take a holistic approach to the budget. This is a level of transparency from the executive branch that Oklahomans have not seen in some time.

In his budget, Gov. Stitt proposes a $1,200 teacher pay raise which would move Oklahoma teachers’ salaries to number one in the region. The governor also asks lawmakers to use the unneeded $30 million bailout to the Oklahoma State Department of Health to pay for performance audits and increase funding for the Quick Action Closing Fund (a fund that can be expended by the governor for economic development and related infrastructure development).

The governor has also focused on improving government instead of simply expanding its scope. By identifying one-time expenditure items—such as certain criminal justice reforms—state government will provide support for citizens without increasing its operational budget with recurring costs.

According to state officials, certified revenue is projected to increase by $612 million. However, numerous obligations held by the state must be accounted for with this surplus. Some of these obligations include replacing the lost federal money for graduate medical expenses and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) due to a reduced federal matching rate, as well as debt payments for the State Capitol restoration project. The governor has also proposed directing the rest of this surplus money to the state’s Rainy Day Fund with the goal of raising the account to $1.1 billion by fiscal year 2020.

With one more revenue estimate to go in late February, the final surplus prediction is not yet official. Falling oil prices suggest the estimated surplus will fall below that $612 million mark. Regardless, Oklahoma is still enjoying a better economic environment than it has had in several years and has a governor who appears intent on encouraging this growth rather than extracting every last drop of revenue in order to expand government.

Curtis Shelton serves as a policy research fellow focusing on fiscal and tax policy for the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

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