The Senate plans to support tax reforms that lower the tax burden on individuals and businesses and balance the state budget by prioritizing spending. They pledge to finally ‘really’ reform the state’s workers compensation system. They plan to rank public schools and allow school districts the ability to remove low performing personnel. And finally they will commit to the already established eight year transportation plan that addresses Oklahoma’s critical bridge and road needs.
“Our commitment as Republicans is to make Oklahoma a better place to create jobs and grow your business,” stated Senator Brian Bingman, (R-Sapulpa) who is the Senate Pro-Tempore. “We are optimistic about Oklahoma’s future because our state is well positioned for growth and economic development” continued Bingman. “We are not letting off, we will continue to pursue job creating policies and allow people to thrive here in Oklahoma.”
“We are honored to represent the people of Oklahoma,” said Senator Anthony Sykes, said in Ardmore. “We are presenting this as a commitment because we take these issues very seriously.”
The first item on the agenda will be the most challenging- lowering the tax burden on Oklahomans and balancing the budget. Oklahoma state government faces a potential budget shortfall of more than 600 million dollars this fiscal year, which is about ten percent less than what the state had to spend last year.
Oklahoma has a ‘rainy day fund.’ In essence, this constitutional mandated fund is a saving account for government. Some critics of the rainy day fund say it is unnecessary and gives government a ‘crutch’ for the lean years. They have a valid argument. Government shouldn’t be squirreling away taxpayer money in good times to spend when times are bad- they should be collecting only what is absolutely necessary to operate and returning the difference to the people who earned it.
Two years ago, Oklahoma’s rainy day fund had over $600 million in it. Today the balance in the rainy day fund is only $2.03. The $600 million is gone. The legislature spent it to make up for economic downturns the last two fiscal years.
If the Oklahoma State Senate wants to make a real difference, they need to implement zero based budgeting in state government. In zero-based budgeting, every function is reviewed All expenditures must be approved, rather than only increased. Zero-based budgeting requires the budget request be justified in complete detail starting from the zero-base. The zero-base is indifferent to whether the total budget is increasing or decreasing. In other words, every dime must be justified in the budget- no ‘history’ of what an agency has gotten in the past is relevant. Zero based budgeting is time consuming and exhaustive, but if implemented, it would make Oklahoma government more efficient and accountable.
Back in 2003, the Oklahoma legislation mandated that ‘zero based budgeting’ would be used for a four-year cycle, but because of the complexity of the reviews and the great amount of material the reviewers had to assimilate, the process was abandoned. The reviews of agency purposes, procedures and productivity was more depth than the annual appropriation process allowed for a part time legislature, so Oklahoma went back to the same old appropriations process, which is in essence- tell us what you got last year and we will either up it or cut it.