Claremore Daily Progress

January 15, 2013

Holiday shopping helps boost state’s revenues

Staff Reports
Associated Press

CLAREMORE — State finance officials say a brisk holiday shopping season helped boost Oklahoma’s sales tax receipts last month to an all-time monthly high and sends a strong signal about the state’s economic health.

But state Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger said Tuesday that despite the strong sales tax collections, overall collections to the state’s general fund were down slightly in December and for the first six months of the fiscal year, mostly due to lower oil and natural gas prices.
Total general fund collections in December were $528.9 million, down by 2.5 percent from December 2011.
Doerflinger says sales tax receipts to the state’s general fund totaled $172 million in December. That is the highest for any month ever and an increase of 12.1 percent over December 2011.
“It’s always a good thing to be riding on a wave of consumer confidence into a new year,” he said.  
“The danger of adverse repercussions from fiscal strife in Washington still lurks, however. Washington must somehow climb out of its long-time fiscal rut, stop kicking the can down the road and start solving our nation’s horrendous debt problem.”
Doerflinger added:  “Until it does, there will always be a risk of another recession and to the economic progress we have made in Oklahoma over the past two years.  Decisions still pending in D.C. also could harm our important defense and aerospace industries, as well as complicate the state budget process.”
The finance secretary said he is pleased Congress and the president, after briefly going over the so-called fiscal cliff, at least reached an agreement on taxes that staves off state and federal tax increases this year for the majority of Oklahomans. 
“Their reluctance to make the hard choices on runaway federal spending, however, is perplexing,” he said.  “I worry that their dilly-dallying eventually will take its toll on the psyche of businesses and individuals who want to invest in our economy to keep our state and country moving forward.” 
For now, the economic outlook is good for the state, Doerflinger said.  
“We knocked it out of the ballpark on sales tax collections, a key indicator of economic health, as receipts from that source hit $172 million in December, blowing away the record of $165.4 million (established in June of last year.)”
Through December, monthly sales tax increases over the previous year have averaged 8.96 percent. Combined individual and corporate income taxes were up 5.7 percent in December over the same month a year ago.  Total income taxes for the first six months of the current fiscal year have increased 8.1 percent over the first six months of FY-2012.
“In Oklahoma, we are still adding good-paying jobs, our workforce is growing and consumer confidence remains high,” Doerflinger said.
“The fact that we have the lowest unemployment rate of any of our six bordering states, including fellow energy states, is a tribute to the pro-growth policies and recruitment efforts of Gov. Mary Fallin,” he added.
The latest Oklahoma unemployment report showed a fractional drop in the state’s 5.2 percent jobless rate, with the addition of thousands of jobs in such areas as manufacturing and construction.  Oklahoma’s unemployment rate is 2.5 percent lower than the national jobless rate of 7.7 percent.  Since January of 2011, when Gov. Fallin took office, 62,400 jobs have been created in Oklahoma, according to the Oklahoma Department of Commerce. The state ranks 4th among the states in total job growth and 2nd in manufacturing job creation.
“As we begin a new year, record-breaking sales tax collections are further evidence that Oklahoma’s economy continues to grow and prosper,” Gov. Fallin said.  “Our excitement over increased revenue must be tempered, however, as the ongoing fiscal uncertainty in Washington, D.C., could impact the federal dollars we receive in Oklahoma. Hopefully, our leaders in Washington will get serious and work together to tackle our skyrocketing national debt and federal spending issues.”
Doerflinger said GRF collections from all sources were down marginally from the prior year in December and also are slightly lower for the first six months of the fiscal year.  “That is not due to economic factors,” he said.  “Those fractional declines are tied almost exclusively to natural gas refunds and lower prices for both gas and oil, compared to the same time period a year ago.”