This was my first session as a freshman legislator and my first experience to see just how the sausage is made in regards to the budget. It was a unique experience and one I hope we do not repeat.
This is the fourth consecutive year the general appropriations bill carries forward a large deficit into the next budget year. The deficit has grown because lawmakers have not addressed spending at a time when government revenues are down.
Recent polling by Sooner Poll showed over 87 percent of those surveyed, which included Republicans and Democrats, said the state needs to cut spending.
Instead of looking for waste and duplication, lawmakers look for the easy way out by making up the difference by raiding funds and raising taxes.
This only kicks the can down the road for another year because the raids on the funds only pay the bills for a single year, and that means the deficit returns next year.
I also believe the tax increases passed in the last week of session are unconstitutional and are likely to be overturned by the courts. This will result in automatic shortfalls, and legislators will probably be called back into session by the governor. Even if the tax increases survive the court challenges the appropriations bill carries over an automatic deficit of at least $400 million.
The appropriations bill spends more money than last year and takes away about $150 million from county and state transportation funds. Instead of using transportation funds, the Legislature could have enacted common-sense fiscal reforms that have been needed for a long time and would have saved the taxpayers millions of dollars.
In the long term, it would have been much easier for the Legislature to make a handful of politically tough spending reduction choices this year instead of extending the deficit to next year’s session. By not addressing spending the state will once again face a massive “budget shortfall” next year.
Tom Gann serves Oklahoma House District 8. He can be reached by phone at (405) 557-7364 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.