Although the state still faces a major budget crisis for next fiscal year, there are signs the overall economy here is improving.
The Oklahoma Policy Institute, operated by David Blatt, recently reported these recent numbers and trends:
The unemployment rate in January fell to 6.7 percent, down from October’s high of 7.3 percent.
February revenue collections, while still struggling, beat the estimate for the first time in 14 months.
2,224 building permits were issued in the 4th Quarter of 2009, up 38 percent from the same quarter in 2008.
While participation in safety net and work support programs continue to rise, the increases in Food Stamp and Medicaid recipients in December were the lowest since early 2009.
Click here to read a detailed report about what seems to be an desperately needed upswing.
It’s important to remember, however, that Oklahoma recently led the nation among states in the percentage of its revenue shortfall. Also, next year’s budget, which will still require devastating agency cuts, will be bolstered by one-time federal stimulus money. What happens to the state budget the next year or the one after that?
A recent post on the OK Policy Blog by Matt Gardner tracked media reports on the human costs of the state’s budget crisis this year. Here’s just one example Gardner provides in his insightful piece:
Closure of the Norman Alcohol and Drug Treatment Center has been among the consequences of 7.2 percent cuts to the budget of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Adult substance abuse treatment beds, transitional housing, children’s mental health beds and the jobs of about 100 employees have been lost this year. “These are horrible choices we’re having to make”, said Commissioner Terri White. “Every decision we make is a loss of services to someone.”
Recent income tax cuts that primarily benefited the wealthy here have contributed to the suffering faced by many Oklahomans who need social and health services.
The budget crisis has also renewed discussion over SQ 640, a 1992 referendum that most people believe requires tax increases be approved by voters or a three-fourths majority legislative vote. But, as Blatt points out on the OK Policy Blog, the question didn’t mention taxes. It dealt with revenue bills. The point is that there could be varying interpretations of what constitutes a revenue bill.
Blatt quotes a 1950s landmark case that provided the following legal language about revenue bills:
“Revenue Bills” are those laws whose principal object is the raising of revenue and which levy taxes in the strict sense of the word, and said phrase does not cover laws under which revenue may incidentally arise (emphasis mine).