By State Treasurer Ken Miller
Tax cuts are this session’s hot topic. On this issue, policymakers have boldly swung the axe with more than two dozen tax-cutting bills introduced this year.
The challenge is to be just as bold in reforming the other side of the equation, since the job of cutting taxes is more difficult when making corresponding cuts in spending.
Those of us tasked with paying the state’s bills have more than a passing interest in the outcome of this necessary policy discussion.
Safeguarding the financial health of a state by promoting fiscal responsibility is a chief duty of all state treasurers. This independently elected office provides a solid platform from which to engage a policy dialogue free from the restraints of legislative caucuses and appointing authorities.
Surprisingly, this column’s analysis of the FY-12 budget last May caused a stir at 23rd and Lincoln, even though many of the points were made nearly verbatim the month prior. Of course, one column was a prospective appeal and the other a retrospective critique.
May this call to build a better budget be received in the constructive spirit it is offered.
Budget writers should adopt a “pay-as-we-go” approach to reducing taxes. To responsibly finance tax cuts, policymakers should eliminate one dollar of spending or credits for every dollar cut in taxes.
This can be accomplished with fiscal discipline, better spending prioritization and a refined approach to budgeting.
Current incremental budgeting tactics, where prior year funding levels are matched to available revenues, still need to be replaced with long-term strategic plans built around core responsibilities, priorities and outcomes. Then, taxpayer resources can be concentrated into essential public goods and services and eliminated from those which may be nice, or even noble, but are not responsibilities of the public treasury.
Surely, the road to big government was paved with good intentions. But, policymakers cannot fund well those things which the state is supposed to do, by continuing to fund all those things some want to do.
Oklahoma must not waste taxpayer resources on agency mission creep, top-heavy bureaucracies, duplicative services, municipal museums, theatres, overpaid lawyers, and ineffective business incentives.
During the interim, much progress was accomplished with regards to state finance. Policymakers can follow through on notable rightsizing efforts by:
• Funding essential functions well and eliminating the rest
• Basing spending on results and outcomes rather than history
• Rejecting the inefficiencies of duplicative agency, social and legal services
• Eliminating unnecessary special project “pass-through” funding
• Monetizing non-essential state assets to pay down debt
• Eliminating ineffective tax incentives and exemptions
The silver lining of the great recession was forced efficiency gained through innovation, consolidation and tough choices. A leaner public sector has emerged, but there is more to accomplish.
This spring, keep the pruning shears out to gain more efficiencies, but use the axe to cut off some branches too. By chopping the dead wood, our classrooms, roads, bridges and law enforcement can be properly funded and responsible job-creating tax reform can be enacted.
# # #
Oklahomans for the Arts emailed Tim Allen and asked if we could hand deliver a copy of an economic impact state that highlights the benefits of Oklahoma's investment in the Oklahoma Arts Council and how much their appropriation benefits Oklahoma's economy. We'll report back to you progress on this issue.