Archive for the ‘Budget’ Category

Things that make you go "hmmm…"

April 14, 2008

Democrats in Oklahoma are decrying the growing disparity between the richest and the poorest families in the nation, and especially in Oklahoma. They are citing a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which reports that nationally,

For very high-income families — the richest 5 percent — income growth since the late 1990s has been especially dramatic, and much faster than among the
poorest fifth of families

and in Oklahoma,

The richest 20 percent of families have average incomes 7.3 times as large as the poorest 20 percent of families.

The purpose of the Center, of course, is not to accurately report the status of the nationa or state-level economic conditions, but instead:

The Center conducts research and analysis to inform public debates over proposed budget and tax policies and to help ensure that the needs of low-income families and individuals are considered in these debates. We also develop policy options to alleviate poverty.

So what has caused the growth in recent years of this “inequality” between the rich and the poor? Could it be that the United States has been importing poor people for the past two decades by the millions? Actually, yes, as the Center unwittingly addresses the problem issue it has raised, on the “About Us” page:

Part of the Center’s work on means-tested programs involves seeking to improve the access of low-income legal immigrants to these programs, both by expanding eligibility and by removing barriers that prevent already-eligible immigrants from obtaining benefits. The Center is relied on as a source of analysis and innovative policy options by a variety of organizations that work on immigrant issues, as well as by federal and state policymakers.


Congress’s Fiscal Ratings Drop Closer to All-Time Low, Nonpartisan Scorecard from Nation’s Largest Taxpayer Group Shows

April 9, 2008

(Alexandria, Va.) — The multi-year decline of lawmakers’ pro-taxpayers scores under Republican control of the House of Representatives and Senate entered a nosedive in 2007 with a new Democratic majority, according to the National Taxpayers Union’s (NTU) 29th annual Rating of Congress. The scorecard, the only one to utilize every roll call vote affecting tax, spending, and regulatory issues, was based on a record 609 votes — 427 in the House and 182 in the Senate. NTU President Duane Parde said:

Despite campaign-trail promises from many Members of Congress to put Washington on a stricter diet, our 2007 Rating shows that, by and large, the only things shrinking on Capitol Hill are lawmakers’ pro-taxpayer scores. Overburdened taxpayers looking for an end to ‘earmarked’ spending, an extension of President Bush’s tax cuts, and an honest entitlement reform plan won’t like what they see in Congress’s performance so far.

Between 2006 and 2007, the average “Taxpayer Score” in the House fell from 39 percent to 35 percent. The Senate’s average plummeted by 11 points, from 48 percent to 37 percent. This spiral takes scores closer to the all-time low (in 1988) of 27 percent and 28 percent, respectively, for the House and Senate. The highest marks were reached in 1995, when House and Senate averages were 58 percent and 57 percent, respectively.

Even though 2007’s overall results were not the worst in the Rating’s history, several other dubious records were achieved last year, including the lowest score ever (1 percent) and the largest number of single-digit scores (over 200 in the House and Senate). The latter result produced the lowest median scores (not averages) in the history of the Rating, and reflects tremendous political polarization between fiscally liberal lawmakers and the rest of Congress.

In 2007, only 52 lawmakers attained scores sufficient for a heavily “curved” grade of “A” (at least 85 percent in the House and 80 percent in the Senate) and hence were eligible for the “Taxpayers’ Friend Award” — a drop from the 61 who earned top grades in 2006. Meanwhile, 266 Senators and Representatives captured the title of “Big Spender” for posting “F” grades (again, heavily curved at 16 percent or less in the House and 14 percent or less in the Senate) — a significant jump from the 224 biggest spenders in 2006.

Unlike those of other organizations, NTU’s annual Rating does not simplistically focus on a handful of equally weighted “key votes,” but every roll call vote affecting fiscal policy — appropriations, authorization, and tax bills; budget target resolutions; amendments; and certain procedural votes that could affect the burden on taxpayers. For this reason, it has received praise from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, including former Sen. William Proxmire (D-WI), creator of the “Golden Fleece Award.” A Member of Congress’s “Taxpayer Score” reflects his or her commitment to reducing or controlling federal spending, taxes, debt, and regulation.

For the fifth consecutive year, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) was the top scorer in the House with a 96 percent rating — bringing him one year closer to Rep. Ron Paul’s (R-TX) record of six first-place finishes from 1979 to 1984. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) captured first place in the Senate for the second year in a row with a 93 percent rating. Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) received the worst score in the Rating’s nearly 30-year history: 1 percent. Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) was the biggest spender in the Senate with a 3 percent rating.

The NTU scorecard can also be used to show which Democratic and Republican Members of Congress fell the furthest in their relative ranking from 2006 to 2007. Among Democrats, they are Rep. William Jefferson (LA), who dropped 156 slots in the House ranking, and Sen. Hillary Clinton (NY), who declined 30 steps in Senate rank. Rep. Tom Petri (WI) slipped the most among GOP House Members (75 places) while Sen. John Sununu (NH) lost 20 steps in Senate Republican rank. In 2005, Sununu was the upper chamber’s top scorer.

The Rating likewise provided clues to how Republicans, now in the minority, responded to their 2006 drubbing at the polls. House GOP Members seemed to have taken the election results as a referendum on their declining fiscal discipline, as the average pro-taxpayer score rose nine points to 69 percent. Senate Republicans, however, didn’t seem to get the same memo. Their average fell nine points to 66 percent in 2007. Democrats in both chambers saw drops in average scores: 16 percent to 6 percent in the House and 15 percent to 8 percent in the Senate.

Presidential candidates Sens. Clinton and Barack Obama (D-IL) saw significant decreases in their pro-taxpayer scores between 2006 and 2007: 17 percent to 3 percent and 16 percent to 5 percent, respectively. In 2007, however, scores for both Senators were based on less than three-fourths of the weighted total of votes cast. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), was not issued a score this year because he voted on less than half of the weighted total of votes cast. In 2006, he earned a score of 88 percent.

Among state delegations, South Carolina Senators turned in the highest average score (87 percent) while Idaho topped out in the House at 69 percent. On the other end of the scale, Hawaii posted the worst averages for both chambers, at 3 percent in the Senate and 4 percent in the House. No other state’s delegations have ended up in the cellar on the NTU Rating as many times as Hawaii. Parde:

Based on the latest NTU Rating results, the 110th Congress as a whole seems intent on moving the cause of taxpayers back 20 years, to a point when lawmakers voted barely one-fourth of the time to reduce or control the size of government. The burden of taxes and deficit spending is too heavy on our economy and our families, a plight that Washington should stop making worse with careless fiscal policy.

The 362,000-member NTU is a nonpartisan, nonprofit citizen group founded in 1969 to work for lower taxes, smaller government, and economic freedom at all levels. Note: The 2007 Rating and a searchable Rating database from 1992 to 2007 is available at

More Oklahoma information on Oklahoma’s Representatives and Senators can be found here.

Alliance for Oklahoma’s Future: "Tax Incentives, Rainy Day Fund Must Be on Table"

February 19, 2008

David Blatt, Chair of the Alliance for Oklahoma’s Future, issued the following statement in response to the new revenue estimate certified by the State Board of Equalization showing that the Legislature will have $195 million less revenue for the coming fiscal year than initially estimated.

“It is unfortunate, but not surprising, that the revenue reductions resulting from the tax cuts of recent years are fully kicking in just as the state’s economy is showing some initial signs of weakness. The revised revenue numbers, certified today by the Board of Equalization, are a clear and sobering indication that this is going to be an extremely difficult budget year that will strain the state’s capacity to keep schools, prisons, roads and hospitals properly funded.”

“The recertification numbers create the strong likelihood of targeted and even across-the-board budget cuts in the coming year. When so many of our critical public services already lack adequate funding, further budget cuts would have a real and damaging effect on Oklahoma’s citizens, communities and economy. In order to keep basic programs and services operating, legislators will have to be open to exploring all options for balancing the budget. This must include carefully scrutinizing the tax system for unnecessary and unintentional loopholes and exemptions, as well as reviewing and prioritizing existing spending programs and tapping into the Rainy Day Fund where appropriate.”

ODOT and State Employees May Not Receive Increases Promised by Governor

February 13, 2008

Image courtesy of

Governor Brad Henry recently proposed a $7.32B (That’s $7,320,000,000) dollar budget, but State Treasurer, Scott Meacham, has bad news: Oklahoma has $195M ($195,000,000) less to work with, citing:

A slowed-down Oklahoma economy along with record tax cuts the past three years are the main factors for the reduction in money available…We’re going to have to tighten our belt much more than we thought even in December.

One department likely to see a budget decrease is ODOT:

The development is bad news for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, which stood to get $50 million under previously approved legislation tied to state revenues growing by 3 percent.

What about those raises for teachers and state employees? Those also “appear to be in trouble.”


Gov. Henry’s Broken Promises:

OKPNS: (7/17/06) Henry Bet On Lottery Comes Up Short

OKPNS: (5/25/07)Day 63 & Counting… (close to a year now!)

Brad Henry’s Budget

February 6, 2008

This morning, the GOP chairmen of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees, Senator Mike Johnson and Rep. Ken Miller, held a news conference to unveil Governor Henry’s proposed budget. Clearly, the governor’s eyes are bigger than his stomach, and his proposals don’t pass the Jenny Craig budgeting test.

Of particular note is his proposal to increase the pay of public employees, a proposal for which he received thunderous applause at the State of the State address on Monday. Note the duplicity of this proposal in the 4th bullet point below:

Governor Henry’s Unrealistic FY 2009 Budget

EXTENDING THE SCHOOL YEAR: The governor proposed extending the school year by 5 days in his State of the State of address, but he did not include the $90 million that Superintendent Sandy Garrett requested to extend the school year.

PERMANENT FUNDING SOURCE FOR EDGE: In his State of the State Gov. Henry referenced his proposal to use excess gross production revenues – which equals about $80 million a year – to provide a permanent funding source for EDGE. However, the governor did not set this revenue aside in his budget – he keeps it in certified revenues to fund government.

ENDOWED CHAIRS: The governor used his State of the State address to call for funding the backlog of endowed chairs in higher education. Yet the governor’s budget makes no mention of increasing bonding authority to pay for endowed chairs, nor does he include money to service the bonds for endowed chairs approved last session.

STATE EMPLOYEE PAY RAISE: The governor proposed a 5% pay raise for state employees in his State of the State. But his budget only sets aside $32 million for the pay raise – which would only fund half a year of his proposal, leaving a massive budget hole to fill next session.

In addition, the governor cuts the state employee health benefit allowance by $22 million, taking a significant bite out the proposed pay raise.

BORROWING: The governor proposed $188 million in bonds to pay for a wide number of projects. However, the governor did not include ANY funding to pay for the debt service on these bonds.

QUESTIONABLE REVENUES AND UNSPECIFIED SAVINGS: Republicans were glad the governor acknowledged in his budget that savings can be found through efficiencies and streamlining. We’ve been saying this for years. However, the governor listed tens of millions of dollars in “savings” from efficiencies and other “revenues” without giving any specifics:

ENTERPRISE AGENCIES: The governor’s budget claims that creating “Enterprise Agencies” would save $26 million. However, he does not show where the budget reductions would occur for his proposed Enterprise Agencies: DHS, ODOT, or Department of Mental Health.

GOVERNMENT EFFICIENCY INITIATIVE: Gov. Henry’s budget claims this would save $33 million, including $7 million in reduced IT spending and $10.5 million from an overhaul of the Central Purchasing Act. However, the governor provides NO DETAILS about which agency budgets would be reduced to account for these efficiencies.

CASH TRANSFERS: The governor proposes transferring $17 million from agencies to the Special Cash Fund, but he didn’t specify which agencies.

TAX COMPLIANCE: Gov. Henry’s budget claims a Tax Compliance Initiative would generate $30 million in revenues, but he provided no data to substantiate this claim.

TAXPAYERS LEFT OUT: We were also disappointed that the governor left taxpayers out of his budget. House Republicans, Senate Republicans – and even Senate Democrats – have called for some form of tax cuts this year. Why does the governor’s budget ignore taxpayers?

State Complains of Revenue Shortage

December 28, 2007

OKPNS wasn’t going to write about this at first but we would be remiss not too for our many readers. Governor Brad Henry and the state have complained that the state is short on revenue to fix our roads and to fund our schools.

OKPNS suggests that these “State Leaders” get serious about ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION and its impact on our state. We would have more money to spend on these things if we didn’t have any influx of illegals clogging up our school system and DMV. I mean have you been to the DMV lately? I have and let me tell you something it makes me appreciate Rep. Terrill even more!

The DMV is filled with Illegal Aliens getting drivers licenses and we already know that our school system has to ear the brunt with the ESL classes. What irked me the most was the woman who asked in ENGLISH for a DMV Book in SPANISH.

OKPNS suggest that our Governor get serious about this ILLEGAL Immigration issue and then we will have more money to put into education, infrastructure, and other things.

Budget Panel Contemplates Cargill Effort to Modernize

December 5, 2007
OKLAHOMA CITY – Groups that believe in limited government and groups that would like to expand government services have both found something to like about Speaker Lance Cargill’s initiative to streamline and modernize state government. While the concept may appeal to a wide range of policy makers, the work of redirecting state dollars toward more productive uses may prove more divisive than lawmakers anticipate.

David Blatt, executive director of anti-poverty organization Community Action Project, praised Cargill’s effort at Tuesday’s meeting of the state House Appropriations and Budget Committee.

“The opposite of being anti-government is not pro-government, it’s being for better government,” said Blatt. Saving money by eliminating duplication, waste and inefficiency makes more money available for critical public services, he said. On the other hand, such savings make less money available for growing government – a concept that appeals to groups on the other side of the political spectrum.

Read More

Experts Warn that Vital Public Programs are at Risk

September 28, 2007

September 27, 2007
For more information contact:
David Blatt, Public Policy Director
Community Action Project

OKLAHOMA CITY – If the fiscal policies of reducing revenue continue, state government will lack the resources necessary to properly fund vital programs on which Oklahomans rely. According to members of the Alliance for Oklahoma’s Future, dramatic funding cuts in state services such as education, public safety, and state pension programs are inevitable if further reductions in state revenue occur this coming legislative session.

“Because of recent decisions enacted by the Legislature, Oklahoma’s revenue growth has slowed dramatically and we are facing long term budget shortfalls,” said David Blatt, Alliance chairman. “Costs for the state’s existing programs are increasing faster than revenues and this situation will further put the squeeze on those priorities that matter most to Oklahomans.”

The Alliance was called today to speak to members of the House Revenue and Tax Committee regarding changes to Oklahoma’s tax structure. The Committee chair posed the question, “Should Oklahoma cut taxes and if so, which ones?”

“With a grossly underfunded education system, increasing poverty rates among Oklahoma’s children, crumbling roads and bridges, and a crowded prison system, we believe these are the wrong questions for the committee to be asking,” said Blatt. “First and foremost, we need to guarantee that we are meeting our goals as a state to achieve an adequate tax system that provides every Oklahoman opportunity, prosperity and security.”

The Alliance proposed the following recommendations to the Committee:

• Take a breather from further tax cuts;
• Evaluate the current tax structure’s capacity to adequately fund the state’s goals;
• Develop long-term budget forecasts;
• Modernize Oklahoma’s tax system;
• Maintain a balanced tax structure; and
• Preserve and ensure equity in the state income tax.

Further testimony by Elizabeth Hudgins, Senior Policy Analyst for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a national nonpartisan policy research organization, pointed out that Oklahoma’s taxes are already among the lowest in the nation. “Oklahomans pay among the least in the country in state and local taxes, ranking 43rd nationwide,” said Hudgins. “Policymakers should consider their state’s goals and priorities and ensure a tax system that works for all Oklahomans.”

Budget Update: State Revenue Growth Showing Early Signs of Slowdown

August 3, 2007

Another doom and gloom economic forecast from the Community Action Project.

By David Blatt
Director of Public Policy, Community Action Project

Oklahoma enters a new fiscal year amidst signs that state revenue collections may be entering a slowdown. As legislators grapple to address new responsibilities, rising costs and unmet needs, this revenue slowdown sends a signal of budget challenges on the imminent horizon.

I. Revenue Trends

The most recent state fiscal year, FY ‘07, marked the fourth consecutive year of revenue growth in Oklahoma. General Revenue (GR) tax collections, which represent approximately 72% of all state tax revenues, increased by 4.2% in FY ‘07 compared to FY ‘06. Since emerging from the steep downturn of 2002-2004, GR has grown at a robust annual rate of 9.2%. Also for the fourth consecutive year, actual GR collections came in well above certified estimates, allowing for a substantial end-of-year deposit to the state’s Rainy Day Fund, which has now reached $571.6 million. Read more…

Coalition Applauds Passage of Measure to Provide State Budget Forecast

June 4, 2007

The Alliance for Oklahoma’s Future today lauded as a “major step forward in promoting fiscal responsibility and sound public policy” the passage of legislation that would, for the first time, provide for a long-term state budget forecast. The Alliance is a broad-based, non-partisan coalition of nearly 40 organizations representing Oklahomans from across the state.

SB 368, which passed on the last day of the recently completed legislative session, includes language instructing the Office of State Finance to develop a multi-year trend analysis of the state’s budget outlook that would take into account the best available information on economic activity, population change and others factors affecting the state budget. The forecast would be developed and published annually by November 1st.

“We especially applaud Senator Jim Wilson for promoting this measure and Senator Owen Laughlin for agreeing to include the budget forecasting language in SB 368”, said David Blatt, Chair of the Alliance for Oklahoma’s Future. SB 368 also sets up a process to have the Oklahoma Tax Commission conduct dynamic estimates of the revenue impact of tax cut bills.

“For too long, legislators have made budget and tax decisions that have long-term impacts in the absence of even basic information on the budget outlook beyond the next twelve months”, said Blatt. “We can hope that having access to realistic projections about long-term trends will raise awareness about approaching budget challenges and encourage prudent policy decisions that help keep revenues and spending in alignment”.

“Long-term budgeting forecasting is long-term fiscal stewardship of the highest order. Future generations of Oklahomans should benefit greatly from this legislation,” stated Kent Olson, Professor of Economics at Oklahoma State University. A recent study by Prof. Olson revealed that, as a result of demographic changes, mounting spending pressures, and an outdated tax system, Oklahoma faces an approaching long-term structural deficit in which projected state expenditures will exceed projected revenues by large and accelerating amounts. This situation will force hard choices between future tax increases, spending cuts and alternative ways to pay for and ration public services.

SB 368 awaits the Governor’s signature to become law.