Experts warn of future budget shortfalls at State Chamber of Oklahoma meeting

OKLAHOMA – Oklahoma’s fiscal shape could worsen next year when short-term budget enhancements disappear, experts told Oklahoma’s business community Tuesday.

Oklahoma’s recently passed budget was aided by short-term help like the federal stimulus package, the state’s Rainy Day Fund and suspended tax credits. But those budget plugs won’t be available for future budgets, according to experts who spoke at The State Chamber of Oklahoma’s Annual Meeting.

“We’re still learning the full consequences of decisions made this year,” said David Blatt, director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute. “This isn’t over yet.”

Blatt said about $1.2 billion of this year’s budget was comprised of short-term enhancements and that Oklahoma could not have made it without that help. But he warned of possible problems in the future from those enhancements.

Oklahoma could continue to see eroding public infrastructure as departments continue facing fiscal challenges, Blatt said. He pointed out that the state Corrections Department is staffed at only 73 percent. He encouraged the Legislature to implement best-practice policies for tax credits and to eliminate the ones that don’t work.

Michael Carnuccio, president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, said Oklahoma needs to focus on creating jobs in the private sector. He cautioned that growing the federal government could lead to fiscal problems down the road.

“They’re borrowing from our grandchildren or they are borrowing from China,” he said.

Carnuccio also projected a large shortfall in future budgets. He said legislators need to decide how much money the state will have and decide what to do from there. He questioned why Oklahoma is running 12 golf courses, for example.

Carnuccio praised the Legislature and Gov. Brad Henry for passing and signing education reform. Reforms included charter school expansion, teacher performance pay and the creation of a scholarship program for developmentally disabled children.

“This is only going to improve Oklahoma’s position in the future,” Carnuccio said.

Updated 06-15-2010

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