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Oklahoma leads the nation in declining revenues

BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Modified: February 25, 2010 at 10:17 am •  Published: February 24, 2010

Oklahoma led the rest of the states in the rate of decline in tax collections for the last quarter of 2009, according to a report released Tuesday.

Oklahoma’s revenue collections dropped 24 percent for the last three months of 2009 compared with the same period a year earlier, according to the report by the Rockefeller Institute of Government.

Tax collection reports prepared by the state treasurer’s office showed revenue was off 27.8 percent during the period. It actually showed an improvement over the third quarter of 2009, when tax collections were 29.3 percent less than the same period in 2008, according to state figures.

The drop in revenue collections during the last quarter of 2009 isn’t as ominous as it might appear, state Treasurer Scott Meacham said.

The national recession hadn’t hit Oklahoma during the last quarter of 2008, which makes comparing tax revenue for that period, when revenues still were strong, with 2009 figures pretty dramatic, he said. Part of the gap can be explained by the contrast in the two years; the rest can be attributed to the state’s sluggish economy, he said.

"Our economy was doing very well and we hadn’t come down as quickly as other people did,” Meacham said Tuesday.

Some improvement in revenue has been seen this year. January tax collections were off 16.7 percent compared with the same month the previous year, giving some hope to state officials that the recession may be loosening its stranglehold on Oklahoma since February 2009 when revenue collections started coming in below the previous year. This month’s collections will be released in about two weeks.

"I think the worst of it is behind us,” Meacham said. "The question now is more how quickly will our revenues recover or will they ever recover to where they were before that dip occurred. We were on all-time highs in state revenues before the downturn.

"That’s my concern — it’s going to be a long, slow upward climb.”

The decline in revenue has led to an additional 7.5 percent across-the-board cuts to most state agencies for the current fiscal year and leaving the state with a deficit estimated about $283 million by June 30, the end of the fiscal year. The outlook for the 2011 fiscal year also is grim; legislators this session have about $1. Politics coverage