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Balancing wants, needs a tough chore facing Oklahoma Legislature

by The Oklahoman Editorial Board Published: January 31, 2012
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IMAGINE taking a trip to the store to buy groceries with two children. The “I wants” for a purchase other than food are much easier to endure when the answer is just a flat no, and when the children know in advance that the answer will be no.

The “I wants” get trickier when the outing is for the purpose of buying a necessary item for one child but not the other. Do you give in to the cries for fairness and how much the second child needs something, too, just to quiet the noise?

We imagine this scenario will play out at the state Capitol this year. It will take some pretty deft “parenting” on the part of lawmakers to balance wants and needs and winners and losers.

With state revenue on the uptick, the Legislature won't have to render a flat-out no to every agency that comes through the door asking for more money. Neither can it say yes to every request. Priority-setting is paramount, and it pits not only one agency against another but the present against the future.

Take, for example, this year's budget request from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. The agency is asking for $43.1 million, a whopping increase from this year's $17.8 million appropriation.

OCAST's argument — and it's a good one — is that for every state dollar allocated to the agency, $20 more is returned to the state in private and federal investments. Unlike other state agencies, the focus isn't so much on meeting day-to-day needs and demands as it is building for the future.

OCAST invests in promising research and business prospects with a particular eye on science and technology. The challenge for lawmakers has always been maintaining the balance between funding the day-to-day services people need while having enough vision to plan for a future that we can't yet even imagine with our list of “I wants.” OCAST is planted firmly in the visionary world trying to turn dreams into reality. But it can only fund about half of the promising projects because of the tough state budget climate.

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by The Oklahoman Editorial Board
The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Gary Pierson, President and CEO of The Oklahoma Publishing Company; Christopher P. Reen, president and publisher of The Oklahoman; Kelly Dyer Fry, editor and vice president of news; Christy Gaylord...
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