If I told you that government spending had increased every year since 2001 (in spite of two recessions) or that policymakers were continuing a decades-long trend of throwing money at programs without any sign those dollars were making an impact, or that government agencies were continually requesting even more funding increases while stockpiling mountains of tax dollars in revolving funds, you would likely be outraged. In fact, you’d probably want to pick up the phone, call your representative in Washington and demand that something be done.
Problem is, you would be calling the wrong office.
These are trends occurring in the state budget, here in Oklahoma, the reddest state in the nation. This year’s increase in total state spending (state-appropriated dollars, non-appropriated dollars and federal grant dollars) will bring the state budget — already at an all-time high — to a record level, exceeding $16.7 billion.
Make no mistake. I’m proud of the historic work the Legislature and Gov. Mary Fallin have done reforming a costly and broken workers’ compensation system. I’m grateful for their diligence in protecting Oklahomans from the Obamacare Medicaid trap. But one need look no further than the budget to see that even this group of reform-minded conservatives still needs to be encouraged to curb the spending.
In the new budget, state appropriations alone increased by $267 million. This follows last year’s budget agreement, which resulted in $330 million in new appropriations. We’ve certainly experienced growth during that time, but spending increases are outpacing population growth. Lawmakers are choosing to spend every dollar in growth revenue rather than investing in additional growth by lowering the tax burden on Oklahoma families and job creators.
Some say we need to appropriate all this new money simply to return to 2009 appropriation levels. This ignores the irresponsible spending sprees that got us to such a high level in the first place.
The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs has identified hundreds of millions in savings that could be gained by cutting wasteful spending in various areas, reforming state employees’ health insurance structure, and focusing on core services.
But even our core services shoulder some of the blame for an unnecessary increase in spending. A blanket hike in education spending is sought each year; this year it resulted in an additional $91 million. Yet this money isn’t tied to any expected outcomes. Despite essentially tripling state school spending in just over two decades, Oklahoma’s average ACT score remains roughly the same as it was in 1990. This is likely influenced by the fact that only 55 percent of the money spent on education actually makes it to the classroom to be spent on instruction.
By cutting out wasteful spending, by keeping a close eye on even the items we consider core services and by enacting proven reforms, Oklahoma’s budget could be cut significantly.
Bush is executive vice president at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs ( www.ocpathink.org).
Even this group of reform-minded conservatives still needs to be encouraged to curb the spending.