Following the certification of $7 billion in funds — a 3.1 percent boost in funding — for the state budget in fiscal year 2014, Gov. Mary Fallin said any proposed reductions in income taxes will be modest and the state is budgeting cautiously.
“We still have a lot of challenges ahead for our state,” Fallin said Thursday after a meeting of the Equalization Board. “We're excited that we do have extra money and growth in our revenue for our state, but we also have a caution about us in light that we don't know what Washington is going to be doing between now and the fiscal cliff, which is Jan. 2.”
State law requires the Equalization Board — composed of state officials including the lieutenant governor, state auditor, treasurer and schools superintendent — to certify funds for budgeting purposes in December. Fiscal year 2014 will begin July 1.
The board unanimously approved the estimated budget numbers, which included $214.6 million more than the state had for this fiscal year.
“We will be looking at further income tax reductions but not to the extent that we were looking at last year just because of the uncertainty,” Fallin said. “Even though we've had some great revenue growth in our state.”
Last year a complex proposal to reduce the state income tax, in part by eliminating some tax breaks and credits, failed to pass the legislature.
Fallin said any plan to reduce the personal income tax this year would be tied to growth in the state, so reductions in the tax would occur as revenues to the state increased.
The governor said she has been working on the budget document, which will be submitted to lawmakers in February, for the past two months.
“I've actually made several phone calls this week, not only to other governors, but also members of congress expressing our concern … about the impact of the fiscal cliff and how hard it is as a governor to plan a budget when we don't know what is going to transpire with the tax cuts that are tied to actually state income tax cuts,” Fallin said.
Approximately $60 million of the projected $214.6 million budget increase will only occur if Congress fails to reach a compromise before reaching the fiscal cliff. If no agreement is reached to keep in place tax breaks and deductions currently on the books, the taxable income of residents in Oklahoma will increase.
Fallin said they are working now to look at the legislative priorities compared to the budget requests and needs.
She said education funding is a top priority, especially funding education reforms that have been put in place the past two years. Lawmakers approved sweeping reforms touching on everything from teacher evaluations, to preventing social promotion after third grade, and a new A to F grading scale for schools.
Education will automatically see a $78 million increase in the fiscal year 2014 budget, as part of the House Bill 1017 Education Reform Revolving Fund.
Other priorities she said are funding the Department of Corrections, which has had a difficult time recruiting guards; the Highway Patrol, which has too few troopers; and the Department of Human Services, which is undergoing a massive overhaul after settling a federal lawsuit that claimed the department had failed to protect children in the agency's care.