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Oklahoma City sales tax receipts could reflect transformative growth

Oklahoma City's sales and use tax revenue keeps coming in well above projections. The growth has been strong enough, and sustained for long enough, that it could be evidence of the start of a transformative era of growth in the city, a leading local economist said.
BY MICHAEL KIMBALL mkimball@opubco.com Modified: July 12, 2012 at 10:17 pm •  Published: July 12, 2012
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Sales tax revenue in Oklahoma City keeps coming in well above projections, and a leading local economist says it could be a sign the metro is on the verge of a transformative period of growth.

If that seems out of sync with an increasingly tenuous national and worldwide recovery from recession, that's because it is, said Russell Evans, director of Oklahoma City University's Steven C. Agee Economic Research and Policy Institute. But economic growth in the metro has been so strong for so long, evidence is mounting that Oklahoma City could be in the early stages of a big economic run largely independent of moody international markets.

Economists have suspected for a while that recovery, which typically features a higher than normal growth rate as an economy makes up for lost time, has ended in Oklahoma City. But Evans said a new normal rate of local growth can be higher than previously expected.

“I don't think you can write up this level of economic activity to a recovery phase,” said Evans, a research economist. “The question is, how long can it maintain that high growth rate? What we're seeing is that the numbers are still coming in awfully strong.”

Revenue up

Sales and use tax revenue in Oklahoma City has been far ahead of expectations every month this year so far, according to city figures. Through June, receipts are about what city officials they would be a full month later in July.

Strong growth was already expected in the metro as the area finished off its recovery from the recession with its roots in the 2008 financial and housing market collapses. But not this strong.

“You're still seeing tremendous growth in private earnings ... in spite of what continues to be modest U.S. activity at best,” Evans said.

Still, the city is proceeding cautiously. Based in part on research provided by Evans, the city planned its fiscal year 2013 budget on potential economic and revenue growth in Oklahoma City of about three percent, and officials are still sticking with that projection for now.

City budget officials have already told the city council they can expect on an extra $1.5 million in revenue next year, though an optimist can expect even more based on recent numbers. But the city would rather proceed conservatively and wait to make more major revenue projection adjustments for now.

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