THE road to That Place is paved with good intentions. In Oklahoma, the road to a fix for crumbling infrastructure is tarred with a myopic pay-as-you-go mindset. As for the state's fiscal path, it should be resurfaced with two additional layers of sound money management.
This last point is made by state Secretary of Finance Preston L. Doerflinger. He touts two policy choices that would help put the state “on a steadier fiscal path.”
The two items are a decreased reliance on one-time funds and a shift toward performance-based budgeting, “a fiscal model that allocates funds based on data-driven projections of measurable spending results.” This is a tool that businesses have used for years. For governments, says Doerflinger, “it's a great tool to get more bang for their taxpayers' buck.”
The finance secretary's comments are contained in the Oklahoma Economic Report, published monthly by the office of state Treasurer Ken Miller. Miller and Doerflinger are two of Oklahoma's smartest and most pragmatic state officials. When they speak, we should listen because they show a wise and practical concern for managing taxpayer funds.
One-time funds are generated by “nontraditional” sources such as fees and carry-over dollars. The constitutional requirement to balance the state budget can't be waived during recessions, so one-time funds were deployed to get through the last downturn. Yet it's easy for government officials to continue using such funds when conditions improve. Easy, but not wise. It's time, Doerflinger believes, to “stop leaning so heavily on that crutch.”
Over the years, in good times and bad times, tax consumers have clamored for one-time funds to boost pay or cover other expenses. The list of people seeking money from the Rainy Day Fund was quite long at one time; the clamor stopped only when lawmakers — by necessity — had to tap the fund until it was virtually depleted.