Oklahoma policymakers face many difficult choices in years ahead

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: October 17, 2010

Reading David Blatt's memo to state political candidates is a road map toward bewilderment — as in wondering why anyone would volunteer to run for office this year.

Blatt is with the Oklahoma Policy Institute and a keen state budget analyst. Earlier this month, he fashioned a "Memo to Oklahoma candidates and elected officials" in which he concludes that the winners in November "will face difficult choices in filling large budget holes and balancing the budget over the next two to three years."

And that's just the short-term bad news! Longer term, Blatt wrote, elected officials face a growing "fiscal gap" between the cost of providing state services and the revenues available to fund them. If State Question 744 passes, that "fiscal gap" will turn into the Grand Canyon.

This problem isn't unique to Oklahoma. In state after state, elected officials are grappling with the fact that even large tax increases may not bridge budget gaps for very long.

A new report from the Pew Center on the States indicates citizens are headed for a reality checkpoint. This is a crossroads moment for governments at all levels. Voters are frustrated by the federal government's spending spree. State and local politicians are frustrated by an inability to fund core services without big tax hikes. Something has to give and it has to start with attitudes.

Polls conducted by the Pew Center in Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois and New York found "remarkable unanimity in public opinion across regions of the country that differ greatly from each other politically and demographically." Key finding: Most citizens have "only a vague idea of the trade-offs that will be necessary to balance budgets."

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