On debt repayment, Oklahoma couldn't be more different from D.C.

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: December 6, 2012

AT current rates of repayment, the state's debt for capital improvements could be retired in fewer than 25 years. That's good, right?

Only if you want crumbling infrastructure.

State Treasurer Ken Miller works in a building that is starting to crumble. It's the one with a dome at NE 23 and Lincoln. Miller says repaying state-supported debt would take about a penny of every dollar generated by the economy in just one year.

At another building with a dome, the situation is vastly different. For Congress to retire the federal debt would take $1.07 for every dollar generated by the economy. While Oklahoma would keep 99 cents on the dollar to repay its debt, Washington would have to borrow 7 cents on the dollar — increasing the debt to pay down on the debt.

Paying off debt isn't the issue here. The issue is managing the debt. Oklahoma needs more bonded indebtedness to keep up with infrastructure needs. Washington needs to pay down on the debt but instead keeps running it up.

Oklahoma's relatively low debt and Washington's relatively high debt are connected politically. The more that the Republicans who control Oklahoma's state government see Washington fail to put its house in order, the more reluctant they are to incur state-supported debt. This is foolish because infrastructure needs won't go away.

In purely political terms, the case for increasing Oklahoma's state-supported debt can't be made with logic, reason and arithmetic. Those things make the case quite well, but as long as Oklahoma politicians and the voters who put them in office look with disdain at what's happening in Washington, increasing state-supported debt will be difficult.

Consider that the national debt is growing by $6.6 billion per day, according to Miller, while Oklahoma's state-supported debt totals less than $2 billion. In Washington, the government borrows money to pay salaries and fund services. Congress isn't required to balance the budget. In Oklahoma, debt can't be used for operating expenses such as payroll. Legislators are required to balance the budget.

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