The Edmond Sun

January 18, 2013

Legislators: State won't raise taxes if feds cut off funds

James Coburn
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — State lawmakers will not raise taxes on Oklahomans in order to replace federal dollars that may decrease with budget cuts made by Congress, said state Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond.

“We want to make sure Oklahomans are prepared with whatever comes down from Washington that we have to deal with,” Jolley said Friday at the Edmond Area Chamber of Commerce legislative breakfast.

“When you look at federal dollars being targeted for sequestration, I think all of us should be concerned about defense cuts,” Jolley said.

Defense cuts would have a direct impact on the 45th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army as well as the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, Jolley said. 

Federal money makes up about half of state appropriations. Yet the federal government should not be spending money it does not have, Jolley continued.

“I know there’s people who would disagree with us, but I think the governor was right in rejecting the expansion of Medicaid,” Jolley said. “In the short-term it would be better for the citizens of Oklahoma to accept it. But you’ve got to look at the long-term and we can’t afford the long-term. We can’t afford that and we can’t keep on seeing Washington shifting burdens to the states and expect us to just pick up the tab.”

House Speaker T.W. Shannon had an interim study on the flow of federal dollars to the state. The state of Oklahoma will not become all things to all people, Jolley said.

State Sen. Greg Treat said he studied which state agency programs do not belong at a federal level when he worked as a state government liaison to U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn.

“It’s tough to do. It’s tough to unravel,” said Treat, R-Oklahoma City.

During performance review hearings last year Treat asked an agency head how many programs would not be running if federal money was not attached to the services.

“He said about 40 percent of the programs we do, we would not be doing if we were not chasing the federal dollars,” said Treat, vice chairman of the Health and Human Services Subcommittee. “Well what that does is it misappropriates state dollars. The few precious state dollars we have are going to chase federal money that we don’t need so we can increase the budget of a state agency.”

A bill coming from the State’s Rights Committee would require that all federal grants with direct spending to agencies be sent to the state treasury, said state Rep. Lewis Moore, committee chairman. The $7.5 billion would be screened through the legislative process, which is not currently done, said Moore, committee chairman.

“For the most part, we have no say-so over that money,” Moore said. “… We want more transparency in that so we can see what is attached to this money and decide what are the strings that we want to keep or cut.”