The Edmond Sun

January 18, 2013

OUR VIEW: Line-item budgets should return

The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — Some may have made fun of the nickname — the Doomsday deal — but the thought behind new Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon’s move to name a House committee specifically to monitor federal dollars coming into Oklahoma was right on target.

We applaud the House speaker for doing what so many in the past have failed to even acknowledge — that there’s a lot more money coming into Oklahoma than the stated $6 billion budget spent by the state. When one adds in all federal programming dollars, the figure is more like $13.5 billion being spent on Oklahoma programs and needs.

Speaker Shannon’s reasoning for examining these additional dollars more closely is to consider how state programming would continue if federal dollars suddenly dried up or were significantly cut back. Many of these funds go to support programs for some of Oklahoma’s neediest citizens.

What should go hand in hand with this more balanced approach to fiscal review is a return to line-item budgeting by the state. Many people expected last year that the Legislature would have cut spending now that most of state government is in the hands of Republicans, but that turned out to not be the case. We suggest that part of that problem is related to the fact that no one really knows how much is being spent and where it is going in spite of tremendous cost-saving efforts being made by certain state committees.

If the state Legislature continues to pass shell appropriation bills and just hand state agencies a bushel full of money to spend however they like, Oklahoma probably will never achieve any significant fiscal changes. This process pushes all of the really hard decisions outside of the Capitol and into the agencies that are all fighting for every dollar they can get their hands on.

Line-item budgeting could solve numerous problems and give the public a lot more transparency as to how their tax dollars are being spent. Then we’d know a lot earlier in the process for example whether $2 million is going to be spent in support of a Youth Expo, which proved to be so controversial during last year’s session. We might also realize where dollars are not being spent but perhaps should be in place such as an annual amount for replacing cars and equipment for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. Unbelievably, that part of OHP’s budget had been stripped in previous years. Thanks to efforts by Commissioner Mike Thompson, that issue is being corrected.

Gov. Mary Fallin is effectively our state’s CEO and she should have the ability to look at a line-item budget and give her input and direction and maybe even veto spending that is not in line with her stated objectives of improving government efficiency and eliminating waste.

Oklahoma has had processes in place in the past such as line-item budgeting and even a legislative office dedicated to finding wrongdoing and pinpointing cost savings statewide.

Those processes were eliminated for political reasons. It’s time to return those types of tools to state government to truly achieve what Republicans keep telling us they want to accomplish.