There’s a lot of crowing at the State Capitol about the proposed budget lawmakers will be voting on during the coming days.
Admittedly there are parts of it worth crowing about — there is a little more money for public education, some wage increases for underpaid corrections officers, and less reliance on fines and fees. Other parts, not so much.
Lawmakers — up to this point — have failed to restore the refundability of the earned income tax credit for hard working Oklahoma families. They want to lock away an extra $200 million — on top of the $400 million deposit already scheduled — in the Rainy Day Fund while urgent needs remain unfunded.
Perhaps one of the most questionable propositions is the proposed $19 million deposit in a so-called “Quick Action Closing Fund.” Those funds would be available to the governor for expenditures with little oversight or transparency to locate or retain “a high impact business location in Oklahoma.”
An evaluation of the fund, which was created in 2011, published this past October found the projected benefits from prior expenditures fell short of expectations. And that was what analysts found when outcomes could be measured — because incentives were mixed and matched it was difficult to ascertain the success of this program.
There are too many real needs that have been placed on the back burner due to successive revenue failures and mismanagement of funds at some state agencies to be giving the governor what amounts to a $19 million slush fund. There are critical infrastructure needs for the Department of Corrections that need to be addressed so there is no need to contract with private prisons, and more money is needed for mental health, access to primary health care and much more.
While we welcome any progress that might be made with these proposals, we must restore funding for state agencies that serve Oklahoma’s children, their working-class parents and the state employees that staff them.