Financial obligations stemming from a massive road building program and a criminal punishment program will eat up a good deal of the state's growth revenue, leaving legislators little available funding to devote to other initiatives, according to the Senate's budget leader.
"It's pretty simple. To keep the promises we made last year about building new roads and locking up more violent criminals, we're going to have to spend a good deal of growth revenue. It's in the state's best interest to keep those promises," said Senator Kelly Haney, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Members of the Senate budget panel were given a presentation today, detailing the state's resources and obligations. The presentation highlights included:
"Once you do the math, it becomes pretty clear that there just isn't very much money available. There's no question we have a lot of needs, especially in education, but unfortunately, the tight budget situation affects our ability to meet them adequately," said Senator Haney.
"We'll have to prioritize the items that are of most benefit to the state and try to direct our attentions there."
Governor Keating has proposed a large reduction in the state income tax, one which cost $81 million in the first year, eventually totaling $777 million by the time it was entirely implemented.
"It would be difficult to do in light of the road and prison programs we committed ourselves to last year. To deliver a reduction of that magnitude, you'd have to renege on the highway program, return to the revolving door prison system and roll back the clock on education. I don't think that's a very sound economic strategy and I don't know of many people who do," said Senator Haney.
The Seminole legislator pointed to two recent polls as evidence. One by the Tulsa World indicated most Oklahomans wanted state growth revenue allocated to education rather than tax reductions. Another poll of Oklahoma economists also sided with education over tax cuts.
"If Governor Keating were really serious about it, I think we would have seen the income tax proposal long before his fourth year in office," said Senator Haney.