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Budget Hole Tops $1.3 Billion

KWGS News File Photo

Oklahoma finance officials say the hole in next year's budget has increased to $1.3 billion, or nearly 20 percent of last year's spending, amid depressed oil prices.

The Office of Management and Enterprise Services announced Thursday plunging revenue collections have widened the shortfall from the original projection of $900 million in December.

A state panel led by Gov. Mary Fallin will meet next week to certify how much legislators can spend in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Fallin's Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger says since the board's December certification, oil prices fell 21 percent and the state's economy has continued to contract.

Doerflinger already announced earlier this week that cuts to agency budgets also will deepen for the rest of the current fiscal year. House Minority Leader Scott Inman said that will mean more cuts to education, health care and public safety.

"I think it sets up to be the worst budget in a generation," Inman said. "With the series of what I believe to be fiscally irresponsible decisions over the last decade in terms of income tax cuts and giveaways to some of the folks in the state who probably need it the least coupled with the fact that the price of oil is now under $30 a barrel, I think we've created an economic mess in Oklahoma that's going to take a long time to get us out."

Lawmakers are starting to evaluate the state’s tax incentives to see if any can be suspended or eliminated to boost revenue. Fallin said they need to be selective, however, because she’s already getting letters and phone calls from businesses suddenly hesitant to put jobs in Oklahoma.

"It's fair to look at them, but we just need to be really, really cautious in our discussion because there's some that are critical for us to be competitive ... with other states that are trying to attract jobs," Fallin said.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.