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Oklahoma Slowly Improving When it Comes to State Budget

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KWGS News
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The head of a prominent think tank says despite serious challenges still facing Oklahoma’s budget, there’s slow progress.

Oklahoma Policy Institute’s David Blatt said just five years ago, Gov. Mary Fallin was saying Oklahoma could eliminate the income tax — now she’s calling for new revenue.

"We stopped the movement for income tax repeal, and we’ve seen growing recognition … that there is a structural budget deficit, that we do have a revenue problem, that we need more revenue," Blatt said. "And we have seen real, unprecedented openness to new taxes in the state."

The state did get some good budget news recently: State revenue growth may offset $509 million dollars in one-time spending this year and give lawmakers more to spend next year. That fiscal year 2019 increase, however, may already be spoken for.

Blatt said the state already knows of $148 million in increased obligations going into next year.

"This included ad valorem reimbursement payments to school districts, increased bond payments, increased benefit costs for teachers and state employees," Blatt said. "In addition, the state could be facing the loss of federal Medicaid matching funds that have been used to help pay for the cost of graduate medical education."

Several solutions are available, though Oklahoma Policy Institute will chiefly advocate for undoing income tax cuts. ?

Income tax rates have only gone down in recent years, with the latest cut coming amid steep deficits. Blatt said the annual impact of cutting the top individual rate is $1 billion, and that hasn’t been the only tax cut.

"All told, the state is bringing in about $1.5 billion a year less in tax revenue as a result of tax cuts over the last decade," Blatt said.

Blatt gave an outlook on the state budget Thursday at Oklahoma Policy Institute's fifth annual State Budget Summit in Oklahoma City.