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Officials: Reopening Businesses, Virus Aid to Offset Losses

Matt Trotter

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Federal relief aid and reopening Oklahoma businesses shuttered to slow down the spread of the coronavirus could potentially offset the steep economic impact of the pandemic, state lawmakers said.

The Oklahoma Tax Commission projected earlier this month that the state is slated to have $1.366 billion less to spend in fiscal 2021 than it had the previous year, based on analysis of current trends in revenue streams such as oil and gas production, tax collections and sales, and payroll tax receipts.

Fiscal 2021 begins July 1, giving lawmakers a few weeks in this year’s abbreviated legislative session to create and agree on a spending plan, The Journal Record reported Thursday.

For Republican Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, figuring out how the $1.25 billion Oklahoma received through the federal coronavirus aid bill can help state agencies is a priority.

But the bill mandates the money is not to be used to fill budget holes unrelated to the state’s pandemic response.

“That’s one of the things that hasn’t really been considered yet. Where does that money go and how does it offset any loss of revenue?” Treat said. “What we need on that from a state legislator’s perspective is transparency. We need to make sure the public knows where those monies are going and how they are being utilized.”

Chief financial officers of state agencies were instructed to document pandemic expenses, Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt said Thursday. Money spent on overtime, computers for people to work at home, personal protective equipment and other virus-related expenses are reimbursable.

Budget Secretary Mike Mazzei said the revenue projections are based on economic data analysis, which examines unemployment levels and steep declines in oil and gas prices.

“We believe these apolitical revenue revisions should be taken very seriously,” Mazzei added.

Meanwhile, Republican Senate Appropriations Chairman Roger Thompson along with Treat and other lawmakers are optimistic that income tax receipts that have been down by 25% and sales taxes down by 12% should rebound as the state’s economy begins to reopen.

“I think we’ll have some tough decisions moving forward, but I don’t think it will be as dire as that $1.3 billion number,” Thompson said.

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