Budget crisis continues, Oklahoma may prune ‘tree of government’

In an interview after Tuesday’s release of new revenue data for Oklahoma, Treasurer Scott Meacham said it might be time to consider “pruning the tree of government.”
Asked to explain what steps he, the governor and legislative leaders are working through in light of the challenges presented by tax revenue far below projections, Meacham told CapitolBeatOK, “We are looking at different pots of money to see how to handle the revenue shortfall. There is money. We have cash on hand, the stimulus money, Rainy Day money and there may be revenue enhancements without a tax increase. To be clear, we are not considering tax increases.“
Meacham elaborated, "The state can also look at more efficient tax collections to improve the cash situation. I’m still trying to figure why we can’t get taxes from Amazon.com. Their sales should result in a use tax, and that’s an issue to be addressed. Everything is under discussion right now.”
Asked if possible specific cuts beyond the monthly allocation reductions were under serious study, Meacham replied,  “Yes, there are serious discussions under way, but it’s too early to detail those discussions. We are looking at our options.”
Asked if there was a sense, or consensus, that state government needs to be “right-sized” to fit the economy and revenue, Meacham answered, “The problem we face is the execution or the implementation of government. It’s clear that we need to educate kids, incarcerate prisoners and protect the public safety. But in good times, I do think that it’s true that government is subject to ‘mission creep.’”
Meacham continued, “When the revenue is flowing maybe there’s a trend to drift into areas that are outside of the core mission or missions of government.  What happens when things are going well is that things that are ‘nice to do’ become new programs, but in hard times or tight times, it’s time to look at maybe pruning the tree of government.“

Asked if state government revenues might be expected to recover any time soon, or if it is possible that Oklahoma is looking at years of lower revenues, Treasurer Meacham reflected, “I believe the next six months will be better than the last six months. I also believe that Fiscal Year 2011 will be better than Fiscal Year 2010. But I am not sure to what degree we will experience that improvement. I’m not sure if it will be a little better or a lot better.

About the author: Pat McGuigan is editor of CapitolBeatOK in Oklahoma City. He reports regularly for Tulsa Today.