Treasurer Ken Miller describes “moderated economic growth,” hopes Washington “doesn’t screw things up”

 Oklahoma Treasurer Ken Miller said last week that “moderated economic growth” continued for the state over the month of July. During his monthly overview of economic news and state government revenue trends, Miller had some harsh criticisms of Washington, D.C. policymakers.

July 2011 collections increased 6.8 percent from the previous July, and were 14.4 percent above receipts for July 2009. Total collections for the last 12 months were $10.259 billion, the highest level since the dawn of the Great Recession, in July 2009, when collections for the prior year reached $10.402 billion. 

Despite the positive state picture, Miller commented on some “wrinkles” in the new data.

In response to questions from reporters, the treasurer said of the monthly decline in state corporate income tax receipts, “I don’t make much out of that.” He noted the revenue source is “extremely volatile” from month to month, and that he believes the best read on corporate income tax receipts is over a broad sweep of time.

On the other hand, he said the robust sales tax numbers are “certainly healthy” and a sign of economic strength. “Consumers in Oklahoma are confident and spending at a good rate,” Miller said.

As for events in the nation’s capital, Miller said he was relieved to see a federal debt crisis averted, particularly the potential nightmare of a default on U.S. obligations.  The deal that passed Congress with the president’s support “stemmed the immediate problem of possible default. The ratings agencies won’t, consequently, actually downgrade U.S. bonds.”

Miller said “smiles and jubilation” in Congress over the past two days struck him as inappropriate. He added, in response to a question that the national debate now seems to have focused “primarily on spending” — and that he considered that a sign of progress. He expressed hopes that debate conducted in the new framework will “focus more on spending, and containing the national spending epidemic.”

Miller believes federal deficit concerns have had a “dampening effect on producer, consumer and investor confidence.” He asserted, “Congress should not congratulate itself for avoiding a crisis of its own making.”

Further, he reflected that “real spending reductions in the new deal are in the out years, and relatively moderate.” The rationale for an accord, however, was that instability and uncertainty were harming the American economy. He pointed to news reports indicating that citizens are “fed up with the bickering, and don’t have a lot of confidence about the future.”

Miller stressed, more than once, his view that while the new agreement restores some order and a degree of predictability for national markets, the treasurer believes “it does not take care of long-term problems.”

Miller reflected, “Oklahoma continues to outperform the rest of the nation, and that’s been the case for the last 16 months. Our growth is led by oil and gas, and manufacturing.” He expects the basically positive news for Oklahoma to continue, “just as long as they don’t screw it up in Washington, D.C.”

In a video interview with CapitolBeatOK after the session with the Capitol press corps, Miller developed that last theme, commenting that Oklahoma would continue to progress, “if left to our own devices.”

He elaborated, saying, “We’re not immune from macro-economic conditions. We’re not immune to geo-political events. We’re not immune to bad decisions out of our nation’s capital.”

The treasurer continued, “Eventually, all of the negativity and instability that Washington is providing us will have an effect on Oklahoma. Hopefully, Washington will get their act together. I think they made a step in the right direction. It’s a baby step but it is a step in the right direction.”

Miller concluded, “They’ve got to address our long-term debt problems. They’ve not done that yet, but they did stem the immediate crisis of a default.”