Miller: With revenue gap fading and a bright economic picture, Oklahoma is in an enviable place

 With a meeting of the state Board of Equalization (BOE) only a week away, Oklahoma Treasurer Ken Miller said last week on (Thursday, November 3) that “the biggest difficulties with the state budget gap are behind us.”

The BOE will look at preliminary numbers in a meeting next month, then “re-certify” revenue available for appropriation in February 2012.  The state is looking at a rosier revenue picture than last year, and much better prospects than two years ago, as the recession took hold of state government finances.

While a myriad of challenges remain, Miller said continued growth of the economy means the Sooner State is better positioned than most to move forward.

In response to a question from CapitolBeatOK, Miller said the latest news making Tinker Air Force Base Air Logistics Center a “first among equals” was another positive note. Admitting the downside of some short-term job losses, the latest news reinforces the importance of “the economic engine from our state’s military installations, including Tinker.”

Miller’s compilation of mostly good news highlighted the state’s gross receipts were 7.4 percent higher than a year ago, and almost 9 percent higher than the previous 12 months. He stressed the October state revenue data showed “Oklahoma continues to rise above chaos in Washington, Europe and around the world.”

In dialogue with reporters, Miller cautioned the state still has “some ground to make up.” He also said that a legislative study of business tax credits, exemptions, abatements and other incentive methods, along with the scheduled end of a moratorium on such programs, will lead to some tax code changes. He observed, “some of those need to be eliminated, and some need to be changed. The attorney general’s opinion requested by Chairman Dank is a very good road map to where we need to go on that.”

Miller reflected, “There are some who are, for ideological reasons, against all incentives, but that is not the intent of the task force.” He cautioned members are beginning to work on a final report and he did want to pre-judge the process, but “you can probably predict at least some of the incentives that are going to be ended.”

Miller said he remains watchful for a possible “double-dip,” a return to Recession-like conditions. He quipped, “As an economist, I might tell you next month I didn’t make a prediction that I made. As a politician, I might claim I didn’t say it at all.” On a serious note, he said conditions in Europe are making markets nervous nearly every day, and that in Washington the work of the “Super Committee” preparing spending and taxing recommendations is not predictable.

In prepared comments, Treasurer Miller pointed to the return of many discouraged workers to the state work force as another positive sign of economic strength.

In response to a question from CapitolBeatOK, he said it is “a tricky thing” to predict long-term numbers for discouraged workers. He characterized it as “a difficult mathematic equation to get that number.” He said underemployment and discouraged workers are factors to note, but that the unemployment rate remains a sound benchmark of economic progress.

Oklahoma’s unemployment rate of 5.9 percent in September was a 0.3 percent increase over the month before. National employment remains just above 9 percent.