States that depend heavily on oil and gas revenue are getting down to brass tacks this budget season.

Revenue is down across the board for these boom-and-bust economies, leading to painful budget cuts and desperate measures at generating revenue.

When the legislative session started in February, Oklahoma lawmakers knew the state was facing a nearly $900 million budget shortfall.

That didn’t stop the clown car of certain legislators from filing irrelevant, ideological bills that might prove a point but would end up costing the state money it doesn’t have.

After years of belt-tightening, additional expense cuts face strong and emotional objections. The truth is it’s really hard to raise revenue in Oklahoma when commodity prices are down. And a well-meaning constitutional amendment in 1992 makes it nearly impossible to raise taxes.

The approved State Question 640 requires future state tax increases to be approved by at least three-fourths of the Legislature. Oklahomans still have an opportunity to petition for a statewide vote after a nearly impossible three-fourths vote of both houses because the hike won’t take effect until 90 days after being signed into law.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin’s State of the State plan to plug the budget hole went over like a lead balloon. Her proposal to tack on all kinds of service fees — from pet groomers, tattoos and car washes, etc. — received little support.

Fallin deserves some credit for being creative, but our brainstorming is leading to desperation. What’s next? A bake sale or raffle to support the state’s general fund?

By law, our Legislature is required to pass a balanced budget, and Oklahoma’s governor must submit a balanced budget proposal.

Yet again, we’re haggling over the budget during the session’s eleventh hour. State agencies are in limbo with an exceptionally unclear budgetary picture in late May.

Whatever happened to long-term planning?

Cakewalk fundraisers clearly aren’t cutting the mustard. If we can’t change the constitutional amendment on taxes, maybe it’s time to consider biennial budgeting, which would occur every two years.

Several states are simultaneously enacting separate budgets for two fiscal years. Legislators could introduce their pet projects on the off years, helping to foster more fiscal discipline.

 

- The Enid News and Eagle

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