Friday, January 12, 2018

Fiscal Responsibility Key Even as Revenue Increases; By Rep. John Bennett

State Revenue is up. The state treasurer recently reported growth at a healthy rate in December and in fact for 11 of the 12 months of 2017 revenue was above 2016. Overall, gross revenue totaled $11.45 billion from the past 12 months – $667.6 million, or 6.2 percent, more than collections from the previous 12 months.

This is great news, and economic experts only expect it to get better.

Yet, we’re still hearing a cry from the executive branch, and even some in the Legislature that we still must raise more revenue. Why are tax increases even still being considered? Surely the answer is not to send more money to our state agencies before thorough financial audits have been conducted.

We MUST hold state agencies accountable for their spending as we press for further reforms. The state Department of Health is the perfect example. The agency lived beyond its means for years, adding programs and services that were never part of its core mission to help Oklahomans achieve better health outcomes. Instead, the agency bloated itself with staff it did not need and programs and services it could not afford. Now, new leadership at the department has determined it can downsize by about $32 million over the next two fiscal years. This is just one agency where savings of this magnitude can be realized.

Raising taxes should be completely off the table! We cannot tax our way out of a shortfall. We may get initial revenue increases, but they will fail as it causes consumers and businesses to contract.

I am proud to say that I and many other conservative Republicans stood and defeated a constant slate of tax increases on Oklahomans that were presented during the past regular legislative session and the first special session. It was awful lonely on the island when fighting these massive tax increases, but I am fortunate enough to serve citizens who stood with me.

I have and will continue to fight to make sure government does the right thing with your tax dollar. I have always advocated that we must curtail spending, enforce strict accountability for our tax dollars, and live within our means as our Oklahoma families do. We should be fiscally responsible in good times and especially in bad times.

It is only fair that you have all the facts, and here is one realized by only a few: most state spending never goes through the Legislature’s appropriation process. In reality, the Legislature appropriates just a fraction of total state spending.

If you would like to personally research real numbers I would suggest using the Oklahoma Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports, or CAFRs. The newest version was just released: 

The CAFR imparts the most comprehensive resource for understanding all state spending (revenue and debt), because it includes the many billions of non-appropriated state government dollars.

This emphasizes the importance of looking at all state spending instead of just the appropriated money.

Most mistakenly refer to the appropriated money as the “state budget,” but that is not the case. Here’s another: when the media and politicians talk about a “budget shortfall” they are referring to the amount of money appropriated for the current fiscal year by the Legislature that is not available to be appropriated for the next fiscal year. They are not talking about overall state spending. This tends to mislead the public into thinking there is a “shortfall” when in fact state government spending is at a record high level.

Even in years when the Legislature has less money to appropriate, the size of state government spending may continue to grow.

During 2017, for what may be the first time in recent history, overall state spending finally fell back from record levels; however, revenues continue to grow and it appears as if the state is likely on course to return to all-time-high levels of spending during the next year.

Because of this new money, not only will total state spending likely continue to set records, but the state appropriations could also easily return to an all-time-high position as soon as May of this year. This “new” or “additional” money should be put away until financial and performance audits are completed on the state agencies that receive the money. If they have a proven need identified by an independent audit, then we should fund it. If no real accountability is in place we will have more corruption and a waste of your money. That is not fair to you as taxpayers.

I will not vote to raise your taxes and I will continue to put your best interests as my constituents, first. It’s an honor to serve you. 

John Bennett represents Oklahoma House District 2. He can be reached at (405) 557-7315 or

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