Friday, April 15, 2011

Steele Outlines House Budget Priorities

Education, public safety, transportation and health care are priorities for the Oklahoma House of Representatives in budget negotiations for Fiscal Year 2012.

The Legislature is facing a $500 million shortfall from the previous year, and the House is committed to constructing a conservative, balanced budget that promotes responsibility in spending and shields the above mentioned, core areas of state government.

The goal is to hold reductions to these entities at levels significantly less than those of other state agencies.

To help relieve pressure and increase efficiencies with taxpayer dollars, legislation has advanced this session to streamline and consolidate various services within certain state agencies.

For instance, combining and modernizing information technology among a variety of entities could improve productivity and generate tens of millions of dollars in savings. This money could then be redirected to core needs.

In addition, other practical options are being considered to ensure the state of Oklahoma lives within its means. Every proposal is being carefully scrutinized and properly vetted to ensure the best outcome for our citizens.

As budget discussions ensue, bond financing is being considered to address critical transportation needs. This suggestion would likely yield a profitable return on an investment to repair, maintain and prevent further deterioration of roads and bridges.

However, other bond proposals for additional areas of government have been rejected because the extra debt would become a liability and outweigh any potential gains.

Even as work proceeds on these issues, Oklahoma’s economic condition appears to be improving, giving greater hope for the future.

For example, total General Revenue Fund collections for March surpassed last year’s receipts for the same month by $37.3 million and exceeded estimates used to develop the current year state budget by $42 million.

The Office of State Finance recently reported that all major tax collection categories for March increased over the same month a year ago. In addition, our state’s sales taxes, a strong indicator of economic activity, were up 11.2 percent from March 2010 and ran 3.9 percent higher than the estimate.

The OSF report also indicated year-to-date General Revenue Fund collections totaled $3.541 billion, which is $142.7 million above the estimate for the fiscal year and $308.6 million above prior year collections for this same period of time.

The House is dedicated to developing a responsible budget based on conservative principles to ensure state government lives within its means. Families know how to tighten their belt during tough times, and Oklahoma must do the same.

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