Thursday, September 22, 2011

Dorman: Government's Debts, Obligations Studied

Rep. Joe Dorman said today it is important to understand the full extent of state debts and obligations in order to ensure they are appropriately funded.

“Every year, lawmakers vote on a budget, but often don’t have a clear picture of the state’s full obligations,” Dorman (D-Rush Springs) said. “Many obligations are not being funded in a timely manner. My hope is that this information will clarify where we stand and aid us in our 2012 budget process and beyond.”

Oklahoma State Bond Advisor James Joseph said Oklahoma has a high bond credit rating and less debt than most other states.

“Oklahoma’s debt is moderate when compared to other states. I believe Oklahoma’s conservative approach when it comes to the issuance of bonded debt has served the state well. However, care needs to be taken to ensure that the funds we do borrow are utilized in the most efficient manner possible – addressing deferred maintenance as well as new project needs,” Joseph said.

In fiscal year 2010, the state had approximately $1.2 billion in outstanding debt for various revenue bonds and approximately $188 million outstanding debt in a general obligations bond series. The state also has an outstanding debt of nearly $247 million in notes payable. Other long-term liabilities include pension obligations and capital leases.

Dorman’s study also examined the state’s obligation to fund a portion of emergency management efforts. The state has yet to fund an estimated $34.5 million in local claims, according to Oklahoma Emergency Management Director Albert Ashwood.

Rep. Joe Dorman
“Oklahoma is ranked third nationally in the number of disasters that take place in our state and I have been especially concerned with the state’s delay in meeting all emergency management funding obligations,” Dorman said. “I would like to see our local fire departments and other entities that are turning in claims get the money they need to continue to address natural disasters with expediency.”

Steven Crawford, executive director for the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration, said the Department of Education’s budget had a $7 million shortfall for programs such as alternative education, early intervention and Sooner Start. The alternative education program alone was short $2 million, he said.

Larry Stein, Chief Deputy for Oklahoma County Assessor Leonard Sullivan, noted that State Question 588, which created the manufacturing ad valorem exemption, required the Legislature to repay lost ad valorem funding to schools and other entities.

“Voters approved this exemption with the idea that the state would honor the lost ad valorem funding and the state has been slow to fully fund reimbursements in the last several years,” Dorman said. “The state owes our schools a large amount of money, according to the information given today.”

Dorman said he will be working during the interim to compile the data from today’s study and come up with a figure representing the state’s numerous obligations.

“That number will, I hope, give lawmakers pause and help them in their decisions on future budgets and policy decisions, especially mandates on state agencies, cities and counties,” Dorman said.

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