POSTED ON MAY 11, 2011:
No more inefficient spending
The new normal throughout the public sector is that receipts do not cover expenditures. Governments face increased demand for safety net services, inflationary pressures in health care, dilapidating transportation infrastructure, expensive prison populations and mounting public pension problems among others.
Solutions to these problems may depend on one's political perspective. While some argue revenues need to be increased, others say the answers lie on the opposite side of the equation with calls for "no more spending." Lacking constitutional constraints, federal policymakers have responded by entertaining tax increases, accumulating mountains of debt and passing the baton of austerity to future generations.
In contrast, voters have consistently strengthened Oklahoma's constitution to mandate balanced budgets, allowing only 95 percent of general revenues to be appropriated, capping annual spending increases, and requiring a 15 percent emergency fund. But even with these safeguards, many are rightfully frustrated with government spending.
Research shows voters are against government spending generally, but more supportive of it specifically. In other words, people have a negative view of spending in the aggregate, but positively view individual items like education, public safety, transportation infrastructure and health care, which comprise more than 80 percent of state budgets.
This should tell policymakers that better prioritization and fiscal discipline are required so nonessential programs do not siphon funds from core areas critical to our state's success. Simplistic incremental budgeting tactics need to be stopped.
Across-the-board budget approaches that contain minor tweaks meant to show prioritization must be replaced with long-term strategic plans built around core responsibilities, priorities and outcomes.
Taxpayer resources must be concentrated into necessary state-provided goods and services and eliminated from those items which may be nice, but are not proper functions of the state nor responsibilities of the public treasury. Government should do what it must to the best of its ability and eliminate the rest.
Rather than funding well the core responsibilities on which the majority of our citizens depend, our state has used limited resources to fund a top-heavy education bureaucracy, duplicative social services, numerous nonprofits, municipal museums, cultural centers and theatres, overpaid government lawyers, community organizers and ineffective business incentives.
In trying to be all things to all special interests, we have insufficiently funded our classrooms, roads, bridges and law enforcement while allowing state assets to deteriorate. Certainly, all government spending is not equal. Some public spending facilitates the private sector and too much detracts from it.
To lay the foundation for economic growth and prosperity, Oklahoma policymakers must budget with reason, not emotion, protectionism or politics. They should drive resources toward items with the highest return on investment. Yes, governments must spend, but they are duty bound to do so wisely and efficiently. Perhaps the call should be for, "No more inefficient spending," instead.
-(Ken Miller is the State Treasurer)
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