Shortfall Could Lead to More Efficiency

Shortfall Could Lead to More Efficiency

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

Texas Gov. Rick Perry recently said that 70 percent of all the jobs created in 2008 were in Texas. This can be attributed in part to the many Fortune 500 companies they have attracted through public policies that have included no personal income tax and a manageable regulatory climate. Oklahoma’s current conservative majority and I hope to stay competitive with our neighbor to the south and this so-called budget crisis may be such an opportunity.

While Oklahoma's revenue shortfalls can be difficult to handle they allow us the opportunity to make our state government smaller and more efficient. One of the problems of downshifting too quickly is the negative impact it can have on fellow Oklahomans who work in the public sector. The current shortfall brings us to the matter of how to deal with less revenue to pay salaries. We want to do right by our public employees. Luckily, we have been working on a solution that may include voluntary buyouts for those who are nearing retirement and asking that some agencies not fill vacated positions.

A recent budget hearing with the Department of Public Safety serves as an example. We posed questions about the number of employees near retirement and about the idea of allowing Oklahoma’s two largest cities to patrol their own highways. If these larger cities began patrolling interstate highways it could allow for reassignment of the approximately 100 troopers currently serving in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa area. Less densely populated areas such as Dewey, Kingfisher, and Blaine Counties could benefit from such a plan. This would not involve dissolving the troops nor laying off any troopers. Instead, we would be looking to buy out any near retirement thus reducing troop size.

The Oklahoma Public Employees Association has endorsed a plan to offer buyouts and deferred compensation as an alternative to furloughs and layoffs. I am proud that the Legislature is putting forth the plan, which will protect public employees while also contracting state government. It has been projected that the state could save as much as $67 million if the plan is implemented in all state agencies.

As you can see, we may be headed in the direction of a smaller state government without any negative effects on either public employees or services. The aim of conservatives like myself is to keep the state government at a reasonable size once we are out of the recession, rather than growing it back. Extra revenue could be used to enact new tax cuts in the future or even do away with a personal income tax.

Which begs the question, could Oklahoma have a tax policy that rivals that of Texas? I believe we can and should begin now the process of looking at other revenue streams such as a fair tax or consumption tax to replace the income tax. It’s the direction many of my constituents have repeatedly asked for me to try to take and it’s the direction that could help attract new business and jobs to the state.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.

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