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Oklahoma puts off declaring shortage


OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma officials stopped short Friday of anticipating a $70 million shortage for the coming year, saying they wanted to study whether oil and gas prices will rise this winter.

An increase in gas prices could bring a late Christmas present of more production taxes to state coffers hit by falling petroleum prices.

Had the state Board of Equalization certified the projected figures for the next two fiscal years, personal income tax would have risen to 7 percent.

The action also would have reduced the number of the state's poorest residents available for tax relief through July 2003.

The board _ which includes the governor, lieutenant governor, state auditor, treasurer, schools superintendent, attorney general and agriculture secretary _ will meet Dec. 28 to reconsider the shortfall prediction.

``The board could theoretically make a decision this month that could raise taxes, and find out next month we didn't have to do that,'' said Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who asked for the time to analyze oil and gas price projections.

The decision came after a bleak forecast from finance officials.

``There is no growth from fiscal 2002 to 2003,'' said Alison Frasier, deputy finance director.

The board also certified almost $5 billion in revenue for 2001.

Tom Daxon, director of the Office of State Finance, declared the shortfall Wednesday, reducing monthly budget allocations across the board by 2.1 percent until the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2002.

Also this week, officials announced $275 million less for lawmakers to spend next year than they had this year.

The agency predicted public schools would be among the biggest losers, losing $24 million over the next six months.

It is the state's first shortfall since 1983.
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