OK Treasurer Opposed To Use Of Unclaimed Property Fund To Fix Budget Woes

Wednesday, May 6th 2015, 7:32 pm
By: Emory Bryan

A handful of state leaders are deep into budget negotiations, working on keeping state government running with less money.

There's a budget gap estimated at $611 million, but they'll make some of that up with money that doesn't come from taxes, but from unclaimed property held by the state.

The unclaimed property fund is money in the bank, so it's an attractive relief valve when the legislature is looking for cash without raising taxes.

It's the nature of the job for State Treasurer Ken Miller to hold on to money, which is why he disagrees with the now routine use of the unclaimed property fund as a way to pay for everyday government.

He said this year $30 million will be spent from the fund.

"The money does come in, we don't know how much, that's why it's not a dependable revenue stream, but it is other people's money," Miller said.

The unclaimed property fund is money that many Oklahomans don't even know they have - lost in old bank accounts or, most commonly, through oil and gas royalties owed to people who can't be found.

The treasurer's office is constantly trying to find the owners and, in the meantime, trying to hold on to the money.

State Of Oklahoma's Unclaimed Property

"I do think we've become too dependent on that source of funding and other sources of funding," Miller said.

That's the key issue, according to David Blatt with the Oklahoma Policy Institute, who believes regular taxes ought to pay for regular government, instead of the unclaimed property fund.

"It's not supposed to be there to fund teachers in the classroom or prison guards, so there's something amiss in the budget if we're so dependent on one-time revenues,” Blatt said.

He said it's unsustainable to use the money year after year, and what's worse, it's not even enough to fill the gap.

"Schools are going to see more cuts, healthcare will see more cuts, public safety will see more cuts, and they're still using $700 million in one-time revenues," Blatt said.

The treasurer's office said one in four Oklahomans have unclaimed property.

The budget deal won't be finalized for a few weeks.