Debate Over Rainy Day Funds And Oklahoma Budget Crunch

Wednesday, September 16th 2009, 5:24 pm
By: News On 6

By Dan Bewley and Scott Thompson, The News On 6

UNDATED -- Oklahoma's budget crisis isn't getting any better.  The Oklahoma Treasurer announced on Tuesday that state agencies will get 5% less from the state.  The crisis has some wondering about the rainy day fund and whether it can be used.

Oklahoma's rainy day fund was established in 1985 in response to the energy and banking busts in the early 1980's with the goal to help balance the budget.

All eyes in Oklahoma City are focused on the state budget.

Treasurer Scott Meacham reports through the first two months of the fiscal year the state is $131 million below the official estimate for the general revenue fund and he expects by the time the fiscal year ends to have a shortfall of more than $700 million.

09/15/2009 Related Story: State Agencies Face 5% Across-the-Board Cut

The rainy day fund is one option to make up the difference, but not everyone agrees.     

"The rainy day fund is like having a container of gasoline that you keep in your car when you are running out of gas," said David Blatt with the Oklahoma Policy Institute.

"The rainy day fund should be used for true emergencies, it shouldn't be to continue spending," said Brian Downs with Oklahomans for Responsible Government.

So what is the rainy day fund and how much money does it contain?

Right now, the state rainy day fund sits at $596 million.  The state constitution allows for 3/8 of that or $223 million to be used to stabilize this year's budget, an additional $149 million can be used if an emergency is declared.

David Blatt says if the state doesn't access the rainy day fund soon more budget cuts for state services could be on the way.

"That's going to have a real impact on people with mental health problems, with seniors, with persons with disabilities, with schools, families," said David Blatt with the Oklahoma Policy Institute.

But, Brian Downs says budget cuts are exactly what's needed and using the rainy day fund now means an even bigger shortfall in three years.

"Stimulus dollars will be gone, the rainy day fund will be raided, and in 2012, if the economy hasn't picked up, we've got a lot of holes to fill and no revenue available," said Brian Downs with Oklahomans for Responsible Government.

The rainy day fund can only be used if the legislature is in session and, since lawmakers will not be meeting again until February, it would take a special session to withdraw any money.