State leaders worried about balancing budget next year

Sunday, July 13th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

State leaders are worried that creative solutions used to balance this year's $5.1 billion budget can't be repeated next year.

``There are certain things we did that we considered one-time things,'' said State Finance Director Scott Meacham.

Actions taken this year include refinancing state bonds, raising fees, diverting insurance premium taxes from pension systems to the general fund, accelerating payment schedules for some taxes and changing the way natural gas tax revenues are calculated.

House Speaker Larry Adair, D-Stilwell, said state legislators spent all of the money available just to keep state government operating.

Some $14.4 million was transferred from three state education funds to a depleted fund used to reimburse schools for property tax revenues lost due to manufacturing tax breaks.

Another $21.5 million was transferred from several funds to the state's special cash fund. Other legislation transferred $7.2 million from the Department of Human Services to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the state Medicaid agency.

During his three years leading the House, Adair has not had enough money to fund needed programs fully or the ability to raise revenues to meet those needs.

``Unless the economy should take a big turn for the better, we're probably going to have some pretty tough times next year, even tougher than we had this last year,'' he said. ``With it being an election year, historically, people have been reluctant to really be willing to do anything more than what they have to do.''

Adair doesn't think the state can stay afloat without raising revenues.

Senate President Pro Tem Cal Hobson, D-Lexington, tends to agree, particularly given Gov. Brad Henry's stance against raising taxes.

``He's been quite clear he is not interested in that,'' Hobson said. ``So I don't see any immediate alternative to continued reductions.''

Henry has said he does not intend to call a special session to spend funds the state stands to receive from a federal fiscal relief package. He prefers to wait until next February when officials may have a better picture of the state's fiscal health and its most pressing needs.

Meacham said the administration doesn't favor calling a special session except in the case of crisis.

Hobson said he believes Meacham and the state's fiscal staff found most of the available ``magical bullets'' this year for closing budget gaps.