OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma lawmakers will have roughly $6.5 billion available to spend on next year's budget, about the same amount they spent for the current fiscal year, state finance officials projected on Monday.
When adjusted for the loss of one-time revenue that was used to plug holes in last year's budget, early projections suggest a budget gap of about $150 million. But that number could shrink before the final revenue figures are certified in February, said Office of State Finance Director Preston Doerflinger.
"Ideally it would be completely made up, but I'm not sure that will be the case," Doerflinger said. "I certainly think February's numbers will be better."
The revenue estimates released Monday are to be formally approved by the State Board of Equalization on Tuesday and will be used by Gov. Mary Fallin to prepare her executive budget. The final amount of revenue available for lawmakers to spend will then be approved in February.
Doerflinger, whose office will help prepare Fallin's budget proposal, said the governor remains committed to gradually reducing the state's income tax, which is scheduled to drop beginning in 2012 from 5.5 percent to 5.25 percent. Although a specific plan for reducing the income tax has not been put together, Doerflinger suggested that lawmakers and the governor will look to see what kind of savings can be realized from reducing or scaling back the number of tax credits offered by the state.
Two separate task forces on tax reform that met during the interim are nearing completion of their final reports, Doerflinger said.
"What comes out of that plays and dovetails into the overall conversation as to exactly what kind of reduction we could see and where we go from there," Doerflinger said.
Overall, the income tax generates about one-third of the revenue that lawmakers spend every year.
Doerflinger hinted that Fallin's budget likely will recommend further consolidation of state agencies and functions of state government as a way of realizing cost savings for the state. Fallin pushed last year for the consolidation of a handful of smaller state agencies into OSF as well as a centralization of the state's information technology systems, both of which are expected to save the state millions of dollars.
Additional savings realized through consolidation of various agency functions could then be used to either increase funding for core areas of state government or further reduce the income tax, Doerflinger said.
Lawmakers also have discussed the possibility of a bond issue to pay for some state infrastructure needs, but Doerflinger acknowledged there is some opposition in the Legislature to any bond proposal.
Among the items being considered by lawmakers include a $130 million bond issue to pay for renovations and improvements to the state Capitol building, which is something Fallin supports.
"What the governor has said is that the Capitol needs to be repaired and that she's exploring various options for funding, and certainly a bond issue is one of those options," Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz said.
Portions of the nearly 100-year-old Capitol building have been blocked off from tourists because mortar and pieces of limestone are falling from slabs overhead. An engineering analysis conducted earlier this year found mortar between the massive limestone panels was disintegrating, and the metal clips holding the panels have apparently corroded. Repairs, along with revamping the outmoded electrical, plumbing and other systems, could cost as much as $130 million.