Tax collections are still running far below what is necessary to meet the budget we approved during the 2009 legislative session. For the third straight month, allocations to state agencies were cut by 5 percent below what they should have received under our budget.
Our Constitution requires the budget to be balanced. Whenever we have revenue shortfalls, then cuts are automatic to ensure state government does not spend more than it collects.
Despite our budget trouble, Oklahoma continues to be in far better shape than many of our sister states. Illinois has almost $3 billion in unpaid bills. Maryland plans to close a mental health center serving five rural counties. Massachusetts increased sales taxes – the most regressive of all taxes – by 25 percent to balance its budget. Those are just a few examples.
Making the situation worse for other states is that many of them have already tapped their rainy day funds and their federal stimulus money. Oklahoma’s Rainy Day Fund is intact at a full $600 million, and we have reserved half the federal stimulus money we received for next fiscal year.
We still face serious challenges, though. An example is the cut made by the Department of Human Services to Oklahoma senior nutrition programs. Few programs give us the positive return on our tax dollars as senior nutrition.
The $7 million cut is threatening to close several nutrition sites; that is simply unacceptable to me. The sites allow for seniors to get a hot meal and have the fellowship that is so important to seniors living alone. The sites also provide hot meals for homebound seniors through programs like “Meals on Wheels.”
We have enough money to plug this budget hole – and I am on record as strongly supporting that. There certainly will be budget cuts that will have a serious affect on Oklahomans; there is no avoiding that until the economy recovers.
However, this is one budget cut we should not ask our senior citizens to endure. Everything we have as a state is a gift from those generations that have gone before us. If we owe them nothing else, we owe them the opportunity to get food and fellowship. Senior nutrition programs greatly improve the quality of life for thousands of senior citizens across Oklahoma.
It is time for the Legislature to return to the Capitol for a special session on this issue. If we do nothing else before the regular session begins, we should do right by our senior citizens and restore the budget for senior nutrition programs.
As always, if you have any comments, questions or concerns about state government, you can send me a message through my website at www.gumm.us. You can also follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/jpgumm or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jpgumm.
Thanks again for reading the “Senate Minute.” Have a great week, and may God bless you all.