‘I’m spending and I can’t let up’

‘I’m spending and I can’t let up’

By Mark Nichols and Brandon Dutcher

This article was originally carried by The Daily Oklahoman on 3/18/2006 and can be found online at: http://newsok.com/article/1789636/

Is it just us, or is anyone else troubled by Gov. Brad Henry’s proposal to spend $7.15 billion next year?

At a time when Oklahoma’s population-growth-plus-inflation rate is only 4.2 percent, and Oklahomans’ paychecks are growing at roughly 6 percent, the governor is proposing an eye-popping increase of $1.11 billion – 18.4 percent! – over the current year’s appropriation of $6.03 billion. This after the politicians at 23rd and Lincoln grew the government by a whopping 12.7 percent in the current year.

In the governor’s FY-2007 executive budget, released last month, he recommends spending $6,638,856,014. We have no choice but to cite this figure even though, inexplicably, his budget summary sheet doesn’t add up. (The governor declared on Feb. 6, "As required by state law, I have presented a balanced budget." Alas, he has not.)

He plans to spend another $117.7 million in lottery money, and another $392 million in excess general revenue funds. This amounts to $7.15 billion. And that’s just the money we know about. We assume he wants to spend the excess gross production oil funds, though that line on his summary sheet was left blank.

Sadly, it’s not just the governor. If last year’s performance is any indication, there’s no reason to believe either house of the Legislature will show fiscal restraint, either.

Oklahomans’ hard-earned money is now gushing into the state treasury at a record pace. This is a sign that "we need deeper tax-rate cuts to eliminate that surplus," as Jack Kemp once said. "There’s no virtue in government accumulating surpluses at high tax rates. Lower tax rates are essential to generating the long-term growth path we need to give workers both jobs and opportunity."

Lots of people talk about reducing the Oklahoma income tax and axing the death tax. Now’s the time to start doing something about it.

After all, politicians aren’t entitled to all these tax overpayments. Let’s not forget that Oklahomans have an "inherent right," according to the state constitution, to the "enjoyment of the gains of their own industry."

Oklahoma families have real needs: school clothes and dental work for the kids, new brakes for the car, ever-increasing health insurance premiums. Indeed, Oklahoma families have a multimillion-dollar backlog of health care, transportation, education and retirement needs. They deserve a state budget that respects their family budget.

Remember, this money does not grow on trees. At some point, politicians and other opinion leaders must admit that we cannot continue spending the people’s money without restraint, regardless of the supposed merit of individual projects.

Before all the money is spent, before commitments are made to pacify every special-interest group, policy- makers need to ask themselves a fundamental question: Do taxpayers exist for the government, or the other way around?

It would be easy to say our politicians are spending like drunken sailors, but this comparison would be unfair to drunken sailors. At least they have the decency to spend their own money.

Nichols is president, and Dutcher is vice president for policy, of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a conservative think tank. Visit OCPA online