Skip to main content

Budgeting During the Wuhan Virus Apparently Means Not Having to Make Tough Decisions

At the time of this writing, Governor Stitt remains in a budgetary impasse with the legislature over completing the current fiscal year, which ends in June. By the time this is posted, in all likelihood, he’ll have signed the spending bills that access the rainy day fund and which make no spending cuts for the rest of this fiscal year, despite current revenue issues and the fact that many agencies are closed. 

One of those bills Governor didn’t immediately sign also cut funding to the Digital Transformation Revolving Fund. This Fund appears to be very important to Governor Stitt as part of his efforts to make Oklahoma’s government top-10 in performance among the states. What’s strange is this is just about the only thing that saw a cut – something that likely involves contracts, and the sort of thing that does usually get defunded in the middle of a fiscal year.

Tulsa World editorial has dismissed the disagreement with “The pandemic crisis isn’t a good time for a state budget fight” as if “pandemic” is all you have to say, and that makes the conclusion self-evident. And apparently, legislative leadership’s thinking is the same, along with a veto-proof majority of legislative members.

But is anybody – the legislature, the governor, or the press – in the right? Arguably, none are. Frankly, Governor Stitt is probably the closest to taking a principled stand. He has at least acknowledged that there is a rocky road ahead and now isn’t the best time to hide one’s head in the sand. The suggestion that budget cuts might be in order after a couple of years of pretty free spending and in the face of an economy devastated by a pandemic panic, accompanied by an oil price collapse, is actually a good idea. The error is in failing to prioritize. Some spending is less necessary than other spending. Across-the-board equal-percentage cuts is a result of laziness or an unwillingness to separate wheat from chaff.

The legislature and its press allies have nothing to stand on. The legislature’s first reaction seems to be that they really didn’t want to be at the capitol doing business in the first place. The pandemic therefore offers the perfect excuse to not do what they didn’t want to do anyway. Budget decisions made well before anybody had an inkling of what the overreaction to the Wuhan virus would do to the economy and before we realized just how badly oil prices would drop, are to stand (except a program important to the governor’s office, and apparently cut due to some sort of childish vendetta). Any and all of the gap between budgeted spending and revenue will be made up with rainy day funds. Yahoo! Let’s go home.

But when times are bad and rainy day funds get used, it’s generally prudent to review spending and prioritize, fall back to absolutely necessary spending, and cut any fat. It’s not a perfect analogy, but if a family’s chief breadwinner loses a job, that family might have substantial savings, but they don’t spend down the savings while continuing to live as if the job is still bringing in income – at least not if they’re prudent. They cut back expenses and use the savings to provide for necessities. That’s because they don’t know when or by how much the income will come back.

We don’t know when Russia and Saudi Arabia will cut back on their oil production or when they do, how much they’ll continue to produce. So we have no idea how much or when oil prices will recover. We have no idea what the economy will do once the powers that be decide we can go about our daily business again. We have no idea if the Wuhan virus or some variant might rear its ugly head again at some point in the fall. For that matter, these are uncertainties every time a budget is written, regardless of current circumstances, good or bad. But, we do know, right now, with absolute certainty, that revenues this year will fall short, and next year’s revenues are not likely to do well, either. Now is the time to be saving.

So legislature, why not acknowledge that Governor Stitt has a point? If you’re scared of the virus, maybe if the governor’s digital transformation efforts were fully funded, you could make new rules and meet virtually. Besides, it’s your job to make tough decisions. If that’s not what you stood for election to do, or if you seriously thought you wouldn’t have to, you really should leave the legislature and let somebody else take office who is willing to make some tough decisions. But if you stick around, this hyperlink gives some pointers for how you ought to make some of your budget decisions.

Byron Schlomach is 1889 Institute Director and can be contacted at

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.

Popular posts from this blog

Dear GT Bynum, Let the Children Play

I live close to a large City of Tulsa park that has a golf course, walking trail, green spaces, and a couple of playgrounds. My (almost) three-year old son loves the playgrounds, and often begs us during walks in our neighborhood to detour to “for-chun” (LaFortune Park). This seemingly innocent request can become a hassle when we don’t really have time, but we indulge him as much as possible. It’s good for kids to play outside, especially with other kids they might not otherwise come into contact with. But sometimes we have to contend with an upset toddler who doesn’t understand why we can’t go to the playground right this minute. I’m not complaining, every parent of young kids deals with similar stuff. But during the COVID lockdown, we’ve had to contend with an altogether different LaFortune Park situation with our son. As part of the mayor’s shelter-in-place overkill, all city-owned playgrounds were closed “ indefinitely .” This wasn’t a guideline or suggestion, the city meant busine

When It Comes to the Cox Center, “What if I Get to Meet a Movie Star?” Isn’t Good Enough

In a recent   post , 1889 Institute expounded on the fiduciary duty of elected officials “to act in the best interest of the people of the state as a whole,” a “high duty, executed as a public trust … wherein one puts the people’s interest above one’s own.” This fiduciary duty must not stop with elected officials. Once an elected body or an elected official – the legislature, a city council, the governor, or a mayor – has taken final action, the faithful implementation of each enacted law, policy, or program falls to an army of bureaucrats. Thus, a fiduciary duty to execute laws and policies with diligence and integrity, tantamount to that of elected officials, must extend to government employees. Recently, I had a few moments to sit down and watch a show with my children. Unsurprisingly, my son picked a series entitled “The Stinky and Dirty Show.” I was naturally skeptical that the show would yield any real value. However, as I watched, I found myself pleasantly surprised. Each episod

COVID Inspires Tyranny for the "Good" of Its Victims

The Christian philosopher, C.S. Lewis, once said, "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies." The moral busybodies C.S Lewis warns of reminds me of those who would have Americans give up their liberty to combat COVID-19.   A recent Oklahoman op-ed compared COVID-19 to World War II, stating that the number of deaths from COVID-19 is approaching the number that died fighting for this country and the freedoms it protects. This comparison is, of course, nonsense. This suggests that a virus with a high survivability rate is an equivalent threat to the Nazi and Japanese regimes that brutally murdered millions. The piece uses wartime rationing of meat and cheese, a sacrifice necessary to ensure men on the front lines had adequate nutrition, to justify Americans accepting counterproductive lockdowns in exchange for additional stimulus c

The High Duty of Elected Officials and Ways They Fall Short

With an election just completed (the alleged voting, anyway), a legislative session coming up, constant talk of spending to offset the impacts of COVID-19, and elected officials trying to mandate our way out of a disease, the duty of elected officials in their official positions is worth considering. The 1889 Institute recently published a booklet for state lawmakers that discusses various issues and possible solutions. Included in that booklet is a short discussion of the central duty of elected officials, which is expanded here. What is the central, over-arching duty of an individual after having been elected to public office? Public oaths of office give a strong hint, and the Oklahoma Constitution is a good place to start. Article XV includes the oath of office, which states that an Oklahoma public official swears to “support, obey, and defend” the constitutions of the nation and the state, that the official will not take bribes, and that the official will discharge duties as best