Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Standstill Budget & Bonds

Representatives of CCOSA, USSBA, USSA, OROS and the OEA held a press conference (1) to state our opposition to bond proposals and the impact they would have on the state's general revenue fund.

The state’s $7.1 billion budget for fiscal year 2009 is a standstill budget and has virtually no increased funding for schools or other state agencies. The state arrived at the standstill budget because of $560 million in tax cuts over the past couple of years.

Legislators are contemplating the use of a bond issue that will allow the state to sell bonds for specific projects, and pay off the bonds with state general revenue beginning next year.

The proposed bond issue is thought to have highway money, Higher Education Endowed chairs, Native American Culture Center, and a laundry list of legislator requests.

The contemplated projects are all worthy projects which deserve funding from the general appropriations process but this is bad economic policy. The state of Oklahoma will be buying on credit and the Governor and legislative leaders have already told us next year could be worse than this year.

We are in this mess because of tax cuts ($560M with potential to reach $800m-$1B) that could have funded our vital state services and education's needs including money for operations and getting teachers to the regional average in salary.

It's time for responsible members of the Oklahoma House and Senate to step up to the plate and put an end to this issue.

The following is the press release:

Education advocates said the FY 2009 $7 billion balanced budget may not be balanced at all. Despite the Oklahoma law requiring a balanced budget, lawmakers are deciding to borrow money in the form of bonds.

“We are simply buying on credit and leaving Oklahoma’s children to foot the bill,” said Dr. Randal Raburn, Executive Director of the Cooperative Council of School Administrators.

If the proposal is passed, a bond package of at least $500 million dollars would be borrowed with the promise of paying back the money from future state general revenue funds.

“We are not opposed to all bonds,” said Perry Willis, Executive Director of the Organization of Rural Oklahoma Schools. “It is one thing to pay them off with already designated money and quite another if they intend to use future general fund revenues that could be going to education.”

Oklahoma already ranks 48th in per pupil expenditures. With increases in fuel and other operations costs and no new money coming to schools, school districts are feeling the pinch. Over the last three years, schools operations funding have been short an average of $29 million, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

“We are mortgaging our future with this type of deficit spending. This is clearly the negative impact of the $560 million dollar tax cuts,” said Roy Bishop, Oklahoma Education Association President.

A record student enrollment of 641,000 this year, nearly a 3,000 increase, and a fast-changing population challenged by poverty and language barriers require a commitment from our legislators to fully-fund education and protect its revenue sources.

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