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Oklahoma transfers some cash to delay more budget cuts

Oklahoma transfers some cash to delay more budget cuts

BY MICHAEL MCNUTT, The Oklahoman: Full Story
Published: November 11, 2009

Legislative leaders are calling for more cuts in state agencies after state revenue came in below estimates for the fourth straight month.

"It is fantasy to think we can proceed forward without a serious look at each agency and making real cuts in spending,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City. "It would be irresponsible not to look at making additional reductions in expenditures at this point.”

State budget leaders Tuesday transferred $24.1 million from cash funds to keep across-the-board cuts at 5 percent. The cuts have been ordered since August, and are expected to continue.

So far the state has transferred $155.4 million from cash accounts. That money has to be paid back by June 30.

"The current practice of transferring dollars from other funds will inevitably make for more difficult decisions in the months ahead,” said House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa. "I strongly urge all state agencies to look at ways to save every dollar possible while also looking for additional areas to cut so any further reductions are less painful down the road.”

Gov. Brad Henry said the 5 percent cuts "are already taking their toll on state programs and services.”

Most state agencies had their budgets cut by 7 percent for this fiscal year, making them have to deal with 12 percent reductions, he said.

State Treasurer Scott Meacham, Henry’s budget adviser, said legislators should be able to limp into regular session in February without having to call a special session to deal with the revenue shortfall.

They can tap money from the Rainy Day Fund, the state’s savings account, use some of the remaining $600 million in federal stimulus money or decide which agencies should get deeper cuts.

Meacham said he estimates the state will need about $600 million.

He said he is "cautiously optimistic” that October collections could show the state’s economy has bottomed out.

Revenue collections for the first quarter of this fiscal year were 26 percent below estimates. October’s shortfall was 18.2 percent, or 7.8 points lower.

"We may start seeing some recovery in actual revenue collections,” he said. "We did see this month some improvement for the first time in our revenue sources.”

He said he is encouraged natural gas prices have gone up recently. But they still are nearly $1 below what budget officials estimated in putting together this fiscal year’s budget.

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