Unemployment at 25 percent, businesses going broke, banks not able to cash paychecks, farm prices plummeting to half of what they were the year before, foreclosures at an all time high ” it was the Great Depression.
FDR presented the New Deal, World War II broke out, and our country rebounded stronger than ever.
The same may not be able to be said about the current situation. President Barack Obama has bailed states out of their budget shortfalls, including Oklahoma.
Oklahoma had a budget shortfall of roughly $600 million.
Before the stimulus passed, unemployment was just 3.3 percent in June 2008, now it is at 6.3 percent. National unemployment numbers are actually worse than Obama said they would be if a stimulus bill didn’t pass.
Locally, Oklahoma’s elected leaders missed an excellent opportunity to show the country that we don’t need the stimulus money and we could make up our shortfall by making tough budget priorities and sticking with them. Oklahoma received, according to the Oklahoma Recovery Web site, $2.6 billion. They even have a nice bar graph saying where the money is supposed to go.
However, there is a central problem. No one asked if it should, in fact, go to the areas it did: education, transportation, health care and, one of the biggest, “budget stabilization.”
All of these areas need significant investment for the future of our state and for the future Oklahomans. But, our budget process in Oklahoma is terribly broken.
Estimates are made too early before the funds come in, promises are made to agency heads, organizations and teachers. Once those promises are made, plans are developed.
Then, once the real, actual numbers come in and they are short, you hear a cry all the way from 23rd and Lincoln. The legislators cry, “Oh, the sky is falling, and our budget is not what it needs to be.”
And that broken budget process applies to the stimulus money.
Oklahoma should have been the shining example across the country. If our elected leaders wouldn’t have neglected for decades the needs of roads and bridges, education merit pay, education infrastructure needs, economic development, medical research in Oklahoma City, Tulsa and the state’s universities, we could have used the stimulus money on problems that are not just patchwork, but real, long-term challenges.
The problem with the way Oklahoma has dealt with the stimulus money is that no one really knows the basics: Who’s in control of it, where is it going, what is it going to, and to what end and what economic recovery purpose is there?
Gov. Brad Henry has said State Treasurer Scott Meacham is in control of overseeing the funds to make sure that there is no waste.
According to the nonprofit Oklahomans for Responsible Government, the state’s auditor and inspector is overseeing stimulus money for this fiscal year. I am greatly assured there will be no waste or duplication in government with that move. (Please notice that I am a tad cynical.)
Oklahoma has several advantages in the changing economy, but the wisdom of our leaders has been shortsighted. Taking and using Obama’s stimulus money is not going to help Oklahoma. It will just continue to increase our drug-like dependence on federal money that only comes with regulations and red tape.
Loveless, a former state Senate candidate, is the CEO of Phoenix Consulting and the business manager for Loveless Orthopedic and Custom Footwear.