Time to rethink Oklahoma’s budget process

To The Editor: 

Legislative appropriations traditionally have been based on a status quo approach with only slight increments of increased or decreased funding applied to static agency budgets.  It’s time for Oklahoma government to move forward from this “History Based” method of budgeting to a more responsible “Needs Based” approach. 

The first step to increasing accountability in Oklahoma’s budgeting process is consideration of all sources of revenue in the budget planning phase.  Legislative appropriations constitute but a portion of the total state budget.  Some agencies receive no appropriated funds, but are fully supported by fees or other revenue sources.  While agencies, boards and commissions receive millions in federal funds and fees, every dollar received is a taxpayer dollar and should receive the same scrutiny as any appropriated dollar.

State agencies, whether receiving appropriations or not, should be required to submit a budget based on assessed needs for evaluation by the Office of Management and Enterprises Services (OMES) performance review team, the state equivalent of the federal Office of Management and Budget.  Following a comprehensive state agency budget needs assessment, all available state revenue including fees, federal funds and other revenue sources would be applied to the OMES pre-approved agency budget.  Any discrepancies between needs and total revenue would be addressed in the appropriations process where lawmakers could base their future appropriations decisions on total available revenue and approved budget needs rather than on arbitrary benchmarks of past year appropriation levels.  

Unlike the old “History Based” approach, no state agency should be allowed to stockpile cash reserves that exceed more than 15% of the total approved annual budget and lawmakers would be limited to appropriating no more than what is requested and approved for any agency. 

By applying this concept to just one selected state agency, our analysis yielded a $3.6 million reduction in this agency’s annually appropriated funds. It would also make additional millions from reserve funds available to address priorities such as crumbling infrastructures and rising pension debt. 

The “Needs Based” budgeting approach should also include systematic performance audits where the primary objectives are to identify opportunities for efficiencies and to develop cost effective alternatives to delivering state services.  These state agency performance audits will serve to validate the established performance measures while increasing the quality of legislative decisions affecting fiscal policy and expenditures of Oklahoma taxpayer dollars.


Gary A. Jones, Oklahoma Auditor & Inspector 

Gary A. Jones, Oklahoma Auditor & Inspector

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