Balance, with relatively small cuts? Fallin says Doerflinger and Coffee can
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Published: 15-Feb-2011
By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published 16-Feb-2011

Secretary of State Glenn Coffee and Finance Director Preston Doerflinger shared duties at last week’s pre-blizzard budget briefing for members of the state Capitol press corps.

That session with reporters marked the public beginning of what could be a crucial collaboration for Governor Mary Fallin’s hopes to fashion smaller state government with a decidedly pro-business and pro-growth agenda. With the help of Doerflinger’s fiscal expertise, the governor clearly believes that Coffee can pull off the tough assignment he has been given to negotiate with legislators a series of significant changes in government operations.

In her State of the State speech, Fallin projected savings sufficient to balance the budget while limiting budget cuts to low single digits. The response to her budget and speech has been generally positive at the Capitol, even as legislators begin to wrestle over many other issues.  

Yesterday, as the monthly revenue report circulated at the state Capitol,  Doerflinger’s staff circulated a press release celebrating the fact that January’s data General Fund collections surpassed last year’s receipts for the month by $79.9 million. The estimate was exceeded by $23.9 million, the Finance director noted.

In a statement provided to CapitolBeatOK, Doerflinger observed, “State tax collections have now exceeded the estimate for seven months in a row, a leading indicator the state is trying to shake off the effects of the long recession.  … There is evidence of pent-up demand and optimism by Oklahoma consumers after a period of household belt-tightening.”

Sales taxes and motor vehicle taxes led the way in January’s good news, Doerflinger’s analysis said. Governor Fallin commented, “This is good news for our state but we need to find ways to streamline operations and make government more efficient and effective, regardless of the revenue picture. We also need to continue our focus on job creation and growing our economy so we can continue to bring more opportunities here for working Oklahomans and bolster state revenues.”

This week’s themes and the core of Fallin’s entire message were distilled in last week’s briefing from Coffee and Doerflinger. While analysts had anticipated budget cuts in the range of 8 to 10 percent, “the efficiencies and reforms contained in the budget mean we don’t have to cut as much,” the Finance Director said at that time. He noted the state constitution requires governors to present, every year, a balanced budget. He declared: “That is achieved today.”

Coffee admitted the governor’s executive budget, combining cuts with process reforms, was “a conversation starter,” by no means a final product. He added later, “Everything is on the table.”

CapitolBeatOK asked Secretary Coffee if privatization of economic development functions might emerge from this year’s budget and policy process. He responded, “That is something she [the governor] is very interested in looking at. I suspect you’ll see something emerging along those lines.” Coffee added that Commerce Secretary Dave  Lopez was studying that idea.

A notable proposal in the governor’s State of the State address was creation of a “governor’s closing fund” as a possible boost to economic development negotiations. Coffee said such a fund “could be a difference maker” in some project discussions.  The state formerly had an “opportunity fund” with as much as $8 million available, but that was found unconstitutional.

Coffee and Doerflinger have said the state could save $146 million from the Fallin budget’s envisioned changes in state Information Technology (IT) systems.  As for payroll and purchasing changes and other changes that might effect the traditionally separate operations of the Higher Education system, Coffee said Chancellor Glen Johnson had been informed about Fallin’s proposals in advance of her speech, but that the matters had not been discussed at length.

Coffee said at last week’s briefing the overall theme of Fallin’s budget was a response to her own philosophy and to what she heard on the campaign trail in 2010: “The people spoke loud and clear. They want smaller and more efficient government.”

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