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Capitol Insider: Oklahoma Economy Continues To Show Growth In State Revenue

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KGOU - Dick Pryor
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The latest figures for the State of Oklahoma's General Revenue Fund indicate a dramatic increase in funding - more than a third higher than estimates - fueled by a strong economy.

TRANSCRIPT

Dick Pryor: This is Capitol insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and government. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol news director Shawn Ashley. Shawn, let's start with some encouraging news. General Revenue Fund collections were up in November, exceeding the estimate and the collections from November 2020. What do these numbers indicate about the state economy heading into 2022?

Shawn Ashley: Well, what these numbers seem to show is that Oklahoma's economy continues to move forward at a pretty good pace, recovering from the COVID-19 induced problems that we saw in 2020. Oklahoma's unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the nation, and if you look at some individual cities, such as Oklahoma City, they have one of the lowest rates for cities of a comparable size, as well. If you look at Oklahomans who are employed, the numbers we see today are comparable to those back in March of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning. So, what we are seeing is a pretty strong rebound within Oklahoma, and that is helping our collections, which will be good going into the 2022 regular session.

Dick Pryor: The General Revenue Fund is the largest source of funding for legislative appropriations, and agencies have started making their budget request to legislative committees. Given the positive economic news, are agencies asking for more funding next year?

Shawn Ashley: Really, we're not seeing agencies ask for large increases in their appropriations going into the 2022 legislative session. Most often, the requests for additional funding involve bills that lawmakers have passed in previous years that are adding to the cost of the state agencies. There's also the possibility that the American Rescue Plan is impacting agency requests as they seek money from that pot as well.

Dick Pryor: Another week, another jolt issued by the state administration to Native American tribes in the state.The latest involves the refusal to extend the state tribal compact that allowed citizens of the Cherokee and Choctaw Nations to purchase hunting and fishing licenses at reduced rates. The Stitt administration renewed those compacts in 2019 and 2020. Why are the compacts not being extended this year?

Shawn Ashley:  Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell, who also serves as Governor Stitt’s Secretary of Tourism, Wildlife and Heritage, wrote to the leaders of the Cherokee and Choctaw Nations, indicating that the governor would like to see those licenses offered at a rate comparable to what is offered for other Oklahoma residents. Most of those reduced rate licenses sold for about two dollars, while a hunting and fishing license for other Oklahoma residents runs about forty-two dollars per year.

Dick Pryor: What are the tribes saying and doing in response?

Shawn Ashley: What we've seen from the tribes first is disappointment. They're saddened to see that these compacts, which have been around since 2015 and 2016, and as you mentioned, were twice renewed, are not going to continue going forward. At the same time, they're making an effort to ensure that their reservation residents know what their hunting rights are, with frequently asked questions posted on both the Cherokee Nation and the Choctaw Nation's websites.

Dick Pryor: Winter is upon us, and sooner or later temperatures will drop, snow and ice will fall and Oklahomans will be turning up the thermostat. So, a decision by the Corporation Commission bears watching. The Commission is ordering OG&E to reduce monthly charges to customers who saw rate spikes during the 2020 ice storm, but that decision has not been especially well-received.

Shawn Ashley: That's right. Keep in mind those original rate spikes would have increased some Oklahomans’ bills upwards of $400 a month for a number of months. The action taken by the Corporation Commission under legislation passed during the 2021 regular session reduces those monthly costs and spreads them out over a longer period of time. However, AARP Oklahoma State Director Shawn Voskuhl points out that this does not go to the root of the problem. The original source of those high prices - those increases in February of 2021 - and Voskuhl said he is hopeful that Attorney General John O'Connor will examine that issue and get to the root of the problem.

Dick Pryor: All right. Thanks, Shawn.

Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.

Dick Pryor: And we'd like to hear from you. Email your questions to news@kgou.org or contact us on Twitter @kgounews and @ecapitol. You can also find us online at kgou.org and ecapitol.net. Until next time with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.

Dick Pryor has more than 25 years of experience in public service media, having previously served as deputy director, managing editor, news manager, news anchor and host for OETA, Oklahoma’s statewide public TV network. He was named general manager of KGOU Radio in November, 2016.
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