Budget Break Down
Mike Seals - January 8, 2021 12:02 pm
By Sen. Roger Thompson, Senate Appropriations Chair
I have said many times, the most important job we as legislators have is to write and pass a balanced budget because ultimately the outcome of that work impacts every single person in our state. Because those tax dollars come from the public and in turn provide core services our citizens depend on—including schools, transportation, public safety and health care—it is our responsibility to be the best stewards possible with those dollars.
In order to promote greater transparency, openness and accountability, in the 2019 legislative session, we approved Senate Bill 1, creating LOFT—the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency. I was chair of the Senate Finance Committee at that time and so I traveled to New Mexico, one of the states that has an office similar to LOFT. I sat down with their director to learn more about how their office functioned and how those efforts benefited the public. It seemed clear our state could also greatly benefit from such an office. SB 1 was approved and signed into law and we began putting LOFT together.
LOFT’s mission is to assist the Oklahoma Legislature in making informed, data-driven decisions, not subject to politics or the emotions of the day, that will serve the citizens of Oklahoma by ensuring accountability in state government, efficient use of resources, and effective programs and services. Its operations are overseen by a bipartisan, bicameral 14-member Legislative Oversight Committee (LOC) appointed by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House.
The vision is that LOFT will provide us with timely, objective, factual, nonpartisan and easily understood information to facilitate decision-making to ensure government spending is efficient and transparent, adds value and delivers intended outcomes. LOFT will analyze performance outcomes, identify programmatic and operational improvements, identify duplications of services across state entities, and examine the efficacy of expenditures to an entity’s mission. LOFT will also help us determine if publicly funded entities are complying with state and federal laws. This is important because if an agency is out of compliance, particularly with federal laws or regulations, it could impact funding.
The staff includes an economist who can help us, not only as we plan for the coming budget year, but long-term budget planning. We’ll be able to draw from program evaluations, independent comprehensive performance audits and special reviews and other reports to guide us in our budget work.
LOFT’s first meeting of 2021 will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 13. Currently, LOFT is examining Oklahoma’s use of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) funding. We’ve also asked them to look at Oklahoma’s Board of Equalization that determines our budget every year. We want to look at the process used to estimate available dollars for appropriation, and how accurate those projections are. We’ve also asked them to look at the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, including best practices, software and other issues and how they impact unemployment benefits, particularly as this pandemic continues.
Although we’re just in the initial stages of LOFT’s work, I am excited about what we’ll be able to accomplish through their research and analysis. I believe LOFT is good for taxpayers, good for legislators, and it’s good for Oklahoma as a whole.
If you have any questions about the budget or the appropriations process, I invite you to contact me at 405-521-5588 or email [email protected]. Thank you.