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Oklahoma panel declares revenue failure as collections fall

April 20, 2020 GMT
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Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt speaks at a news conference on COVID-19 Friday, April 17, 2020, in Oklahoma City. Stitt said that some businesses could begin to open back up as early as May 1, if the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 in Oklahoma continues to trend downward. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
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Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt speaks at a news conference on COVID-19 Friday, April 17, 2020, in Oklahoma City. Stitt said that some businesses could begin to open back up as early as May 1, if the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 in Oklahoma continues to trend downward. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A state panel led by Gov. Kevin Stitt declared a revenue failure on Monday for the fiscal year that ends June 30, and the governor warned cuts to agency budgets over the next two years will likely be unavoidable.

The State Board of Equalization declared the failure amid crashing oil prices and dwindling revenue collections as the state’s economy ground to a halt in an attempt to control the spread of the coronavirus.

The board’s decision brings to an end a legal squabble between the governor and the Legislature in which lawmakers sought to have the state Supreme Court force the board to meet.

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The governor and Legislature had agreed to use some of the state’s $1 billion in savings to plug a $416 million hole in this year’s budget and prevent any agency cuts, with the exception of one of the governor’s key budget priorities to upgrade the state’s computer system.

And while that agreement shields agencies from cuts through the end of June, Stitt warned agency cuts of about 7.5% could be needed to plug next year’s budget hole, with even deeper cuts in excess of 8% in Fiscal Year 2022.

“The Legislature has some difficult decisions to make when it comes to writing the budget. No doubt about it,” Stitt said.

Because of Oklahoma’s heavy reliance on taxes from oil and natural gas production, the state is used to steep budget cuts resulting from market volatility. But Monday’s crash of oil prices was unprecedented, with prices for a barrel of oil dipping below zero because of a supply glut. Plunging oil prices combined with job losses due to the state’s faltering economy will ensure the budget impact will be long lasting, Oklahoma Tax Commission Director Jay Doyle warned the panel.

“With low prices, excess supply and low demand, drilling activity is not expected to resume in a meaningful way until late 2021 or early 2022,” Doyle said. “This will continue to weigh heavily both on sales and use tax for the state.”

Stitt said he was also working with retail and restaurant officials, along with church leaders, to develop plans for reopening some parts of the state’s economy in the next few weeks.

“For the last 20 days or so, we’ve had a nice trend down in hospitalizations and deaths. We feel like we’re in a good position,” Stitt said. “We’re hitting all the gates the federal government laid out for us to safely reopen, and we’ll do this in phases and we’ll be sure to keep the health of Oklahomans in mind.

“I know everybody’s itching to get the economy safely reopened, and that’s what we’re working on right now.”

Stitt also updated his executive orders on Monday to allow elective surgeries to resume on Friday, and minor medical procedures and non-emergency dental procedures to resume on April 30.

“Since our data indicates we are in a good position regarding hospital capacity, and provided individual institutions can accommodate their internal demand for (personal protective equipment), it is time to bring some of these procedures back to help our hospitals and the Oklahomans who need them,” Stitt said.