Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Cockroft Column: Budget Process Needs Transparency, Better Oversight

  Every year, the Oklahoma Legislature passes a budget, and as with anything dealing with government, it is met with both praise and criticism. Every year, there are some agencies that gain additional funding and others that receive cuts. We are constitutionally required in Oklahoma to keep a balanced budget from year to year. In this budget year where we faced a $188 million deficit in projected revenue those criticisms will ring even louder. The harsh reality everyone must face is there will never be enough money. We will always want more. In my four years in the legislature I have yet to hear an agency director or any other entity ask the legislature for less money. Obviously there are instances where more appropriations are needed. However, a desire for more is simple human nature.

            With this year’s budget, as with any other year’s, there are winners and losers. There is absolutely no such thing as a perfect budget because at the end of the day, someone will walk away unhappy. It is our responsibility as lawmakers to shape and craft a product which will keep our state on track and moving us in a positive direction.

            I voted for this year’s budget with many reservations, but with the knowledge it moved us forward for one more year. Many individuals don’t recognize the problem, but I believe our budget process is broken or in need of a serious fix. When something is broken, the product it produces will always lack in quality.

            Oklahoma crafts its budget the same as it has always done, with very few people involved. Don’t get me wrong, your legislator still voices their (and your) opinion, but the ultimate decisions are made in closed door negotiation between only a handful of people. When transparency is used, I believe it lessens the need for the accounting tricks which we saw this and other years in using supplementals and revolving funds to balance our budget. All four years I have been in office, I have fought for a more transparent budgeting process that involves more members, and forces each entity which receives money from the state to reconcile every penny needed and spent. 

            Opening this process up to not only the public, but giving legislative members more power over specific areas, will expose waste and infuse transparency into state government. Each member currently serves on sub-committees which are designed to look into specific agencies’ budgets. Yet, usually only the Chairman of that committee who reports to the House Appropriations Chairman really digs into the numbers of their budgets. This results in only a handful of members having a working knowledge of the numbers when there could be 101 members with this knowledge. Also, why are closed door negotiations needed? I believe every citizen should be able to know how their tax dollars are being spent.

            In my first year in the legislature, it was the first year to have committee meetings open to the public. We've come a long way in four years, but we should never settle for complacency. An open government is an effective government. I'll continue to fight to improve the process so we don't have to play games and politics with your hard earned money.

    Never hesitate to call me if I can be of assistance to you. I work for you! My office is always available to assist you. Call my office at: 405-557-7349, or by email at: Josh.Cockroft@okhouse.gov.