Tom Daxon, a former Okalahoma state auditor, was listening to Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" and was inspired - not to break up with someone - but rather to construct a list of 50 ideas to tackle Oklahoma's budget shortfall. Not surprisingly, many of his ideas could be applied to all state budget shortfalls. He points out that part of the problem in Oklahoma is the heavy reliance on federal money, which is also a major problem in almost every other state.
In 1981, Oklahoma funded 28 percent of state expenditures with federal dollars. By 2009, that had increased to 40 percent and is doubtless higher in the current year due to added federal stimulus money.
The obvious issue here is that the federal government is broke too, so this ever-increasing dependence on federal dollars is only going to make the eventual corrections more painful. It's a shame that politicians do not, or will not, understand this. Daxon's solutions range from requiring public employees to contribute small amounts to their own health care costs (as we in the private sector must) to eliminating funding for the public television station and the Arts Council (suggesting funds come from donations instead) to using private veterinarians to certify that cattle are healthy enough for sale.
He acknowledges that even implementing all 50 ideas will not be enough. Our state governments will have to fundamentally change their understanding of funding and budgeting.
Government budgeting is often referred to as "cutting up the pie," and agencies tend to think of having their own share of that pie. We must relentlessly challenge that mentality. Each agency should get as much as it needs to achieve the goals the governor and legislature set before it-and no more.
He is referring to Reality Based Budgeting, something that Stage Budget Solutions supports fully. Daxon also touches on a possible reason underlying the failure of both state governments and the federal government to operate within realistic budgets, and how we, not the politicians, are really to blame.
Perhaps we ourselves have become overly fond of socialist programs. We travel on government roads and occasionally government trains. We send our kids to government schools and attend government colleges. More of us are getting our health care through government-funded programs and even at government-run facilities from government employees.
Are we getting too comfortable in a potentially destructive relationship?
Daxon is correct in the assertion that most Americans have become accustomed to government providing too many services. This high level of comfortability then breeds a complacency that results in a lack of knowledge and understanding about how those services are provided and how much they cost. The majority of Americans are naturally very concerned with national affairs, but to the detriment of state issues, and specifically state budget issues.
However, that tide can change, and Daxon's list of 50 ways to leave the debt behind is a great place to start.