Echols: Bolster Rainy Day Fund

House Media Division

A lawmaker wants the state Constitution amended so the state can increase the amount that can be placed in the “Rainy Day” Fund.

Rep. Jon Echols said he intends to file legislation that would allow voters to amend the Constitution to both increase the cap – but not lower it – and allow the Legislature to appropriate directly to the fund.

The “Rainy Day” Fund, also known as the Constitutional Reserve Fund, serves as the state’s savings account. The state Constitution allows the Legislature to appropriate only 95 percent of the certified revenue estimate. Any revenue collected above 95 percent of the estimate is transferred to the Reserve Fund. In addition, the fund is capped at 15 percent of the previous year’s certification level.

The fund currently has a balance of approximately $382 million. Last year, the Legislature used $150 million out of the fund to help offset a $600 million budget hole.

“The idea that we should cap how much money the state can save is, frankly, ridiculous,” said Echols, R-Oklahoma City. “Not only is there a cap on how much we can save, there is also legitimate doubt among House staff as to whether the Legislature has the authority to make direct appropriations into the Rainy Day Fund. Neither of those restrictions make any sense. We had a $600 million budget gap last year, and we are now looking at up to $1 billion less this year to appropriate. Our current approach is shortsighted and bizarre. Taxpayers expect us to be prudent and develop a long-term approach to state spending. This is not the way a citizen would run his or her family and it certainly isn’t the way we should run our state.”

Echols said that Oklahoma Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger agrees that a new approach is needed. In a November 23 article in The Oklahoman, Doerflinger said the state should consider creating an entirely new budget stabilization fund.

“I think there are tools we should put in place, maybe a separate fund, not much different than the Rainy Day Fund, that would help equalize these types of downturns in the energy sector. It might cause some smoothing or leveling of the pain that occurs if you were to see something this dramatic in the future,” Doerflinger was quoted as saying.

Echols doesn’t want to create a new fund; rather, he wants voters to reform the current fund to make it easier for the state to save money.

Echols noted that North Dakota has nearly $3.3 billion in savings.

“We are an oil and gas state, also, but we don’t save money like a state dependent upon the roller-coaster energy industry should,” said Echols. “Some say it is pointless to discuss saving money when we are facing another budget hole, but I believe that is exactly why we should be discussing it. Our revenues are going to return to normal levels at some point. If we don’t make a change now, we won’t be able to save money when we do have excess revenues.”

Echols said his proposal would require the Legislature to pass a resolution that would place a state question on the ballot for voters to decide.

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  1. Virgil, 30 November, 2015

    Very good points. If we don’t make changes now, we never will in “good times”.

  2. Jamison Faught, 01 December, 2015

    Personally, I don’t have the fund should be expanded. A large “rainy day fund” becomes an excuse to not cut spending and government growth.

    State government shouldn’t be stockpiling vast amounts of taxpayer money. Slim down government, save a *little* for *emergency* purposes, and return the excess to its rightful owners (taxpayers).

  3. Virgil, 01 December, 2015

    Jamison, we don’t like using bonds and taking on debt as a state. Remember the fight just to fund the restoration of the Capitol building? Our only other option is to save money to pay for the big things we need (and for emergencies). We can’t sit around and say we don’t want to borrow money AND we don’t want to save money.

  4. Jamison Faught, 01 December, 2015

    For what it’s worth, OKGOP National Committeeman Steve Fair agrees with me:

    After all, saving money is better than government spending it. That sounds pretty good, but government is not a family or a business. When government socks away tax dollars into a savings account that means they are overcharging taxpayers. If there is a surplus, give it back to the people it belongs to- the taxpayers.


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