State Fiscal Briefs

January 2022

Looking for Oklahoma data related to the pandemic? We have health, economic, and fiscal data on our new tool, How the COVID-19 Pandemic is Transforming State Budgets.

Oklahoma’s budget basics

According to the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO), Oklahoma’s total expenditures in fiscal year (FY) 2020 were $24.8 billion, including general funds, other state funds, bonds, and federal funds. NASBO reported that total expenditures across all states in FY 2020 were $2.3 trillion, ranging from $4.7 billion in Wyoming to $337.7 billion in California.

Each state allocates spending and taxes differently among different levels of governments, and local governments often administer programs with state funds, so combined state and local government data show a more complete picture of individual benefits and contributions when comparing states.

Per the US Census Bureau, Oklahoma’s combined state and local direct general expenditures were $31.2 billion in FY 2019 (the most recent year census data were available), or $7,880 per capita. (Census data exclude “business-like” activities such as utilities and transfers between state and local governments.) National per capita direct general expenditures were $10,161.

Oklahoma’s largest spending areas per capita were public welfare ($1,777) and elementary and secondary education ($1,696). The Census Bureau includes most Medicaid spending in public welfare but also allocates some of it to public hospitals. Per capita spending is useful for state comparisons but is an incomplete metric because it doesn’t provide any information about a state’s demographics, policy decisions, administrative procedures, or residents’ choices.

Oklahoma’s combined state and local general revenues were $34.2 billion in FY 2019, or $8,626 per capita. National per capita general revenues were $10,563. Oklahoma uses all major state and local taxes. After federal transfers, Oklahoma’s largest sources of per capita revenue were charges ($1,534), such as state university tuition and highway tolls, and general sales taxes ($1,373).

Oklahoma’s politics

Governor Kevin Stitt, a Republican, was elected in 2018 with 54 percent of the vote. The next gubernatorial election is in 2022.

Republicans control both the House of Representatives (82 Republicans to 19 Democrats) and Senate (39 Republicans to 9 Democrats), with veto-proof majorities in both houses. Control of the governor’s mansion and each house of the legislature gives Republicans a trifecta in Oklahoma. All Oklahoma House seats are on the ballot in 2022 because representatives serve two-year terms. Senators serve four-year terms; roughly half the senatorial seats are on the ballot in 2022, and the other half will be up for election in 2024.

Oklahoma’s budget institutions, rules, and constraints

Oklahoma uses an annual budget. The legislature must pass a balanced budget, but it can carry a deficit over into the following year. Oklahoma further limits both spending and revenue growth with binding budget rules, thus requiring a legislative supermajority or vote of the people to override them. A three-fourths supermajority or vote of the people is also required for any bill that raises revenue. The state limits total authorized debt and debt service incurred by the state.

(Note: Some states have informal budget institutions that constrain overall spending growth or a specific expenditure’s growth.)

Oklahoma’s recent fiscal debates

  • In 2018, nearly half of Oklahoma’s school districts closed after teachers went on strike to protest the state’s low education funding and staff pay. The teachers returned to work after a nine-day walkout after concluding the state would not increase funding. However, legislation that increased education funding was passed before the walkout. The new spending mostly came from higher taxes on cigarettes and on oil and gas production. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported that Oklahoma lawmakers increased per student funding by 19 percent. Additional funding was allocated for teacher pay in 2019, but no taxes were increased to pay for it.
  • Oklahoma collects a relatively large amount of revenue from severance taxes—that is, taxes on the extraction of natural resources such as oil and natural gas. When oil prices were high, the state had revenue surpluses and cut taxes. But when the price of oil collapsed in 2014, the state’s budget fell into a deep deficit. Making the budget math more difficult was the state’s strict supermajority rule for tax increases. Although several states have supermajority rules, only Arkansas and Oklahoma require three-quarters of legislators approve any tax increase (and Arkansas exempts sales taxes and alcohol taxes from its rule). The supermajority was the main reason the state could not agree on a budget plan and tax increase until 2018 (the same legislation that raised teacher pay). In fact, that tax increase was the first in Oklahoma since the supermajority rule was approved by voters in 1992. Some legislations considered reforming the rule, but reform efforts stalled after the tax agreement and a growing economy helped state revenues recover.
  • Oklahoma was the first state to file a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers. Oklahoma sought $17 billion over 20 years from Johnson & Johnson, claiming the company was liable for the opioid epidemic and should help fund addiction treatment and other related services in the state. In August 2019, a judge ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay the state $572 million, but he later reduced the award to $465 million because of a miscalculation. Johnson & Johnson says it will appeal. Oklahoma’s lawsuit could shape other government lawsuits against drug manufacturers.

Oklahoma’s current budget

Governor Stitt released his FY 2021 budget proposal in February 2020. The proposed budget included $8.3 billion in total spending, which was than a 1 percent increase from FY 2020.

The Oklahoma legislature enacted its FY 2021 budget in May 2020. Governor Stitt vetoed the legislature’s budget, objecting to the use of one-time funds such as tapping the state’s reserves, but the legislature overrode his veto. The enacted budget included $7.7 billion in total spending, a decrease of $600 million from the governor’s proposed budget and roughly 3 percent lower than enacted FY 2020 spending. Most state agencies saw spending reduced about 4 percent, but K–12 education spending saw smaller cuts.

Governor Stitt released his FY 2022 budget proposal and gave his State of the State address in February. The governor’s proposal includes $8.3 billion in total spending, an increase from enacted FY 2021 spending but roughly the same amount as he had proposed for that year before the pandemic. In his speech, the governor pledged to “keep burdens low on [ Oklahoma ] taxpayers.”

For more on Oklahoma’s budget, see