DALLAS — The Oklahoma budget- stabilization fund has been so depleted that it’s no longer enough to cover the cost of a cup of coffee at most restaurants, let alone help balance the state budget.
The rainy-day fund, which topped out at the legal limit of $596.6 million two years ago, now consists of $2.03. As in two dollars, three cents. No billion. No million. No pocket lint.
It doesn’t make for a pretty balance sheet, but deputy treasurer Tim Allen said the shriveled fund “is working the way it was designed to work.”
Lawmakers have drawn almost $500 million from the financial reservoir the past two fiscal years to fill budget holes caused by the severe downturn in state revenue. The shortfalls were precipitated by the longest U.S. recession of the post-World War II period, an 18-month downturn that technically ended in June 2009.
Oklahoma’s budget-stabilization fund fell to $2 in July when lawmakers transferred the remaining $100 million into an account for appropriation in fiscal 2012.
“If the $100 million had been left in the rainy-day fund, only $25 million could have been used in the fiscal 2012 budget,” Allen said. “The transfer gives the Legislature the use of the full $100 million.”
Allen said the $100 million would not help resolve an expected $225 million revenue shortfall for fiscal 2012. That’s an altogether different problem.
“That $100 million is already accounted for in the estimate,” he said.
Allen said that up to 25% of the budget stabilization fund, which was created by a 1985 constitutional amendment, can be used if the governor and three-quarters of the Legislature declare a fiscal emergency. When collections exceed the previous year’s total, the additional money goes into the budget stabilization fund at the end of the fiscal year. The total may not exceed 10% of the previous year’s revenue.
The fund first reached that cap in 2005, when state revenue collections began receding, and remained there until 2009. No money has gone into it since then.
Like a parched water hole, the fund is now just about bone-dry. Lawmakers drained $233.5 million for fiscal 2010 and another $225 million for fiscal 2011.
Up to 37.5% of the fund can be used to fill a budget hole if revenue in the current fiscal year falls below the previous year, Allen said. Another 37.5% can be budgeted if revenue projections for the next fiscal year are below the current year.
“That’s not the case this year,” he said.
Oklahoma expects to collect $61.1 million more revenue in fiscal 2011 than it did in fiscal 2010, with the entire amount going into the budget fund.
Voters raised the cap on the budget stabilization fund to 15% of previous annual revenue in the November election.
Since the fund was established in the mid-1980s, some $1.5 billion has been used for purposes ranging from maintenance of state buildings to grants to rural fire departments.
David Blatt, director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, said he was not concerned about the drawdown.
“The budget fund was expressly designed to help ease the pain of budget shortfalls and revenue declines,” Blatt said. “As the revenues recover, the fund will be built back up.”