The Journal Record
August 6, 2018
OKLAHOMA CITY – After several years of borrowing from it, Oklahoma will make its first sizable contribution to its Rainy Day Fund.
The Office of Management and Enterprise Services released its final report on fiscal 2018 collections deposited into the general revenue fund, showing a near-record year and announcing it would place hundreds of millions of dollars in the account that finance officials and lawmakers tend to tap during emergencies.
Although several revenue sources go directly to special funds, such as the 1017 fund for education, much of it goes into the general revenue fund. Finance officials dispense payments from those funds to agencies monthly, based on what lawmakers appropriated to the agencies.
Collections for the year totaled $5.85 billion, rivaling collections in 2007 and 2008, each of which saw collections of more than $5.9 billion.
Collections surpassed the estimate by about 7 percent, or $381.6 million. All money that goes into the general revenue fund and surpasses estimates must be placed in the Rainy Day Fund, said Shelley Zumwalt, the spokeswoman for OMES.
Oklahoma pays agencies the same monthly allotments throughout the year, but revenue doesn’t come in at the same rate every month. It’s common for finance officials to pull money from the Rainy Day Fund to ensure ends meet. In March 2017, the reserve fund was tapped to the point of total depletion. The constitution mandates the state refill the fund before the end of the fiscal year, which finance officials achieved.
Lawmakers also tap into it. For example, when drafting the fiscal 2017 budget, top legislators decided to fund some Department of Human Services programs for 10 months instead of 12, promising to offer a supplemental appropriation before the end of the fiscal year. To do so during the 2017 legislative session, they tapped the Rainy Day Fund.
Moody’s released a report in November that criticized the Legislature’s lack of comprehensive budget plans and decision to tap the Rainy Day Fund for recurring expenses. Although the practice didn’t drop the state’s credit rating, it garnered warnings from the agency, which deemed the ongoing habit credit-negative.
Lawmakers don’t anticipate using the Rainy Day Fund to the same extent in fiscal 2019, said incoming Appropriations Chairman Roger Thompson, R-Okemah. However, one agency might get one. Top legislative and judicial officials are meeting this week to determine whether the state’s court system will need a supplemental appropriation during the next legislative session.
Two of the revenue sources paying for the court system are dropping. Lawmakers had authorized the court system to use surplus money left in the Oklahoma Court Information System, or OCIS, fund. That fund was designed to pay a tech company to revamp the state’s online court records system. When the contractor failed to meet benchmarks, the state severed its contract, leaving about $27 million in the account. That money has instead been going to pay for court services, but the fund is running dry. The other source: residents’ court costs.
“We’re not collecting the fines and fees we used to be collecting,” Thompson said. “Whether that’s a good way or a bad way (to fund the courts) is another discussion.”