Gov. Kevin Stitt struck the appropriate tone after learning there will be little new revenue to work with as he begins to craft a budget he will present to the Oklahoma Legislature when it convenes in February.
Following a Board of Equalization meeting the first-term governor and political newcomer said projected revenue growth of only a fraction of 1% would not deter his quest to make Oklahoma a Top 10 state. His determination deserves some support.
Even more deserving are the legislative priorities Stitt identified while discussing the need for better management of the revenue that flows into state coffers. The governor said his priorities going into the legislative session will be job creation, education, roads and bridges, health care and the economy.
It would be difficult to argue there are five issues more important those identified by Stitt. And it seems an earnest undertaking to address the first four would make some headway with the fifth.
A report published earlier this year by Oklahoma Policy Institute shows the state has failed during the past decade to create enough jobs to keep up with population growth. The first installment of that report, The State of Work in Oklahoma: Finding Work, cites figures that show the addition of nearly 97,000 new jobs since the Great Recession began in December 2007 fell short of the 170,000 needed to keep up with a population increase of 10.6 percent that occurred during the same time frame.
The report also found that while Oklahoma’s overall unemployment rate remained relatively low, nearly 25% of the state’s 77 counties reported rates that were higher than the national rate. Counties where unemployment rates trended higher, according to the report, tended to be where poverty was more prevalent and residents reported lower levels of educational attainment.
While labor participation rates began to turn around nationally in 2015, the report shows progress on that front in Oklahoma began to fade. In addition to educational shortcomings, the author of the Oklahoma Policy Institute report cites discrimination based on bad credit, criminal histories and poor health of prospective workers or family members as reasons for the inability to take part in the workforce.
While there seems to be an optimistic view of the overall economy, there is much room for improvement. The governor would do well to focus on education and health care, things that will produce a workforce that will attract the creators of the good jobs Oklahomans deserve.