Because policymakers are now being pressured to commit unclaimed property funds to ongoing operating expenses, State Treasurer Ken Miller, the state’s top elected financial officer and trustee of the unclaimed property fund issued the following warning:
“If the Legislature can’t build a 12-month operating budget without using non-recurring revenues, then perhaps there should be some serious reexamination of fiscal priorities. The Legislature cannot responsibly reduce recurring revenue sources until it first removes its dependence on non-recurring revenue sources to fund ongoing operating expenditures. To do otherwise would defy common sense and fiscal conservatism.
“From one year to the next, the amount of money coming into the unclaimed property fund varies greatly, so it should not be counted on as a revenue source for recurring expenses. Should non-recurring revenues like unclaimed property funds be appropriated for current operating expenditures, it would build a hole into the budgets of subsequent years. While it is within their authority to do so, it would not be prudent.”
“Oklahoma should reserve the use of non-recurring revenue, including unclaimed property funds, for extremely dire budget situations and one-time projects. The FY’15 revenue certification, though less than the current year, does not qualify as an extremely dire budget situation, so spending unclaimed property funds should be limited to one-time projects. The use of such sources was appropriate during times of extreme fiscal distress during the Great Recession, but those funds were used to mitigate deep cuts to core services, not to actually increase spending to some areas of the budget.”
Oklahoma law permits the Legislature to tap the unclaimed property fund upon declaration from the state treasurer that sufficient funds would remain to pay anticipated claims. Despite returning record amounts of unclaimed property to the public for the last three years in a row, with this year’s returns up nearly 100 percent over last year, some funds will remain unclaimed and can be made available for public purposes – which is why these funds are legally required to go to the state in the first place, to serve a public good not a private one. However, it is important to note that no individual is giving up his or her right to claim money from the unclaimed property fund when the state uses a portion of uncollected funds. Property owners and their heirs can claim what is rightfully theirs indefinitely.
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For more information contact:
Tim Allen, Deputy Treasurer for Communications & Program Administration