Friday, December 30, 2011
By Governor Mary Fallin
The New Year has arrived, and it promises to be an exciting period for Oklahoma. With an economy on the rebound and another promising legislative session on the horizon, there are plenty of reasons to have high expectations for 2012. In next month’s column, I plan on outlining some of our plans for the state and the various ways my administration is working to bring more and better jobs to Oklahoma.
This month, however, I’d like to take a look back at 2011, an historic and important year. In many ways it was a challenging year as well. The state continues to recover from the loss of nearly 80,000 jobs due to the last recession. And, of course, we faced a $500 million budget shortfall that required agencies to tighten their belts, make sacrifices and find ways to operate more efficiently and effectively.
I’m proud to say the state rose to the challenge. To stimulate the economy, we passed a series of groundbreaking pro-business reforms, including lawsuit reform and a rewrite of the workers compensation laws that has already begun to lower workers comp costs. At a time when many other states were raising taxes to balance their budget shortfalls, we also cut our personal income tax rate to spur investment and job creation. And to address the need to develop a more skilled, highly educated workforce, we pursued education reforms designed to improve the quality of our public schools, boost student performance and ultimately increase the number of college graduates and professional certificate holders in Oklahoma.
The results have been encouraging. Since January 2011, we have created over 42,000 jobs in the state of Oklahoma. We now rank third in employment growth – ahead of Texas – and have recovered almost 72% of the jobs lost due to the recession. Furthermore, Oklahoma has an unemployment rate of only 6.1%, the ninth lowest in the nation and 2.5 percentage points below the national average. While the state has a ways to go before our economy hits pre-recession levels, it is clear the state is experiencing a strong recovery and that our pro-growth, business friendly policies are playing a large role in that success.
Our cost-cutting and government savings initiatives passed in 2011 also continue to perform well. Agency consolidation under the Office of State Finance produced $1.3 million in savings in Fiscal Year 2012 and is expected to produce another $3.9 million in 2013, a full 15% more than projected. Our efforts to modernize and consolidate the state’s aging Information Technology (IT) resources is also delivering on its promise to make government operate more efficiently and effectively. In the Department of Education alone, IT savings are projected at $4 million over 4 years, all while delivering a much needed upgrade to the department’s outdated phone, email and web systems. Over the next 6 years, the total savings for all agencies could be as much as $170 million. All of these efforts are part of the smaller, smarter government lawmakers promised to deliver at the beginning of 2011.
Finally, I’d like to mention another Oklahoma success story and take time to thank those who made it possible. It is a sad truth that one in four children in our state are at risk of going hungry. Fortunately, our citizens continue to show why we are considered some of the most generous and caring people around.
This winter’s “Feeding Oklahoma” food drive helped to raise over 1.6 million meals, including 552,000 pounds of food and $227,000 for local food banks. It makes me proud of our state and grateful to our generous families and businesses to see that kind of commitment to caring for our most vulnerable citizens.
Looking back, I believe 2011 was a historic, inspiring year. We continue to build momentum as a state, grow our economy and put Oklahomans back to work in quality jobs. In 2012, my New Year’s resolution is a simple one: keep our foot on the gas pedal and continue to move Oklahoma towards a bright and prosperous future.