State Question 757 would increase the amount of surplus revenue put into the state's Rainy Day Fund to 15 percent 

With the state's Rainy Day Fund facing a drought, one state question on the November ballot would increase the amount of money that could be added to the fund.

The Rainy Day Fund, officially the Constitutional Reserve, is essentially the state's savings account. It is filled with excess revenue, garnered when state revenue collections are more than expected.

Currently, 10 percent of that excess can be placed in the Rainy Day Fund, but State Question 757 would amend the state's constitution to expand that percentage to 15 percent.

"We really need a bigger cushion than 10 percent," State Treasurer Scott Meacham said.

There is no cushion now. The Rainy Day Fund, which was built up to its highest level of $596 million at the beginning of the year, now has no money in it, Meacham said. The money was used to ease the state's pain from a $1.2 billion revenue shortfall in the budget for this fiscal year.

Had the Rainy Day Fund had a 15 percent cap, $900 million would have been available for use during the economic downturn, Meacham said.

"It still wouldn't have been enough, but it would have been a lot more," he said.

Benjamin Keen, an economics professor at the University of Oklahoma, said that if the state Legislature wants to pass a measure expanding the amount of money that can be placed in the Rainy Day Fund, this year "is the time to do it" because the fund is depleted.

Rainy Day Funds, common in other states, are not politically popular when the economy is good because the benefits of saving will be reaped later. For politicians in particular, the benefits of savings might only come when they are no longer in office. 

"The Rainy Day Fund is just like a family savings account," Keen said. "It makes sense that you save in the good times so you have money in the bad."

Because the economy is bad now, more voters will see the importance of saving, he said.

SQ 757 is based upon Senate Joint Resolution 51, which passed overwhelmingly in both chambers of the Legislature this session. The resolution passed 46-0 in the Senate and 91-8 in the House.

Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, was one of the eight legislators who voted against the original resolution, and he will be voting against the state question, he said.

Ritze said he does not have any problem with having money in reserve, but he does not want to see the allowed amount increase.

"When you have excess money in the bank, it only tempts the government to waste more money," he said. "The more that you allow the government to spend, the more chances you get for waste. The last thing in the world people want is spending money on wasteful things."

Rep. George Faught, R-Muskogee, voted against the original joint resolution because he thought legislators were too quickly relying on spending reserve dollars instead of making more "tough cuts" to government agencies, he said.

Faught would prefer to see the money in the Rainy Day Fund saved for such disasters as ice storms and tornadoes so the state does not have to rely solely on federal funding for assistance, he said.

However, he does see the need for reserve funds and probably will be voting "yes" for SQ 757.

"Long-term, we will benefit with more saved money," he said. "I just wish there were more restrictions on the Rainy Day Fund so it couldn't be accessed so easily."

SQ 757
A "yes" vote on State Question 757 would increase the percentage of surplus revenue that goes into the state's Rainy Day Fund from 10 percent to 15 percent.

A "no" vote would keep the Rainy Day Fund percentages where they currently are, at 10 percent.

top State Rep. George Faught, R-Muskogee
bottom state Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow. Photo/Mark Hancock

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