By Rep. RICK WEST
The Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector released the annual Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, or CAFR, recently. While there are many encouraging parts of the report, I also have some concerns about issues where the state may not be doing enough.
The CAFR comes out every year, and it serves as a broad overview of Oklahoma’s expenditures. The auditor also included a flyover of our state’s economic outlook and conditions. I have to say I was glad to see what the CAFR had to say about where Oklahoma is headed.
As we all know, Oklahoma relies heavily on the oil and gas industry. As oil fell in recent years, Oklahomans took a hit. But the CAFR suggests things are definitely rebounding. According to numbers from September 2017, rig counts averaged 128 rigs and they were up just over 50 percent from the same time in 2016. Oil’s price per barrel was also up, growing nearly $5.50 per barrel from September 2016 to September 2017. Natural gas trended up in early 2017, as well.
We saw good news in mining employment, too. Overall, the mining industry’s employment numbers grew during January 2017 for the first time in over two years. This is great for folks in LeFlore County who are involved in mining.
Somewhat surprisingly to me, aerospace and aviation industries are now considered to be our state’s second largest segment of our economy. A recent study showed the industries carry with them an economic impact of nearly $44 billion and employs 120,000 Oklahomans.
I’m no economist, but it is clear these indicators are great news for our state. Momentum is increasing: gross income tax collections grew by more than five percent and the sales tax shot up by more than 10 percent. Unemployment is down, and I am optimistic these trends will continue as the economy continues to rebound.
While the CAFR covers dozens of agencies, there are a number that the auditor notes his team did not audit. Those include the financial statements of the Water Resources Board, the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, the Regents for Higher Education, the Department of Wildlife, the Department of Commerce and the Commissioners of the Land Office permanent fund.
Furthermore, the state auditor didn’t audit the financial statements of the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System, the Firefighters Pension & Retirement System or the Public Employees Retirement System. His team did not audit the Grand River Dam Authority, the Insurance Department of the Tobacco Settlement Endowment permanent fund, either.
The CAFR explains “those statements were audited by other auditors whose reports have been furnished to us, and our opinions, insofar as they relate to the amounts included for the above-mentioned entities is based solely on the reports of the other auditors.” I’m not sure if there was a time issue that prohibited the state auditor or what, but frankly I am more interested in what the state auditor has to say more than “other auditors.” It’s the only way to have a uniformed evaluation.
While the lack of these independent audits are concerning, I feel good about the economic indicators laid out in the report. Overall, the people of LeFlore County have plenty of reasons to be optimistic heading into 2018. As always, I’ll continue to fight for common-sense conservative principles that benefit our residents. Thanks, and God bless our great state.
Rick West represents District 3 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. He can be reached at [email protected] or 405-557-7413.
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