To The Editor:
The problem with our state’s budget deficit is that all our eggs are in one basket: oil and gas production. Our state revenues mimic the boom and bust cycles of the energy industry. When oil prices are high, so are state revenues, and when oil prices fall, state revenues decline.
Any good financial adviser would tell you to diversify your portfolio – or, as the old adage advises: don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Oklahoma’s economy relies primarily upon three industries: the energy sector, agriculture, and tourism. I have supported legislation this year that would diversify our state’s economic portfolio; let me explain.
Many jobs in the health care industry pay almost as well as oil-and-gas jobs. Earlier this session I voted for legislation that would place more money into cancer research; I voted “aye” in part because we desperately need a cure for cancer, but also because we need to create jobs in industries that pay well and aren’t so tied to global economic upheavals. People will always go to the doctor, regardless of whether the stock market is in a “bull” or a “bear” status.
Another industry in which Oklahoma leaders should invest is tourism. Tourism is doing especially well in areas that target specific groups, such as Oklahoma City and Bricktown, Tulsa and the BOK Center, Broken Bow with its trout fishing and luxury cabin rentals. All of these destinations have a specific group of people they target, and each has performed better than average since the Great Recession.
By investing in specific, targeted areas we can continue to grow tourism in our state, and it’s the third-largest sector of our state’s economy.
Agriculture is the second-largest industry in Oklahoma, and it affects both rural and urban areas. Most people think of agriculture as a farm or ranch, but they fail to consider all the research that is invested each year in agriculture. Food safety is becoming a bigger concern as we are challenged to feed an ever-growing world population. Other agricultural concerns are antibiotic residue, organically grown foods, and developing heat- and drought-resistant plants, since our state is just now recovering from the worst drought since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.
Agriculture is not limited to rural parts of the state, nor is it as simple as hauling cows and calves to market. For example, farmers’ markets are opening in downtown Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
This year the state has a budget deficit of nearly two-thirds of a billion dollars. I have spent many days reading economic reports and studying market trends. I am certain Oklahoma needs to diversify its economic portfolio. We need to get back into the future business and focus more on economic issues that will have long-term benefits for middle-class working families.
I think legislators too often get caught up in the little details of governing and lose focus on what’s really important. We have to remain focused on the big-picture, long-term policies that better prepare the state for future growth. I am confident state leaders can implement policies that create a stable economy, sustained economic growth, and jobs that pay livable wages for our citizens. When we work together, we prosper together.
NOTE: A Democrat from Heavener, Rep. Lockhart represents District 3 in the state House.