Oklahoma Could Crack Down on State 'Swag' Spending
The state of Oklahoma has a $611 million hole in its budget—and it wants to fill it, in part, by eliminating "swag" spending.
According to Oklahoma Watch, in fiscal year 2014 the state spent $109.5 million on travel, $11.6 million on organization membership fees and $28.2 million on advertising, including promotions and events. State finance secretary Preston Doerflinger identified those three areas as prime targets for cuts, but it was the last one—the promotional spending—that drew the most criticism: "The figure was so big it almost made my head explode," said Doerflinger.
In a vacuum, $28 million is a lot. But it amounts to just 0.39 percent of Oklahoma's $7.1 billion 2014 budget—a budget that included provisions for increasing the Will Rogers museum's Facebook friends by 10 percent, hosting the Bassmaster Classic fishing tournament in February and securing the filming of a Lydie Marland biopic starring Jennifer Lawrence. While all of those things produce varying degrees of revenue for the state, it's hard to imagine they provide a greater return on investment than promotional advertising, whose track record is well documented.
Yet, still, Doerflinger took direct aim at promotional products. Via The Oklahoman:
As Doerflinger put it last week after the Board of Equalization confirmed the budget hole had more than doubled for next fiscal year, "When you are looking at trying to provide services to the citizens of this state, I'm not sure we need to be buying plastic cups to promote ourselves that end up in the trash can."
In the same article, an opinion-piece, the paper's editorial board offered its own criticism, writing, "Cups, pencils, pens, pins, coasters, calendars ... the list of agency promotional materials goes on, and the price tag to have those items made adds up," and urging Oklahoma taxpayers to support the cuts. "The most successful businesses embrace change and regularly challenge the status quo. That's the opposite of what ordinarily occurs in government," the article concludes. "Taxpayers should insist that mindset changes in Oklahoma. Cracking down on swag—one small piece of a giant pie—would be a start."
What do you think? Is this a smart move by Oklahoma to make up the funding shortfall? Or is it an overreaction by a state looking for a quick fix to a larger problem?
Oklahoma lawmakers have until July 1 to finalize the budget.