Oklahoma closing fund worth supporting
Oklahoma’s Quick Action Closing Fund has had an interesting history. What it hasn’t had are consistent deposits to help the fund grow and thus help bring businesses to the state, something Gov. Kevin Stitt’s administration is rightfully trying to change.
The fund was created via legislation in 2011 that changed the name of the Oklahoma Opportunity Fund, which had been created in 2006. The bill authorized the governor to make the final decision on a project, subject to consultation with the House speaker and Senate president pro tem.
The law was immediately challenged as unconstitutional by an attorney who said it violated the separation of powers set out in the state constitution. The state Supreme Court agreed in late 2011, in a ruling that gave the governor control of the fund — which at the time didn’t have a dime in it.
Lawmakers have made hit-and-miss deposits since then, beginning with $6.7 million in 2012. Former Gov. Mary Fallin distributed $11 million to several companies that expanded business in Oklahoma. Last year, at Stitt’s urging, the Legislature placed $14 million in the fund on top of a $5 million appropriation in March.
That total, Commerce Department Executive Director Brent Kisling told lawmakers recently, “was more than we had put in there since the foundation of the program.”
Meantime, Texas has spent more than $600 million from its Quick Action Closing Fund. That’s not a fair comparison, given Texas’ enormity, but Arkansas is — our neighbor to the east has spent roughly $120 million from its fund through the years.
“The Quick Action Closing Fund is a vital tool for our state,” the executive director of Arkansas’ fund said in a 2018 letter to legislative leaders. “Continuing to fund this appropriation on an annual basis, as well as increasing its amount, will allow for greater success in bringing quality companies with quality jobs …”
The Stitt administration is making a similar appeal. Kisling’s budget request for the next fiscal year includes another $14 million for the closing fund. Spending that money requires an analysis by the Department of Commerce to determine potential return on investment. “We’re not going to write them a check that’s bigger than the check they’re going to write back to us in taxes,” Kisling says.
Commerce Department data show about $14 million in closing funds have been committed to companies that will invest, or have pledged to, $3.4 billion into Oklahoma. Nearly $10 million has been paid to companies that invested $712 million in the state.
Kisling says about $8 million remains in the fund. If there’s a way for lawmakers to make a deposit next year similar to the one made for the current fiscal year, they should do so. For the fund to work as intended, consistency is a must.