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Oil-rich Oklahoma looks to tourism for revenue

State facing a $1 billion budget gap in part because of slumping oil prices.
By Daniel J. Graeber Follow @dan_graeber Contact the Author   |   Feb. 16, 2016 at 7:03 AM
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OKLAHOMA CITY, Feb. 16 (UPI) -- The governor of Oklahoma, which is facing a budget gap in part because of low oil prices, said she was looking to tourism as a possible financial life line.

"Oklahoma has experienced a tremendous growth in tourism and recreation businesses, destinations and sites which greatly enhance not only our ability to attract visitors and improve Oklahomans' quality of life but also creates jobs and revenue for our state," Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said in a statement. "The money spent at these scenic spots and recreation destinations is a boon for local communities and the state of Oklahoma."

In 2014, when oil prices were near $110 per barrel, Oklahoma had one of the fastest-growing economies in the United States. With oil near $30 per barrel, the state has a $1 billion budget gap. Fallin, in her annual State of the State address in early February, said the steep drop in crude oil prices, off about 70 percent from mid-2014, had a "tremendous impact" on state revenues.

Fallin said direct spending as a result of tourism reached an all-time high of $8.9 billion two years ago.

According to the governor's office, travel and tourism is therefore the third-largest industry in the state.

"Oklahoma has experienced a tremendous growth in tourism and recreation businesses, destinations and sites which greatly enhance not only our ability to attract visitors and improve Oklahomans' quality of life but also creates jobs and revenue for our state," she said.

Fallin pointed to outdated tax policies and revenue collection deficiencies as problematic for Oklahoma coffers. If lawmakers don't find ways to fix "decades-old structural budget problems," the governor said most state agencies may face 13.5 percent in cuts in the 2017 fiscal year.

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