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Okla. Sales Tax Collections Set New Record (Feb 14, 2012)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Record-breaking sales tax collections last month in Oklahoma not only boosted the state's general revenue fund but signaled that consumer confidence is on the rise, state finance officials said Tuesday.

Sales tax collections in January totaled $165 million, an all-time monthly record and nearly 12 percent higher than the same time last year, Office of State Finance Director Preston Doerflinger said.

"Economists always look keenly at sales taxes in gauging economic growth, so this is encouraging," Doerflinger said in a statement. "Our economic recovery from the recession has not missed a beat in the first half of the fiscal year and is off to a good start in the second half."

Doerflinger noted that January collections included spending in the days just before and after Christmas.

Overall collections to the state's general revenue fund for the first seven months of fiscal year 2012 totaled $3.2 billion, an increase of 13 percent over the same time last year.

Gov. Mary Fallin released a statement describing the figures as "great news" and citing the economic recovery as an indication that lawmakers should support her plan to slash the personal income tax.

"I am encouraging legislators to see this as an opportunity, not to grow government or to spend more on government bureaucracy, but to pursue a bold plan to cut taxes and allow Oklahomans to keep more of their hard earned money," Fallin said.

Amid the positive economic reports, Doerflinger issued a word of caution about the negative impact that falling natural gas prices are expected to have on the state budget.

Due in part to an unseasonably warm winter that has depressed the price of natural gas, January collections from the gross production tax on natural gas totaled $19.8 million, more than 21 percent below the prior year and 16 percent below the official estimate.

As a result, Doerflinger says he will urge the State Equalization Board to lower its projections for natural gas when the board meets on Feb. 21 to certify the final estimate of how much lawmakers will have available to spend on next year's budget.

The board certified a preliminary estimate of $6.5 billion in December, but Doerflinger says that because of continued strong overall collections, he expects the board "will up the ante on revenues available for the Legislature to appropriate."

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