State lawmakers are facing a $1.3 billion budget shortfall, but the state auditor says the state has given away hundreds of millions of dollars to counties that are not properly assessing properties.
"What we're talking about is not raising taxes. What we're talking about is being fair," said state Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones.
Jones said he warned legislators five years ago that some counties are under-assessing, and therefore under taxing properties.
"We came up with a new audit that says you actually have to do your job instead of just going through the motions,” Jones explained. “The first year, we compared the old audit to the new audit. We said, 'OK, the old one is the one that counts but we want you to know where you would stand with the new one.'"
Jones said when counties under-tax, the state is left to make up the difference.
"Because a lot of counties were not fairly valuating their property, there was a lot of money that should have been collected and gone to the schools that wasn't going and then subsequently the state of Oklahoma was making up the difference," Jones said.
Since the audit, 61 out of 77 counties are now in compliance, but because taxes can only be raised 5 percent per year, Jones said the state is still being short changed.
He said one reason counties are so slow to come into compliance is because their training and computer software is out of date. It's about 20-years old.
Jones insists, updating the software at a cost of about $5 million could help the state save millions more in the long run.
"If we had done this five years ago, it would have a tremendous help with the budget,” Jones said. “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now. Same thing here."