“Centralized anything doesn’t really work,” Hager said, adding that he was unperturbed by the prospect of a federal shutdown. “I’m not sure what they do has a big impact on my life.’’
That jaundiced view of the federal government is common here, local leaders say, even though the region’s surging economy is built to a large degree on a foundation of federal spending.
About 7 percent of the area’s workers are federal employees, more than double the U.S. average, according to a Washington Post analysis. Meanwhile, federal spending on roads, a huge Federal Aviation Administration center and a sprawling Air Force base not only keeps more than 20,000 civilians employed but also is helping to nurture entire sectors of the area’s increasingly prosperous and diverse economy.
Overall, the state gets back $1.35 for every dollar its residents and businesses pay in federal taxes, according to the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan tax research group. That’s the 15th most generous return among the 50 states.
“On one hand, you have this fairly heavy concentration of federal employees and spending here,” said Cindy Rosenthal, a University of Oklahoma political scientist and mayor of nearby Norman. “On the other hand, there is a lot of sentiment that the federal government is too large, too intrusive and probably too wasteful.”
Reconciling these competing realities has emerged as the defining issue in Congress, where the debate has swung from President Obama’s desire to boost spending on services including education and alternative energy to how much to cut the budget and taxes. Congress has not revealed which programs will be cut in the deal reached Friday, but Oklahoma City could have a lot to lose when details are released this week.
“There is no question that government jobs are great ones to have in a community,” Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said. “They are stable, people have benefits, and there is little turnover. Losing a lot of them would hurt.”
Cornett said that as federal lawmakers went back and forth in budget negotiations with a possible federal shutdown hanging in the balance, he never heard anyone talk about it. “I think the sense was that it would not affect them at all,” he said. Yet Cornett acknowledged the crucial federal role in the region’s growth, even if many voters do not see it. Given what he called the area’s entrepreneurial bent, the mayor said, his city would probably withstand large cutbacks in federal largess “better than most places.” Still, he said, a big reduction would pose significant problems.
In 1995, Oklahoma City became a target of the extreme antipathy some people feel toward the federal government, when domestic terrorists detonated a truck bomb that destroyed the downtown Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and killed 168 people. Residents here were horrified and came together to condemn that crime.