By Rep. RICK WEST
Members of a new group called “Step Up Oklahoma” released their version of a “budget solution” last week. While the organization put forward several interesting reform suggestions, the revenue package should be seen as an all-in-one approach to new taxes.
Step Up Oklahoma wants higher taxes on cigarettes, motor fuels and the personal income tax. It wants to increase taxes on wind-power generation and the oil and gas industry. And it wants to affect taxes on the gaming industry and the refundable income tax credits. Nothing on this list is new, and nothing on this list had enough votes to pass the legislature during the 2017 sessions.
During a press conference, members of Step Up Oklahoma called their package a “carefully balanced” one, saying the business community spent a lot of time forming it. But I wouldn’t call nearly $800 million in new taxes “carefully balanced,” especially when our state’s economy is picking up more and more every day. To me, carefully balanced means we let this thing roll instead of hindering economic growth with significant tax increases.
The group wants a $5,000 pay raise for teachers effectively beginning in fiscal year 2019. But the fact of the matter is a raise of that size would cost the state roughly $270 million, not $800 million. We may not be facing a budget hole in the upcoming year, either. So are we just raising millions of dollars in additional taxes for the fun of it?
Outside of the revenue aspect, Step Up Oklahoma includes some government reforms that have been drumming up lots of talk at the Capitol lately.
The group wants to require line-item budgeting and revise the state budget to reflect all sources of revenue. It also wants to grant county-level voters the authority to “tailor the form and makeup of their county government to meet their local needs.”
These ideas make sense to me. Lawmakers should have the authority to better oversee how agencies are spending taxpayer dollars, and Oklahomans should have a say in how their local governments are put together.
Suggested reforms also include lowering the 75 percent vote threshold required to raise new revenue. Step Up Oklahoma recommends a 60 percent majority, and that’s actually a number members of House Republican leadership have floated as well. Here’s where I stand: if voters want to put forth an initiative petition to change the threshold, they absolutely should.
Let your voices be heard. But it’s another issue entirely when lawmakers take it upon themselves to suggest changes that voters intentionally made back in the 1990s. I believe Oklahomans knew what they were doing when they voted to enforce a three-quarters majority on revenue-raising measures, and I would hate to see lawmakers try to undermine the voters.
Beyond the proposals, though, Step Up Oklahoma calls itself a “nonpartisan group of business, civic and community leaders,” but they’re lacking representation from several demographics, including rural Oklahomans. We need policies that benefit folks in LeFlore County, not just the higher ups in crowded cities.
You can see the plan for yourself at stepupoklahoma.com. If you decide to take the time to read through it, please reach out with your thoughts. Like I said, there are some ideas in the group’s plan that I agree with, but my stomach turns just thinking about forcing Oklahomans to endure hundreds of millions of dollars in new taxes that are unnecessary and prohibitive to small businesses.
You can get in touch with me at [email protected] or by calling my office at 405-557-7413. Thanks, and God bless.
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