Last week has to be judged a success for Oklahoma Republican legislators. They managed a full week in the big city without one of them getting busted for lewd behavior though Mr. Law and Order, Rep. Scott Biggs of Chickasha, was outed for late filings of campaign contributions. As predicted by everyone capable of reading the state constitution, the regular session’s cigarette tax could not be disguised as a “fee” when it came before the State Supreme Court. Thus, our steadily declining state budget was hit with a $215 million deficit, which became a $500 million budget hole since it now includes lost matching federal funds, according to Barbara Hoberock of the Tulsa World.
People knew the “fee as tax” subterfuge was not going to work. After the Supreme Court threw it out, people knew that a special session was going to be necessary. After Gov. Mary Fallin called the special session, legislative leaders had another ten days or so to prepare. So, GOPers arrived in Oklahoma City last week with no plan except to blame the 28 Democrats in the House for the inaction of the 73 Republicans.
The governor herself arose from her lethargy with a budget plan. In keeping with the GOP’s record of transparent government, it was “presented Wednesday behind closed doors,” Hoberock reports. The key to this plan is still that $1.50 per pack tax on cigarettes. Another idea that emerged last week was to impose a $1 fee per head of cattle sold. Not selling any cattle myself, that didn’t sound like so much. But folks in the cattle business objected mightily. How much more onerous is it, then, to add $1.50 to every pack of cigarette sold in the state?
Not a smoker, this tax wouldn’t affect me, either. But, I do wonder why we don’t have compensatory “holier-than-thou taxes” to even up the revenue generated by “sin taxes”?
We’re in this sorry state of affairs because the governor and her GOP pals who control the Legislature have done nothing for the past seven years except provide tax breaks and obscene profits for their true constituents – the oil and gas industry and the wealthiest people in the state. They cut the Gross Production Tax from a reasonable 7 percent to a miniscule 2 percent. They provided income tax breaks for the highest income tax brackets.
Fallin’s plan, Hoberock reports, calls for a five percent GPT on new wells only. Thus, all of the wells sitting at two percent GPT will keep underpaying us for the depletion of our resources. Not so, the much smaller wind energy industry. It will lose the sales-tax exemption it was promised as an incentive – the success of which is evident to anyone visiting the northwest corner of the state. Restoring the GPT to seven percent for all wells would be an OK first step – if not raising it to ten percent for a few years to make up for the money we’ve lost.
The governor also calls for two new tax brackets. Currently, a person earning $16,000 annually pays taxes at the same rate as the person earning $16 million – five percent. Under Fallin’s proposal, “Those earning $250,000 to $499,999 would be taxed at 5.25 percent while those earning $500,000 or more would be taxed at 5.5 percent,” Hoberock writes. Gosh, I hope that leaves them enough left over for them to stimulate the economy.
Of course, Reagonomics proved the fallacy of trickle-down economics 30 years ago. What we get is more akin to the splatter-all-around economics of the old cow above the flat rock.
Fallin has other revenue-raising proposals, one of the biggest would be a six cent tax increase per gallon of motor fuel. This would raise the gas tax from 17 to 23 cents per gallon – including a one-cent “fee” on the current supposed 16-cent tax.
Among her other revenue builders are putting sales taxes on such “luxury” items as car washing, carpet cleaning, extermination services and lawn and gardening services. Hoberock does point out real luxuries such as short-term aircraft rental and fur storage, but note that some of these “luxuries” fall into the category of “Things that I used to do, I just can’t do today” – taxes aimed at the fixed-income elderly.
The Fallin plan calls for a $1,000 teacher pay raise the first year and a $2,000 raise the second year, a far cry from the $5,000 raise generally recognized as necessary for bringing the state pay scale in line with neighboring states. But, take heart, dear educators. Trump economic advisor Gary Cohn, who is pushing a federal version of “feed the rich” economics thinks that an extra $1,000 will be enough to re-do your kitchen or “buy a new car.”
Wasn’t it Walters’ own Fred Harris who observed that we’d have plenty of money for governmental services if we could just get the rich off welfare?
(Gary Edmondson is Stephens County Democratic Party Chair.)