As I mentioned in my solar eclipse column last summer, I love hiking the Black Hills. Thus, it should be no surprise that I check the Rapid City Journal regularly to keep abreast of Hills happenings.  Still, it was a tip from The Lost Ogle website last week that led me to that rarest of specimens: a politician admitting a mistake. More surprising, said politician was an Oklahoman. Mustang Republican Rep. Leslie Osborn, who is now running for Labor Commissioner, was taking her share of the blame for the budget bungling plaguing our state.

In a guest commentary for the Rapid City Journal, Rep. Osborn begins: “In 2012, I helped author a bill to enact triggered income tax cuts….The bill became law. Five years later, I find myself spending most of my time as a state legislator trying to clean up what I had a large hand in creating. Since we enacted the tax cuts, Oklahoma hasn’t experienced the promised surge in economic growth. What we have experienced are large, persistent shortfalls that have led to drastic cuts to K-12 education and other vital state services.”

Osborn’s public excuse is that Oklahoma Republicans were clueless about the volatility of the state’s boom-or-bust oil business. “I truly believed at that time that we needed to pass the tax cut,” she writes.” I now realize we didn’t have all the information we needed to enact successful tax policy.”

That lack of information can prove troubling – unless you fantasize your own “alternative facts.” I guess she hopes South Dakotans don’t know that our boom/bust cycle is as predictable as severe droughts every 20 years or so. Maybe they are unaware, too, that Oklahoma Republicans reside within the pockets of oil industry lobbyists. (And, don’t overlook the admission that Oklahoma tax cuts failed to deliver their promised economic growth. Other hucksters preach those same lies today.)

The current Republican-controlled Legislature is busy steamrolling into law “protect the rich” revenue projects promulgated by Step Up Oklahoma OKligarchs before most people have a chance to assess their ramifications. The story for Monday’s web edition of the Tulsa World was headlined: “What are the Step Up plan bills the House will vote on Monday.”

Randy Krehbiel opens, “The Oklahoma House of Representatives is expected to take up as many as eight bills Monday afternoon related to what has become known as the Step Up plan.” Eight bills due for immediate consideration – maybe passed before this column reaches print – and one of the state’s flagship papers is still trying to explain it to its readers.

Aye, we do know that a $1.50 per pack tax increase on cigarettes will see the poorest 20 percent of us picking up the biggest part of the tab for state government. The additional 6 cents per gallon tax added to our gasoline costs will also hit lower income folks hard. What mileage allowance? But, what about that proposal to minimally increase the gross production tax?

As documented by The Oklahoman, the Stomp the Poor plan would, “raise the starting gross production tax for all wells currently taxed at 2 percent to 4 percent and raise the starting gross production tax for all future wells to 4 percent for 36 months and then tax at 7 percent.” With my oil and gas royalty netting me about $50 a year – about 25 times more than my writing royalty – I’m not well-versed in production practices. But, I’ve been told that our frackers, with their horizontal drilling, will be able to drain most of their wells well before  their three-year deadline to pay reasonable rates. Furthermore, drilling a new well nearby would pay for itself in short order, establishing another three-year cushion.

Rep. Osborn’s column was in response to the proposal for tax cut triggers in Nebraska, and she had earlier discussed the Oklahoma situation on a conference call with Nebraska media arranged by Open Sky Policy Institute. “I am convinced that there is simply no way to account for everything you would need to know to create a safe tax-cut trigger that would only reduce taxes when it makes sense to do so. There is no way to predict or account for all the state, national and global economic factors that play into a state’s revenue stream.”

She then blames Iran for flooding the oil market and rendering state projections obsolete without adding the obvious corollary that the particular black swan appearing to bust the oil business is as irrelevant as it is predictable. “The freefall in the price of oil had a tremendous negative effect on our state’s economy,” Osborn say. “However, because of the parameters we set in our tax-cut triggers, we cut taxes right as the economy tanked…. Tax-cut triggers tie our hands as policymakers. They prevent us from making decisions in real time, and with the information we need to make policy choices that best serve our state and our constituents. Why would we use triggers, when every year we can make tax changes using current data that reflects the current state of affairs in our state?”

My questions are, why were legislators again rushing bills into law without taking proper time to examine them? Are they so dependent on the funding of the OKligarchs who support them that they welcome their marching orders regardless of how subservient it shows them to be?

P.S. We dodged the bullet on the first round of Step Up voting Feb. 12. Ten Democrats voted with the OKligarchy, including Jacob Rosencranz, who got so much state party help and funds in winning his special election last summer….Since they can’t get poor people to pay for state government, the GOP failureship is now targeting poor people’s programs for massive cuts. Ah, those compassionate conservatives.

(Gary Edmondson is Stephens County Democratic Party Chair.)

Another rush to ruin?

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  1. House Democrats Respond to Failure of Step Up Oklahoma Plan

    OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma House Democrats released the following statement regarding the failure of House Bill 1033:

    “For a year, revenue options have been presented, debated and voted down in this Chamber. In that time, the word compromise has been skewed to the point where it now seems to mean blind acceptance without any real dialogue or negotiation. While the House Democratic Caucus had members on both sides of the vote today, we are unified in our belief that the bill presented today was far from equitable and left unaddressed many of our state’s needs. This bill sought to mend some of our state’s problems with taxes that asked working families to pay more while asking very little of those at the top and the oil & gas industry.

    With the support of our constituents, we stand ready to put 28 votes on the board for a plan that addresses the state’s long-term financial needs and ensures tax fairness among all classes and industries. If Republicans insist on a revenue plan that includes taxes that disproportionately affect low and middle income Oklahomans, like the fuel and cigarette taxes, then they must also include:

    1) an equitable income tax plan that includes restoration of the top income tax rate of 5.25% on high earners, reinstatement of the earned income tax credit for low income Oklahomans, and an increase in the standard deduction for middle class Oklahomans,

    2) A gross production tax equal to the current top income tax rate of 5%

    3) An end to the retaliatory attempts to double-tax renewable energy that only serve to hurt both the state’s energy diversification and the ability to recruit next century jobs.

    4) An immediate pay increase for both state employees and teachers.

    We recognize that this is only the second week of a four-month-long legislative session and know that the will to negotiate a better plan still exists on both sides of the aisle. We look forward to working with our Republican colleagues to put forth a plan that is good for all Oklahomans, not just a select few.”

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