As 2016 session begins, Democrats assail Gov. Fallin and Republicans in the Legislature
Published: February 10th, 2016
OKLAHOMA CITY – State Democratic party leaders issued full-throated denunciations of most priorities outlined in Governor Mary Fallin’s State of the State address on February 1.
Democratic House Leader Scott Inman of Del City thumped the broad arc of the chief executive’s speech, declaring, “The governor has decided to shift the burden of paying for government from those who can afford it to the middle class and the poor.”
Inman and Senate Democratic Leader John Sparks of Norman decied Republican determination to leave in place the most recent one-quarter percent reduction in income tax rates.
They want to roll that back. The Legislature has over several years lowered the top rate from 7 percent, in stages, to five percent. In the first eight days of the session, members of the minority party at the capitol appear united in assailing income tax cuts, and are demanding a return to higher levies.
(Tuesday (February 9) Fallin’s top aide on fiscal policy, Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger, said a new round of spending reductions will be needed in the fiscal year ending June 30 to meet the constitution’s requirement for a balanced budget.)
Rep. Inman challenged Fallin on her proposed sales tax exemptions, saying she gave no guidance on which catgegories to cut or eliminate.
He told reporters, “It frustrates House Democrats for the governor to present such ideas after the explosion of tax credits and exemptions that are already depriving local school districts of revenue. Concerning her call for fewer dependent schools districts, he said the purpose of efficiencies in education administrative costs should be better services, not saving money.
Fallin said in her speech she is not calling for closure of school sites, but Democrats contend the proposal amounts to “school consolidation.”
Rejecting many details in the governor’s proposals concerning sales taxes while expressing restrained interest in broadening the sales tax base with fewer exemptions, Inman stressed that Fallin did not mention reforms of credits, exemptions, and subsidies for business interests.
In a prepared statement, the House minority leader also said, “Apparently the governor has finally discovered what we’ve known all along: we can’t cut our way to prosperity.”
With the exception of her strong endorsement of prison reformd, Inman, Sparks and Sen. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, found little to applaud in the governor’s address. In response to a question from CapitolBeatOK, Sen. Floyd said, “We all support criminal justice reform.”
Even in that arena, however, Democrats reminded reporters and the public that a bi-partisan consensus has existed for major reform since 2012, and few reforms enacted under former Speaker of the House Kris Steele have been implemented. Sen. Floyd also said the absence of details in Fallin’s new prescription for financing a teacher pay hike was frustrating.
In an otherwise strongly critical analysis, Democratic party communicators director Sarah Baker commented:
“(Fallin) is proposing a ballot initiative to address issues affecting non-violent criminal sentencing policies such as those affecting drug possession and the minimum value threshold for grand larceny. She also proposed modernizing Oklahoma’s sales tax not by increasing the rate but by ‘broadening the tax base’ by imposing new or additional taxes on more goods and services.”
However, Baker declared, “This State of the State address was an example in the Governor’s lack of concern for the issues facing the poor and middle class, children and families, and teachers. It was, however, another example of her unwavering support for failed economic policies, political rhetoric, and talking points that given enough distance in a speech can contradict themselves.”
Mark Hammons, chairman of the state party, included Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb to his critique. In a statement provided to reporters, Hammons said:
“Governor Fallin’s plan to divide the record budget shortfall is another example of failed leadership. Before there are any cuts to other agencies or services, there should be a maximum in reductions to the budgets of Governor Fallin and Lieutenant Governor Lamb.
“Governor Fallin and Lieutenant Governor Lamb are the leadership team that has created the financial crisis and they should be required to feel the full brunt of their own mismanagement before shifting the burden to other agencies. Furthermore, not all agencies and services are equal. There must be no further cuts in revenue to our already underfunded public schools, to our county roads and bridges, to mental health, or to services for our elderly or children.”