COMMENTARY: Broken promises and good government – Will Oklahoma take a faulty Step Up, or use growing revenues wisely?
Published: February 12th, 2018
OKLAHOMA CITY – The state House may vote, this week (perhaps even on Monday, February 12) to increase state revenues by about $700 million.
If envisioned proposals from the Step Up Oklahoma group are ultimately enacted, the final bell will toll for promises made in the historic campaigns of 2010 and 2014, when Governor Mary Fallin and others in the Grand Old Party pledged to right-size government.
Last month, Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb said he was against the Step Up plans. Soon, every Republican candidate for the state’s chief executive post had reasserted or for the first time stated clearly opposition to the Step Up ideas.
Some thought I endorsed Lamb’s gubernatorial campaign when I praised his comments, but I did not and have not.
I have more frequently credited “the two Garys” – Tulsa lawyer Richardson and Auditor & Inspector Jones – for advocating investigative audits of government agencies.
As the great Oklahoma publisher Leland Gourley often said, commentaries/editorials are one person’s opinion.
An informed opinion follows: I believe it amounts to imposition of a “fraud tax” or “fraud fee” on taxpayers to increase taxes without stricter scrutiny of government agencies. That scrutiny should come first, not tax hikes.
I respect the motivations of those with contrary views, even when some do not respect mine. Spending scandals in government are not inevitable. All the cost-drivers in Oklahoma government should be regularly (and independently) audited. They are not.
In a recent survey for the Step Up group, Bill Shapard’s Sooner Poll found strong majority support for the organization’s tax proposals. He presented his analysis to reporters and advocates of the plan last week (http://s3.amazonaws.com/content.newsok.com/documents/Step%20Up%20Oklahoma%20Sooner%20Poll%20report.PDF).
On the flip-side, opponents of tax hikes were intrigued, over the weekend, when John Collison circulated a one-question poll (www.1q.com) of 400 Oklahomans. He says, “almost 70 percent of Oklahomans would vote AGAINST their elected representatives if they raise taxes.” (http://nonewoktaxes.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Doc1.pdf)
In political circles, pollsters whisper there is strong majority opposition to tax hikes among Republicans most likely to vote. This is well-known in the political class, but the numbers have not circulated.
Few news organizations noted a critical study of the Step Up plan conducted by the venerable Tax Foundation. As I reported in January, the foundation said envisioned changes would make the state tax system “more complex and progressive, not simpler or more neutral.” (http://www.www.capitolbeatok.com/reports/tax-foundation-critiques-step-up-oklahoma-tax-plan)
A spokesman for Step Up did not return my multiple requests for comment on the critique from the Tax Foundation, which has studied fiscal and tax policy since 1937.
Not exactly obscure is the impressive growth in Oklahoma state government revenues as the oil and gas recovery advances, and the rest of the state economy grows.
I’ve given Treasurer Ken Miller (who supports the tax hikes, I’m told) a lot of grief for particular ideas these past seven years, but I respect the methodical and meticulous economist.
He’s no doubt enjoyed preparation of his recent monthly reports.
Gross receipts to the Oklahoma Treasury surged 12 percent in December, and jumped 6.2 percent for all of 2017, Miller has reported. In the state’s largest (and capital) city, sales tax revenues jumped 7.8 percent in December.
Then, for the January analysis, the good news got even better. Collections early in the New Year topped the same month of 2017 by more than 15 percent. The total tax receipts of $1.1 billion were big news – and the 12th time in 13 months that revenue increased. Prior to January 2017, monthly receipts had contracted for 20 consecutive months. (http://www.www.capitolbeatok.com/reports/treasurer-ken-miller-reports-monthly-gross-tax-receipts-enter-second-year-of-growth)
The state’s economy has rebounded, and that’s good news. This cause for celebration should mark a time for serious study of how to use growing revenues wisely. Instead of enhancing good economic trends, Oklahoma seems about to endorse a broken model of governance.
Many in the Legislature seem determined to raise taxes this year, as prelude to raising them next year.
The catalog of broken promises continues to grow.
Enough is, indeed, enough.