COMMENTARY: Taking the Helm

Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen was quoted as saying, “Community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm.”

In the throes of the Dust Bowl and the Depression of the 1930s, the Oklahoma Legislature became aware that a provision in federal law resulted in Oklahoma’s citizens facing a higher tax burden than the citizens of community property states such as Texas, Arizona and California. Because Oklahoma was not a community property state, Oklahomans were actually being penalized.

In response to this inequity, the Oklahoma Legislature crafted, approved and sent to the governor’s desk legislation that allowed Oklahomans to compute their federal taxes like the residents of community property states. Governor Kerr wasted no time signing the bill, which kept millions of dollars in Oklahoma to be spent by Oklahomans.

In an ideal world, the Legislature and all of Oklahoma’s elected officials “at the helm” should strive to do what is in the best interest of Oklahomans. However, instead of pursuing a policy that would allow Oklahomans to be eligible for the same tax breaks that residents of other states have, the State of Oklahoma has filed a lawsuit asking the federal court to penalize OUR residents and make Oklahomans ineligible for that credit on their taxes.

For example, let’s say Congress decided that it would incentivize a new type of electric vehicle. The federal government’s program is set up so that these new electric vehicles may be purchased in each state and the purchaser will be entitled to a federal tax credit.

However, let’s say the Oklahoma governor decides, for whatever reason, to prohibit the sale of these new electric vehicles in Oklahoma. So when an Oklahoman who is unable to purchase this new technology in this state finds an electric vehicle for sale in another state, one would assume that they could still receive the federal tax credit.

Not so, according to the Oklahoma Attorney General.

Since the Governor has chosen not to allow Oklahoma residents to purchase private health insurance through a state approved program, many lower income residents have purchased their health insurance through a federal program.

Incredibly, the purpose of State of Oklahoma v. Burwell, Case CV-11-30 filed in federal district court in Muskogee – by Oklahoma’s own Attorney General, using Oklahoma tax dollars – is to prohibit those low-income Oklahomans from receiving the federal tax credit that is available to residents of the states that cooperated with the federal government by allowing low-income families to purchase health insurance.

Thousands of working Oklahomans are trying to do the responsible thing and purchase health insurance, but stand to be unable to do so if the U.S. Supreme Court does what Oklahoma’s Attorney General wants it to do and disallows their federal tax credits.

In the 1940s, wealthy Oklahomans were allegedly moving to community property states because of federal tax inequality. Oklahoma’s elected officials acted and stemmed that tide.

Oklahoma should be doing all it can to keep working Oklahomans in our state. Otherwise, they may be forced to move to those states where tax credits will make their health insurance affordable.

Ibsen’s quote contemplated the protection of the community. He never envisioned the person at the helm would want to steer the ship directly toward the falls.

NOTE: Perryman is a Democrat from Chickasha.