Fallin supports income tax cuts, spending reductions, ‘Oklahoma Spirit’

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 04-Dec-2010

In a candid interview with CapitolBeatOK, Oklahoma Governor-elect Mary Fallin signaled a determined focus on private sector jobs growth, tighter spending and state government reform – specifically including income tax cuts and parental choice in education.

Asked if she would have her “foot on the gas pedal, to keep reducing the income tax rate if the [tax revenue growth] ‘trigger’ is met” this year, Fallin replied: “I’m for keeping the trigger in place and lowering the tax if the revenue growth is met. It is the lowering of taxes that stimulates the economy. It is the raising of taxes that hurts economic growth.

“Here in Oklahoma City I’m hearing the real estate market and expansion in certain sectors are coming to a grinding halt. All of this is swirling around in the middle of great uncertainly about the [federal] regulatory environment. Add to that our Oklahoma concerns and interest about cap-and-trade and other federal policies, and it adds up to a problem.”

Fallin expressed concern about growth trends in the Sooner State, saying, “I keep hearing stories of money, of investment, sitting on the sidelines due to worries about what the federal regulatory agencies are planning to do. None of that is good for the economy. To sum up, we have some issues to work through. In the state government, we have to do everything we can to create the incentives to invest and create wealth.”

Expressing support for “Lindsey’s Law,” the historic scholarship program designed to benefit special needs children, Fallin repeated her strong support for significant reform, including more full-scale parental choice policies:

“I am a supporter of further reforms. I am for school choice. One of the best reforms in recent history has been choice in education, allowing parents and students a choice in where they go, the ability to choose the best place for school. A child’s success in education should not be determined by their zip code.”

Fallin renewed supportive comments she has made previously about U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, saying she was “fortunate” to sit by him at one of the briefings she attended in Washington on Thursday [December 2].

“He spoke about choice and improving schools, giving schools better options, and parents the right of choice. He supports more options and of course charter schools. He spoke about ideas like pay for performance for teachers, plans of action for teachers who are not leaving and who need improvement, virtual learning, distance learning, and high academic standards. 

“I’ve always said that high standards are essential in common education and higher education, and that in early grades you are learning to read, then in later grades you are reading to learn. You cannot learn math and science without good reading skills.” 

Later in the interview, the governor-elect focused on several themes evocative of her campaign messaging: “We’re taking care to focus on job development and the economy, and I believe one of the things we can do to help the economy is do more on workers comp and lawsuit reforms.

“I have to add this. I am excited to get busy on education reform. With my new Cabinet secretary, Dr. Phyllis Hudecki and with Dr. Janet Barresi, who is so well qualified as superintendent, we have a great team among the three of us. We’re going to raise standards and get results.”

The interview with CapitolBeatOK, conducted in Fallin’s transition office on the first floor of the state Capitol, included her recounting several exchanges during her Washington trip. The incoming state chief executive restated her opposition to “ObamaCare,” the controversial law passed earlier this year that significantly centralized U.S. health care policies.

She explained the genesis of the D.C. trip:

“The incoming speaker of the U.S. House, John Boehner [U.S. Representative from Ohio’s 8th district], asked me and the other newly elected governors to come to Washington to talk about the future. With the Congress and the governors, there are so many new Republicans. We had dialogue on the real impact of federal policy decisions in Congress, the regulatory actions and effect of those on the states. 

“What the governors told incoming-Speaker Boehner was our focus on the problems arising from unfunded mandates, the need for federal certainty so we can budget for the states, the flexibility in the use of block grants in areas like Medicaid and welfare reform.”

As Fallin flew home Thursday night, Boehner’s office in Washington issued a statement with the same themes, saying, “On November 2, the American people sent a clear message to Washington demanding less spending and more jobs. Republicans are listening.” The statement from Boehner’s staff continued “Speaker-designate John Boehner and congressional leaders [on December 2] met with GOP governors-elect and agreed to work together and focus on solutions to create jobs and cut spending – including repeal of the job-killing health care law.”

Fallin continued: “The governors were in agreement that jobs are the key issue, and that there should be no tax increases.”

Concerning federal executives she talked with on the trip, Fallin told CapitolBeatOK: “We met with members of the president’s cabinet and with the president. On homeland security, the discussion with Janet Napolitano was useful because, as governor, I will have an important role through my job as commander-in-chief of the Oklahoma National Guard. … With FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] and with Nepolitano, what came up again and again was the importance of preparation, of preparedness, before a disaster ever happens.”

Fallin said the Republican session with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former U.S. Representative from Illinois, “was a good one. I served with him on the Transportation Committee. I know him well and have a good relationship. 

“I was a little disappointed in the meetings with him and with the president about the emphasis on high-speed rail, which is not going to be as useful here in Oklahoma. … I was also concerned about the amount of time it will take to clarify how much federal transportation money is coming, as we have an $11 billion backlog on roads and bridges. 

“Oklahoma has an extensive list of roads and bridges needs. I was concerned to hear that it might be August before we have a transportation bill. I commented that is a long time for any state, including my state, to wait. That will begin to effect everyone in the process, including the private contractors who do a lot of the work and need time to plan where their people need to be for what projects.”
Without criticizing the Obama administration officials, Fallin said she was hopeful that U.S. Rep. John Mica, a Florida Republican, will serve effectively as the new chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Fallin and her transition team have announced a food drive linked to her Inauguration. Asked if these sort of “Oklahoma spirit” private-sector initiatives can go hand-in-hand with the inevitable state government budget-cutting, she responded:

“I think that we can and should do that. I believe one of the Oklahoma’s best assets is the willingness of people to help people. I’ve seen analyses that Oklahoma is one of the top charitable states in the nation in terms of the generosity of our people. 

“I saw that myself when I was lieutenant governor and the Oklahoma City bombing happened. Our people rallied to support one another. I remember well the times where grass fires and tornadoes came through, and Oklahomans stepped up. 

“These are all examples of giving and kindness which embody that ‘Oklahoma Spirit,’ the willingness to meet the needs of neighbors.”

She continued with a focus on economic challenges and financial stress in the lives of many Oklahomans:

“In terms of the inaugural activities, we wanted to start off by emphasizing the charitable nature of Oklahomans and by directly impacting the lives of people in need, at a time when the economy remains so challenged. 

“These are tougher times than some realize. We have hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans who are unemployed or underemployed. Our families and our businesses have had to tighten their belts, so it is certain that now government will have to tighten the belt some more.

There’s simply no doubt that we have to face the reality of that need to reduce spending

“In the private sector and in government there are ways to go about building partnerships to better meet the needs of citizens.”

Fallin made it clear she has not yet decided on what areas of the state budget will face a new round of reduced spending. However, she described the process that has begun to identify possible or likely cuts in this manner: 

“The transition began election night and we only have until January 11. That’s not a real long time but we are under way to prepare a staff, and start to prepare a legislative agenda and a budget that is balanced, as the Constitution requires. 

“We have been meeting … to get a preliminary picture. We’ll know the budget picture better when the Board of Equalization certifies the numbers on December 21. The truth is we’ll have a very busy time from then until inauguration day to get things ready.”

Fallin continued, “The process has involved the staff here in the transition office, legislative leaders like the Speaker and the President Pro Temp. We agree that the focus needs to be on job creation, the economy, a stronger and better-educated workforce, right-sizing of government to create more efficiency and effectiveness. 

“And, we agree on the need to stand up to Washington when they move in such a way as to hurt the economy or take away rights the states hold to themselves. 

“We have met with both government and private entities to talk about ways to enhance efficiency and end waste and duplication in agencies. The question I’m asking is whether services provided are still relevant, efficient, and effective. If not, we have to improve the service or find a different way to deliver it.”