From the best of years to the worst of years (Part III)
Published: August 6th, 2017
It was the speech that officially launched a new and dangerous ideology: do whatever it takes to raise taxes — even it it means ignoring the state Constitution (http://www.www.capitolbeatok.com/reports/from-the-best-of-years-to-the-worst-of-years-part-ii).
In February, the Governor addressed the Legislature and called for an array of new and increased taxes (http://www.www.capitolbeatok.com/reports/governor-mary-fallin-s-2017-state-of-the-state-speech). The Governor demonstrated savvy political sophistication and a modicum of Republican brand awareness by cloaking the increases inside an omnibus tax restructuring package that also contained a series of tax eliminations and decreases. Any observant listener could sense the actual bottom line of the Governor’s proposal: the increases outweighed the decreases.
Those of us who have seen more than a few legislative sessions know the Legislature to be completely incapable of adjudicating comprehensive tax policy restructuring during a single legislative session (http://www.www.capitolbeatok.com/reports/from-the-best-of-years-to-the-worst-of-years).
Sure enough, House appropriations personnel quickly dispensed with any notion of comprehensive tax policy restructuring and began pushing the new ideology of tax increases at all costs.
I believe that those who were pushing this new ideology were doing so out of fear. They probably had little faith in the Legislature’s ability to cut spending. The budget process is completely dysfunctional with little in the way of meaningful oversight, and House members have notoriously caved to special and government interests. Even at a time when spending significantly outpaces revenue, it was too optimistic to suggest that House members would become courageous this year.
It turned out to be easier to use the Governor’s challenge to convince House members to increase taxes than to reform the badly broken budget process and ask House members to stand up to the political sacred cows of government spend.
Political leadership knows that no new ideology can take root until it converts to itself an army of ideologues.
This was going to be a tricky task because many of the new recruits to this new socialist ideology had probably campaigned for election on a platform of free market conservatism. Their campaigns had likely flooded constituent mailboxes with glossy mailers upon which was prominently featured the customary and perfunctory Ronald Reagan quote such as, “The problem is not that people are taxed too little, the problem is that government spends too much.”
Getting these legislators to betray their values and their verbal commitment to their constituencies would take effort, but it was still viewed as easier than asking them to cut government spending of the public money.
Until the time of the Governor’s speech, I hadn’t detected any special predisposition to the tax increases.
After the Governor’s speech, however, House appropriations leaders had been empowered with the following formidable argument: “We can’t focus on reducing government spend because the Governor and the Senate won’t allow it.”
Many legislators who were inclined to follow their values (and the Constitution and its prohibition on majority-vote tax increases) were put into a box (http://www.www.capitolbeatok.com/reports/opinion-the-immorality-of-increasing-taxes).
Either they join the new ideology and betray their values, or the state appropriations bill would be vetoed and a special session required.
At the end of session, the legislators succumbed to the “tax increase at all costs” ideology and passed the legislation (http://www.www.capitolbeatok.com/reports/opinion-why-i-voted-no-on-this-year-s-appropriations-bill), thereby daring the Courts to rightly declare their tax raises as unconstitutional and force a special legislative session. They are counting on the public to blame the courts for causing the special session.
I believe the courts will do the right thing and reverse the increases. I also believe the public will rightfully realize this is not the court’s responsibility but the Legislature’s responsibility.
I am concerned about the long term effects on those legislators who converted to the new ideology. Although they have returned to the real world and are far away from the capitol bubble, it’s extremely difficult to recover from a four-month session of brainwashing and the insufferable, torturous drumbeat of those who led the movement to increase taxes. The legislators who refuse to come to terms with their conversion will likely become very unfriendly to the values of small government in the future.
Editor’s Note: Murphey, a Republican from Guthrie, is serving his last term at the Legislature. This is the third in a series of commentaries concerning the decline of conservative governance at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City.