Mary Fallin promises tax cuts, workforce development, pro-energy policy, better health outcomes, and a Capitol bond

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin today (Thursday, February 2) sketched a bold tax reform leading to a phase out of state income taxes, but did not provide details; further, she indicated a growth trigger would be part of her plan, an aspect that could significantly slow income tax elimination or phase down. 

Still, Fallin spoke optimistically of the effect of tax credit reforms, combined with “natural economic growth” to finance tax cuts that would still “protect the poor, help the middle class and fund core essential services.” She pledged the positive effects of tax reduction would reach “every tax bracket” and lead, among other things, to a simpler and fairer system.

Later in the day, sate Treasurer Ken Miller, in his monthly session with reporters on Oklahoma’s government revenue picture, was supportive of the governor. Without providing details, he characterized as “careful and conservative” the approach she is taking on tax reduction.

In discussion of broad policy – giving broad hints of the content in her State of the State speech coming up on Monday (Feb. 6) — Fallin said her priorities included not only further tax reductions, but also workforce development, support for the state’s energy industry, including natural gas, and a focus on better health outcomes. 

Fallin seemed prepared to support a bond issue to finance repairs of the Oklahoma state Capitol, but appeared to cast a critical eye on all other bond proposals. However, reports of a possible $200 million bond proposal will, if accurate, meaning a higher pool of resources than what is needed only for the Capitol.

She noted, in discussion with CapitolBeatOK, that bond rating agencies had encouraged her to consider infrastructure “investing” through the state’s bonding capacity. Analysts in the state are anticipating a possible upgrade of the state’s bond rating, due in significant part to last year’s pension reforms. 

In the workforce arena, the chief executive said it was “a huge priority” to meet the needs of employers for qualified employees. She observed that although unemployment is low, there remain workforce shortages in some areas. 

As for energy, she revealed she is working with governors of other states to fashion a message to the nation’s automakers, that the manufacture of natural gas (compressed natural gas, or CNG) vehicles “at a certain price point” would lead to further conversions of state government fleets. She also touted energy efficiency programs in state government, designed to save millions of dollars. 

Gov. Fallin decried Oklahoma’s poor health outcome indicators, saying poor choices, including smoking, are a drain on state resources. 

Saying the state’s challenge was to “build upon the momentum” of the past year, the governor devoted some time at the briefing to a review 2011 policy successes. She pointed to the modernization and shared services efforts she contends will provide revenue needed to balance the budget and begin income tax rate reductions. 

Fallin pointed to the “closed budget gap” and letting a tax rate reduction take effect as significant achievements in light of the fact that “there was $2 in the Rainy Day Fund when I came into office.” 

In education reform, the governor against touted her support for a range of changes in state law, including a grading system for schools, and empowering local districts to fire ineffective teacher.

Fallin also promised to “stand up to Washington” in the future, as she did over the controversial Keystone Pipeline decision and challenges to President Obama’s health care changes. 

The governor expressed satisfaction that Oklahoma had seen a net increase of 41,600 jobs in her first year, and was third in the nation in economic growth. She also noted the state had 42 percent more new manufacturing jobs than Texas did, and net in-migration.

In discussion with reporters, Fallin observed that continued tax reduction and modernization were critical to the state’s future. She pledged, in response to a reporter’s question about “broadening” of the tax base, “We’re not increasing any taxes.” 

The governor spoke as part of the Associated Press’ annual legislative briefing.