Rep. David Dank rejects grading on the curve, gives 2013 legislative session a “C-“

OKLAHOMA CITY – Known for his willingness to criticize fellow Republicans on issues like corporate welfare, generous business incentives and perpetuation of ineffective tax credits, state Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City, this week bought forth a critical analysis of the 2013 legislative session.

Dank said legislative leaders “ignored compromises and unfinished business” when they gave the session letter grades ranging from B+ to A in recent interviews with Capitol Reporters 

In comments sent to CapitolBeatOK, Dank said, “I’m not sure where the A grades are coming from, but I guess some legislators are grading on a very generous curve. The 2013 legislative session is marked as much or more by what we failed to do then by what we actually achieved.”

A fiscal conservative, Dank was the co-author – with former state Sen. Jim Reynolds, R-Oklahoma – of historic limitations on property taxes. 

Dank said he was “especially disappointed” with the .25 percent personal income tax cut which legislative leaders cheered, but which will not take effect until 2015.

Dank continued, “The small income tax cut passed after two years of grunting and heaving amounted to about the cost of a nice dinner out for most taxpayers. At that rate, we might achieve the goal of eliminating the state income tax – which most Oklahomans support – when our great-grandchildren will benefit.”

Both a tax cut proponent and an advocate of reforms of the manner in which state government grants of tax exemptions and credits in the name of economic development, in 2011 Dank chaired a task force that studied those issues in depth. 

Both that year and in 2012, he pushed hard, with support from former Speaker of the House Kris Steele, to establish standards to measure the economic effectiveness of various business incentives. One of his proposals would have ended the practice of transferable tax credits being sold from one taxpayer to another

This year, Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, said Dank’s ideas provided a template for a fresh look at the issue.
Rep. Dank’s proposal to put in place “stringent” criteria for tax credits sailed through the House, but died in the Senate. It was based on the work of his 2011 task force, and would have required greater tax-credit transparency and mandatory pre-approval for those seeking tax credits

Dank argued in 2012 that unless significant reforms to the grant of tax credits were enacted, legislators would lack the stomach for significant cuts in personal income taxes.

In his comments this week, Dank reflected, “By the end of the session we were right back cramming tax credit goodies into last-minute bills. Some claimed that we made some small reforms in wind and coal tax credits, but the truth is they will cost the state multi-millions by extending the sunset provisions. These are a scam on the taxpayers, a fact that will soon be exposed.”

Dank said the Legislature this year “completely dropped the ball on ethics issues.”

He elaborated: “Recent loosening of rules on campaign finance reporting have made it possible for some to use campaign money as a virtual slush fund, with minimal accountability,” he said. “The more widespread these questionable practices become among legislative leaders and committee chairs, the less likely they will ever be reformed. The way the rules are written and enforced is an open invitation to corruption.”

Dank was also critical of the signature achievement of the 2013 session, creation of a new system for workers compensation insurance. In a release this week, the four-term legislator said the work comp bill was ultimately too complex and unlikely to bring the benefits seen in administrative systems in 48 other states. 

He said, “The widely touted workers compensation reform bill – almost as massive and indecipherable as Obamacare – did shift our system from a court based one to an administrative system, but last-minute amendments – after workers comp lawyers had spread around piles of campaign cash – muddied that bill so badly that it may be years before we know what it really does.”

Dank quarreled, at least indirectly, with Gov. Mary Fallin on government “tight-sizing” saying that consolidations of some agencies and commissions, yielding savings of $350,000, were not impressive. He remarked, “State government is such a complicated, duplicated mess that we ought to be able to save $350-million, not just $350,000. Is that the best we can do?”

Dank concluded, “Day after day, the session’s deliberations turned not on public policy and what is best for  Oklahoma, but on what looked politically popular. It was a C-minus session at best.”

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