The No Longer Hidden Evil of the Latest Tax Increases
As this legislative year concluded, those who had been trying to raise taxes gave up on all but the smallest pretense of following the Constitution.
Although they had tried and successfully passed many increases, the cumulative effect of these increases did not rise anywhere close to the amount of money that they wanted to take from you.
They were unable to pass the really big increases.
Worse, their obsession with raising taxes had sapped their energy and stolen the legislative session and any potential reforms such as enacting real, meaningful legislative oversight of state spending.
Without this oversight, legislative officials were not prepared or willing to enact the strategic budget reductions to eliminate the many millions in wasteful and inefficient government spending.
So they simply passed the large tax increases while ignoring the constitutional requirement of a legislative supermajority vote.
The Legislature has long pushed the envelope on this particular constitutional provision so it wasn't unusual for them to surround their unconstitutional tax increases with just enough legalese to allow them to make the case with a straight face for why they should be approved.
Behind the scenes and away from the public eye, however, realistic-minded legislators would admit to the unconstitutionality and potential reversal of tax increases by the Supreme Court, but I think they thought it would be better for the court to strike down the increases than for the Legislature to fail to produce an appropriations document during regular session.
To some, it was easier to justify the expense of a taxpayer-funded special session if the Supreme Court could be portrayed as the catalyst instead of the Legislature.
I felt this was an extremely dangerous game with long term repercussions far beyond this legislative session.
What if the Court had given into this strategy and acted in fear of public opinion?
Those who watched the oral arguments before the Supreme Court certainly observed the state government's willingness to provide the justices with the necessary absurd legal logic to justify the impossible.
What if the Court had accepted these arguments?
There would have been very little standing in the way of future Legislatures raising taxes.
Indeed, those who viewed the oral arguments took note of the fact that the state was clearly prepared to argue that the gas tax is a fee -- not a tax -- notwithstanding the word "tax" in the term "gas tax." As a fee, it would not be subject to the constitutional prohibitions on straight majority tax increases.
Had the court endorsed this convoluted logic the floodgates on tax increases would have swung wide open much as the court's nearly 20-year-old, closely-decided ruling on bonds and debt opened the floodgates on the issuance a debt -- a decision quite responsible for putting the state into the fiscal situation it finds itself in at this time.
The real danger of this year's unconstitutional tax increases wasn't so much the fact that that they grew government spending, but that they would have made it much easier for legislatures of the future to raise your taxes.
Last week's 5-4 decision by the court appears to have carried out this fear. In failing to overturn the unconstitutional, new, 100 million dollar sales tax on car sales the court has encouraged the Legislature to approve millions, if not billions in new taxes on services and to do so by just a slim majority vote instead of the constitutionally-required super majority.
Every Oklahoman who works in a service industry i.e., real estate/homebuilding, information technology, HVAC and many, many more should prepare now for the likely, impending assault that is now almost certain to occur next year.
This concern was best expressed by Justice Combs who in his dissent wrote the following: "The effect of the majority opinion is that the many special exemptions from taxation currently existing in our tax code, $10 billion worth according to the Oklahoma Tax Commission, will be subject to elimination by a simple majority of the legislature and the approval of the Governor. No one presently enjoying a tax exemption will be immune from this procedural vote. The purpose and intent of State Question 640 is now eviscerated, and the citizens of Oklahoma who enjoy a benefit of a tax exemption will be subject to the legislative act of a simple majority as a method of raising revenue."
Unless the taxpayers act quickly to strengthen and restore their constitutional restraint, Combs' words will prove to be prophetic and the great evil, and longest-lasting legacy of the Governor and this Legislature will be the now officially institutionalized evisceration of the taxpayer's control upon the government to raise your taxes.