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Conservative leaders urge Oklahoma politicians to protect taxpayers

Conservative leaders urge Oklahoma politicians to protect taxpayers

September 28, 2017

Dear Governor and State Lawmakers,

We are a coalition of conservative citizens, many of us serving in leadership of state or local organizations, who write to urge you to address the need for more consolidation and other efficiencies in all areas of state government and to resist raising taxes on your constituents.

Many Oklahoma families and businesses are struggling and have been forced to reduce their own spending. Indeed, Oklahomans lost more than $13 billion in taxable income and reduced purchases by $4.1 billion in one year alone when oil prices collapsed.

And yet, Oklahoma’s total state government spending is at an all-time high. The state is now on track to spend more money next year—more than $17.9 billion—than at any time in our history. If you believe that certain state services are not adequately funded, we urge you to prioritize spending rather than raise taxes.

“Limited government” and “lower taxes” have been winning campaign messages in Oklahoma over the last decade. Some candidates have even made written promises to oppose and vote against (or veto) “any and all efforts to increase taxes.” We encourage you to stay true to these principles and to oppose efforts to increase the burden of government on hard-working Oklahoma families.

Sincerely,

GOP gubernatorial candidate and State Auditor Gary Jones is out with a proposal for balancing the state budget:

State Auditor Gary Jones proposes a 5% GPT [Gross Production Tax] for first three years and 5% GPT after 3 years. Jones says this should be a part of an agreement to raise tobacco tax and make gasoline and diesel taxes $0.20 across the board. He also proposes an additional 2% on GPT when prices are higher to go into an educational stabilization fund and the rainy day fund.

The plan will raise about $500,000,000 annually and it will leverage another $300,000,000 federally. Jones’ plan will fill the current budget hole and fund a much needed teacher’s pay raise.

In response to a question on his post, Jones also made this statement: “I believe we can reduce about $300-$400 million in waste and inefficiencies. That with the revenue increase is what is necessary to fill the $900 million shortfall.”

The current gasoline and diesel taxes are 17¢ and 14¢ per gallon, respectively. Only South Carolina and Alaska have lower gasoline taxes, and only Alaska has a lower tax on diesel. Texas currently charges 20¢ per gallon on each.

Senate Pro Tem urges lawmakers to come together with revenue plan ahead of special session

With a special session less than two weeks away, Oklahoma Senate Pro Tem Mike Schulz called on lawmakers to put partisan politics aside and come together on a plan to fill the $215 million budget hole created by court rulings this summer.

“The special session is rapidly approaching and all we’ve seen so far is political games from both sides of the aisle. I understand why the public would think it’s ‘déjà vu all over again’ and worry that the special session will be a repeat of the end of regular session,” said Schulz, R-Altus.

“We don’t have time in a special session for ideas that have not been thoroughly vetted in the legislative process. We don’t have time to rehash arguments from the past two years. Before the special session is gaveled in, we need to have an agreement and plan in place so that we can move quickly and effectively. It’s time to come together. It’s time to stop bickering and playing political games. It’s time to do the job Oklahomans elected us to do.”

“Senate Republicans have met three times since the initial court ruling that left a $215 million hole in the budget. We’re preparing for every scenario, but it’s clear to the Senate that the best path forward is to pass a $1.50 cigarette tax increase. The Senate passed a cigarette tax during the regular session and the Senate is ready to move on it again if the House can send one our way.”

“Let’s do this now, get it done quickly in special session to address the budget hole and return our entire focus to important issues like job creation and economic development, regulatory and tax reform, and increasing educational quality and opportunity for Oklahomans.”

Muskogee Politico: Court ruling is dangerous for the Oklahoma taxpayer

The recent ruling by the Oklahoma Supreme Court has opened a dangerous can of worms for the Oklahoma taxpayer. By essentially eviscerating Article V, Section 33 of the Oklahoma Constitution, the Court now has given the Legislature free reign to hike taxes on Oklahomans in complete disregard of the will of the people as expressed in passage of SQ 640, which was intended to place strict limits on the increasing of Oklahomans’ tax burden by the Legislature.

Governor Fallin, who plans to issue a call for a special session, began the year by pressing for nearly $2,600,000,000 (2.6 Billion with a B) in new and increased taxes. $1.7B of that would have come by removing the sales tax exemption on services. Armed with this ruling, she may feel emboldened to continue that push for higher taxes. Legislators should resist her, and Oklahomans should flood the State Capitol with calls against raising taxes or fees or removing tax exemptions, or whatever other loophole the Governor and Legislature may try to use to squeeze more money out of taxpayers for the state’s coffers.

Justice Combs said this in his dissent, and I am in full agreement with him:

The aim of the people in adopting State Question 640 must not be thwarted by such parsing of words and definitions. The Legislature must not be allowed to circumvent the requirements of Okla. Const. art. 5, § 33 when the clear principal object and purpose is to raise new revenue.

$10 billion worth of tax exemptions in the Oklahoma tax code are now subject to removal by a bare majority vote, rather than the 3/4ths vote intended by the petitioners and voters who wrote and approved SQ 640 in 1992. Hold on to your wallets, folks, because Governor Fallin and the Legislature will be coming for them.

Former OKGOP National Committeeman Steve Fair wrote this on his blog in response to the ruling:

[W]e need a statute of limitations on removal of exemptions. If a good or service has not been taxed for eighty years, then it should be considered a new tax or fee. […] This was clearly a loophole the legislature was looking for to fill this year’s budget hole.

I think that’s a great idea. Hopefully, some taxpayer-defending legislator will take up the mantle next session and work to advance a measure along these lines.

Oklahomans will need to keep a close eye on the Special Session that will begin on September 25th. Your wallet will be placed on the table by a pack of hungry vultures who have complete disregard for the intent and purpose of Article V, Section 33 of the Oklahoma Constitution.