Tax Day

Image of James Lankford

There’s probably nothing cornier or more predictable than a conservative politician issuing some generic statement on so-called Tax Day, which is April 15, the due date for filing federal income taxes.

Of course, today is April 15, and our new junior U.S. Senator James Lankford has weighed in with a serious tome. Drum roll, please. It goes like this:

The federal government’s overly complex tax code, which contains over 4 million words and has changed over 4,600 times in the last 12 years, is a burden on all of us.

As we conclude the first year of the individual mandate of Obamacare in the federal tax code, we see the consequences the failed law has on American taxpayers. With only four percent of enrolled households receiving the correct Obamacare subsidy and half of the enrollees forced to repay a portion of the aid, Obamacare has added a new layer of pain to Tax Day.

We cannot continue down a path where the federal tax code continues to grow in complexity and length. The IRS gains power in the complexity of the tax code. Tax reform will not only simplify the code, it will also encourage economic growth by keeping the government out of every business. Tax reform will also confront the rampant tax fraud and identify theft that has plagued our nation.

The Obamacare reference, which makes no mention of how more people are receiving medical care, is so predictable and political and boring that even Lankford’s fellow conservatives’ eyes must have glazed over if they took the time to read this mush. But it’s what’s left out that matters. Why didn’t Lankford, for example, acknowledge that his salary and benefits are paid with taxpayer money. It could go something like this:

I want to thank American taxpayers today for paying me $174,000 plus benefits a year.

U.S. Rep. Steve Russell, who won Lankford’s District 5 seat in the November election, has his own take on Tax Day or does he?

Every year the United States tax code gets longer and more complicated. This past year saw the addition of over 3,000 pages of legal guidance added to on the tax ramifications of Obamacare alone. Also, with the IRS complaining they are too underfunded to properly pursue the billions of dollars in owed back taxes, it is beyond time to redo our entire tax system.

“I stand with many in Congress in support of the Fair Tax, a national tax on consumption to replace the income tax, which would help broaden the tax base and simplify the tax process for all citizens. We cannot continue failed policies just because they have become entrenched in our society. Let us develop a strategy that will work for Americans, strengthen our economy and help pay down our growing national debt.”

Note the eyes-gazing-over reference to Obamacare again. But it’s the Fair Tax mention that deserves attention here. That’s the proposal to replace the federal income tax with a whopping 23 percent federal sales tax (some argue it’s actually around 30 percent) on purchases, which would set in motion one of the largest black markets for all goods in the history of humankind and place a huge burden on the most impoverished in our culture and also the middle class.

I wonder if Russell is thankful for U.S. taxpayers paying his $174,000 salary for dispensing this type of wisdom on Tax Day.

Anyway, happy Tax Day! Here’s my statement:

I don’t consider paying taxes one of the fun things I do on a regular basis, but I do see how important it is to the operations of our federal government. I also think our elected federal government officials should be grateful for their taxpayer-funded salaries, which are quite high in terms of the national average. The fact politicians such as Lankford and Russell don’t have the decency and gratitude to thank taxpayers for their income calls into question any arguments they make about taxes in general.

Same Boaters

Shipwrecked by Chris Pugh on Flickr’s The Commons

It’s the type of logic that has been used by conservatives for decades in Oklahoma that drives me crazy.

It goes like this: Oklahoma is a low-wage state so we all just need to accept it, especially when it comes to that pesky fact that teacher salaries here traditionally rank 49th or 48th lowest in the nation. Everyone is “in the same boat” here.

Note that the argument isn’t that all working Oklahomans, given the data, should make MORE money and have MORE household income. That would be a more positive message. No, we’re all “in the same boat.” Get over it.

I’ve repeated the cliché “in the same boat” because it was used by The Oklahoman in an editorial brief Saturday as part of their Oklahoma ScissorTales series to qualify how badly teachers are treated here.

Teachers here make some of the lowest pay in the nation when compared to teachers in other states and now the state faces a major teacher shortage that is probably going to get worse because of a state budget shortfall of $611 million and growing.

The answer to the problem by The Oklahoman is, to repeat it again, to say we’re all “in the same boat” here. Here’s the editorial brief:

Much is made of Oklahoma’s low ranking for average teacher pay. Yet new data from the Internal Revenue Service suggest many people across Oklahoma would likely be glad to swap incomes with those teachers. Oklahoma’s average teacher salary is $44,128. IRS data show that the average income in 32 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties is less than $44,000. In Marshall County, the average income is $43,534. The lowest average income recorded is in Adair County ($31,347). The highest average income was recorded in Grant County ($86,864). But that high number, nearly double the amount notched in Grant County in 2009, was tied mostly to oil-field work. Teachers work hard, but oil-field work is not exactly for slackers. And that work is prone to boom and bust cycles, as many are experiencing today. This doesn’t mean some teachers don’t deserve more. It just shows that many Oklahomans are in the same boat.

Seems logical at first, right? It even throws out the idea that “some” teachers should make more money. “Some” is the operative word here. But the problem with this thinking is that it’s self-defeating for all us same boaters. The Oklahoman just wants us to accept our same-boat low wages and get over it. Let’s all bask in our low wages and poverty, people.

It also proposes absolutely nothing of value when it comes to the critical issue of our teacher shortage problem here. Education officials have estimated there are 1,000 unfilled teaching positions in the state, primarily because teachers trained and educated at Oklahoma colleges seek higher-paying jobs in other states. If education funding is cut further for next fiscal year—Oklahoma has cut education funding the most of any state since 2008—then that number could grow even more and what we’ll have here is not a crisis but a full-fledged disaster.

So that whole issue of low salaries for teachers has really nothing to do with how much someone makes working at a convenience store in Adair County. It has to do with educating our children to make sure they get off the ship of fools.


Stop fracking sign by Mary Crandall on Flickr The CommonsImage of tornado byprana23 on Flickr The Commons

Did you feel that 4.3 magnitude earthquake Wednesday as you worried about the severe weather coming into the Oklahoma City area?

Welcome to our new reality here. You are forgiven momentarily for your state of disbelief and despair. I was actually looking out the window at the sky in my office window searching for storm clouds when things started shaking. I was left feeling that with just a bit more punch and a longer shaking my office building would have collapsed on top of me. Now, what about those tornadoes? It’s just unbelievable.

The surge in earthquakes here over the last few years, according to scientists, has been caused by the wastewater disposal process used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for oil and gas. In that process, chemically-laced wastewater from the fracking process is injected by high pressure underground into rock formations. This causes instability in the state’s fault lines triggering earthquakes.

The 5.7 earthquake that struck near Prague and caused damage in 2011 was the largest temblor ever recorded here. But there have been hundreds more earthquakes since then, and Oklahoma now leads the contiguous United States in the number of earthquakes of 3.0-magnitude or higher.

This surge in earthquakes here has been widely documented and reported. The New York Times, for example, published a piece last week about the state’s dilemma, and while it really didn’t offer any new information it did lend credibility to an argument presented by myself and others for years.

This is from that published story:

But in a state where oil and gas are economic pillars, elected leaders have been slow to address the problem. And while regulators have taken some protective measures, they lack the money, work force and legal authority to fully address the threats.

More than five years after the quakes began a sharp and steady increase, the strongest action by the Republican governor, Mary Fallin, has been to name a council to exchange information about the tremors. The group meets in secret, and has no mandate to issue recommendations.

The current Republican-dominated legislature is more concerned with protecting the interests of the oil and gas industry through tax breaks and other laws. Meanwhile, what is the impact of hundreds of earthquakes 3.0-magnitude or above? What about the foundations of our homes or the stability of older commercial buildings or the physical stability of our bridges? What about our personal safety if a major earthquake of 6.0 or above strikes in central Oklahoma? Some scientists predict a major quake is sure to strike here.

The oil and gas industry will never willingly take responsibility for any damage done by earthquakes here and the current legislature and Gov. Mary Fallin will do nothing to protect the property and safety of its citizens if it will do financial harm to energy companies.

I imagine watching Fallin on television strolling through the major earthquake damage done in a particular state neighborhood speaking of the “Oklahoma standard” and the resilience of the people here.

This may well be the issue that wakes people up here and leads to a political shift, especially if there’s a major earthquake that does significant damage. The local corporate media is also beginning to report more extensively on the issue, and the national media is now focusing its attention on it.

Here’s the major solution: Let’s put an end to fracking altogether and focus on developing renewable energy sources. This has the added benefit of reducing our carbon emissions and limiting the damage of global warming.

Here’s something the state of Oklahoma could do now: Shut down all wastewater disposal wells in the state.

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