Tax Cut Redux

Image of Oklahoma State Capitol

Even The Oklahoman editorial page has expressed caution about more income tax cuts this upcoming legislative session.

But that hasn’t stopped Gov. Mary Fallin from announcing she plans to call for tax cuts in her upcoming state of the state speech to open the next Oklahoma legislative session, which begins Feb. 3.

Fallin won’t say yet how much she wants to reduce Oklahoma’s top income tax rate of 5.25 percent, but House and Senate bills have been introduced that would slash the rate to 4 percent over the next four years.

The state currently faces a $170 million budget shortfall, education funding has been drastically cut over the last several years and the state’s corrections system desperately needs more money. Many state workers have gone without raises for seven years. The state Capitol building is crumbling and still needs vital repairs.

Given that bleak outlook, it would seem prudent for lawmakers to stabilize the budget by finding additional revenue, not push for irresponsible tax cuts, but this is an election year and the GOP controls both the House and Senate and executive branch of government. Those up for re-election, like Fallin, are likely to try to outdo one another in proving their conservative bonafides. Tax cut rhetoric will obviously be part of their campaign arsenals.

The real question is whether all these tax-cutting Republican lawmakers actually believe that their actions spur economic development or if they are engaging in a systematic process to defund government as much as possible without a shred of concern for the overall quality of life here.

A tax cut passed last year was tossed out by the Oklahoma Supreme Court because it obviously violated the state constitution’s single-subject rule. I’ve argued that it’s even possible lawmakers actually intentionally poisoned the legislation so it wouldn’t go into effect. Maybe that’s wishful thinking and gives them too much credit.

The political dynamic this year, however, is vastly different. U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn’s announcement that he’s retiring has unleashed a great deal of political maneuvering. U.S. Rep. James Lankford, for example, is seeking Coburn’s Senate spot, which puts his 5th Congressional seat in serious play. House Speaker T.W. Shannon might just be among those who also run for Coburn’s position, according to reports, and he could step down from his position soon.

What all this means on a larger level is that Republicans will be pitted against Republicans in highly contested and visible elections. The conservative extremism and ambiance will trickle down to less visible state legislative races, which will affect how incumbents approach this year’s session.

Will schools, state workers and corrections once again get left behind in all the political jockeying and extremism?