TABOR Complicates Oklahoma Tax Cut Issue



(Are you concerned about women's reproductive rights in Oklahoma? Be sure to read DocHoc's commentary this week in the Oklahoma Gazette.)


TABOR Lurks

The fight against TABOR—the proposed constitutional amendment that would devastate the state’s educational systems—continues here in Oklahoma.

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The Alliance for Oklahoma’s Future is leading a campaign to educate people about TABOR. These efforts have attracted a diverse group of state citizens from former U.S. House Rep. Brad Carson to former Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys, according to the organization.

The alliance, according to a recent statement, is holding events around the state to ensure Oklahomans are aware of the devastating impact of TABOR if adopted here.

TABOR, or the Orwellian-named “Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights,” would limit the growth of state government to a formula tied to the inflation rate and population growth. Any leftover money would be refunded to taxpayers. This formula would be mandated by a constitutional amendment, which may be on the ballot in November. An initiative petition to get the issue, State Question 726, on the ballot is facing a legal challenge right now.

Colorado voters recently rescinded their TABOR amendment because it had devastated their economy and educational systems.

Oklahoma, a relatively poor state, is the wrong place at the wrong time for such an amendment. For example, the state is woefully behind in funding education compared to regional and national averages. TABOR would mean the state would never be able to even begin to catch up, and this would have a devastating impact on improving the quality of life here. This quality-of-life issue means the state will have a tough time attracting economic development, which, in turn, reduces the state’s revenue foundation even more.

A group of prominent state business people have filed a lawsuit challenging the TABOR initiative petition that would place the issue on the ballot. But their lawsuit came late in the process. Why didn’t the business bigwigs speak up earlier? It is the great mystery unreported by the Oklahoma “mainstream” media, which is the most conservative media in the nation.

And, of course, here in Oklahoma, some legislators like House Speaker Todd Hiett (R-Kellyville) and his followers want to give even more tax breaks to wealthy people, which is the basic foundation of the TABOR philosophy. So, essentially, we are going to give the ultra-rich—all those business bigwigs from Chesapeake, Devon, Kerr McGee, etc. who are supposedly against TABOR—a new, fat tax break now, and then maybe give them another in November when voters go to the polls. It will not make a bit of difference that voters will be lied to by TABOR supporters, most of whom come from outside the state. It will not make a bit of difference the business bigwigs are suddenly against TABOR now. They still get the money, and the rest of us get underfunded schools, shoddy roads, stagnant wages, rising gasoline prices, and skyrocketing health care costs.

Oh yeah, Hiett and company are going to eliminate the state estate tax for rich people, too, because we no longer live in a meritocracy. Currently, an Oklahoma estate, passed along as inheritance, has to be worth $1 million or more before it is taxed. But in Bush World these days you get ahead by inheriting money not hard work.

In fact, "only the wealthiest one-fourth of 1 percent of all people who die in the United States in 2006 will pay any estate taxes. That leaves the other 99.7 percent of the public free to pass on 100 percent of their assets untaxed," according to a recent article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Perhaps we should just close down state government, including our schools, and just make the state one huge gated community for rich oil and newspaper company owners and executives. Chesahoma? Devonahoma? Gaylordahoma?

I believe in the philosophy of “going down fighting” so everyone should do their part to oppose TABOR, but until there is a seismic political shift in the state or until the state’s power structure really gets behind improving the state’s educational systems and infrastructure Oklahoma will continue to lag behind the nation.

Why Cave?

The TABOR issue is just one more reason for the Oklahoma State Senate to stand firm in ongoing state budget negotiations. Governor Brad Henry has called a special session of the legislature to pass a budget for this coming fiscal year.

The Oklahoma House, led by Republicans, wants a big tax cut for wealthy people because the state government has a $1 billion “surplus.” (I put surplus in quotes because it implies the state does not have chronic state government funding problems. This state will never have a real surplus since we underfund so much of our government and schools.) But why should we give all this money away to the ultra rich when TABOR could go into effect next year?

It sets up the perfect storm. We reduce the income tax rate from 6.25 to 5.5, which primarily benefits the wealthy, and then next year we have TABOR, which limits government growth and also gives fat refund checks to the state’s rich people. We will not be able to rescind the tax cut because state law makes that virtually impossible. That leaves our school systems and state government desperately underfunded. It would be wise and prudent to not cut the income tax rate until we know if we will live under TABOR soon.

Senate Democrats have offered a different plan that gives a tax cut by increasing the standard deduction, and they want more funding for education, including teacher raises of $3,000. All state employees deserve a raise as well. Rising gasoline prices and stagnant wages have taken their toll on average Oklahomans. Higher education needs a big boost, too, because of skyrocketing tuition costs in recent years. This seems wise and prudent. Ordinary Oklahomans get a tax break, and education gets some extra funding.

Once the TABOR issue is settled, then we might look at restructuring the tax system in the state.

Taking Christianity Back

A group that wants to “reclaim Christianity in America” will give a 7 p.m. Wednesday presentation at the Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City.

The group, CrossWalk America, argues the nation’s “religious right” does not speak for all Christians. Members of the group are walking across America to proclaim their beliefs.

According the organization’s Web site, it believes in “openness to other faiths, care for the earth and its ecosystems, valuing artistic expression in all its forms m authentic inclusiveness of all people - including God's lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (lgbt) community , opposing the commingling of Church and State, promoting the values of rest and recreation, prayer and reflection, embracing both faith and science in the pursuit of truth.”

It is great to see continuing efforts by the religious left in the country to counter the culture of hate and intolerance by the religious right extremists.