No Excuses: State Legislators Must File Tax Returns

Image of Lance Cargill

I know Oklahomans without health insurance, people who make around $30,000 a year or less, and they have had to PAY more in state taxes at the end of year. But they filed their taxes on time.

So is it too much to ask Oklahoma’s elected officials to file their state taxes?

The Daily Oklahoman reported Sunday five state legislators—House Speaker Lance Cargill, state Sen. Connie Johnson and state Reps. Don Armes, Ryan McMullen, Jabar Shumate—were warned recently by the Oklahoma Tax Commission for not filing state tax returns. Nolan Clay and Randy Ellis wrote the copyrighted story, headlined "5 legislators are warned for not filing" on Newsok.com. It is an insightful and telling piece of reporting.

Speaker Cargill’s failure to file his state tax returns over the last two years until warned by state officials seems especially hypocritical. Cargill, a Republican from Harrah, pictured right, simply said he made a mistake, had a miscommunication with an accountant and hurried to file the returns. But the attorney's excuse does not add up. Is he so important and rich and busy he does not even know if his taxes are filed? If so, then he is completely out of touch with the vast majority of Oklahomans, who would never even think about not filing their taxes.

Cargill, in his powerful position, has much to say about how state tax dollars are spent, and that is why his failure to file his state taxes on time seems so hypocritical. As Clay and Ellis point out, he voted in favor of a 2003 law that requires state agencies to fire employees who consistently do not file state taxes. So should Cargill get fired? What about state employees who did not file their taxes for two years in a row? So does Cargill think they should get fired, but he should not get fired? This would be an obvious double standard.

According to the story, "Intentionally failing to file a state income tax return is a misdemeanor, even if no further taxes are owed. The crime has a maximum punishment of a year in jail and a $5,000 fine."

Johnson, a Democrat from Oklahoma City, was warned for not filing taxes in 2004, 2005, and 2006, according to the story. She blamed it on a 2002 divorce. The excuse seems bogus. Divorces can be tough, and there are often money issues involved, true. Many of us can relate. But common sense argues someone who can take the time to get elected to a state legislature in this country to represent taxpayers can certainly find the time and the means to file tax returns no matter what. How exactly did the 2002 divorce prevent her from filing taxes? She said, “the paperwork, you know, the ex has it and some accountant has it . . .” Can Johnson not obtain her tax-related documents elsewhere? How does a 2002 divorce prevent someone from filing a tax return in 2006?

Armes, a Republican from Faxon, according to the story, said he did not file his 2005 and 2006 returns because he had “too many irons in the fire.” Whatever. Armes should resign his position as a legislator—a position we can assume he actually spent time campaigning for—if it means he cannot file his state taxes on time or, you know, maybe he can remove an iron and replace it with filing a tax return. Is he really that busy?

McMullen, a Democrat from Burns Flat, was notified he had not filed his 2001 and 2006 tax returns. According to the story, McMullen said he was a college student in 2001 and consequently did not have to file a return. Okay, fair enough. But he blamed his failure to file his 2006 return on “the rigors of this job.” He, too, should resign his position if the legislature gig is so terribly difficult and time consuming. What if a welder or a mechanic or a teacher used the “rigors of the job” excuse for not filing taxes?

Shumate, a Democrat from Tulsa, was warned he had not filed tax returns in 1999, 2001, 2004, 2005 and 2006. His response, according to the story, was this: “It was a shock to me.” So apparently he did not file state tax returns for five years, and it is a shock because by law he was reminded of this fact by a state agency. Shocking, indeed! Did Shumate really not know he had failed to file the returns? How does that even happen? Even if his excuse were true, what type of person would not know he/she had not filed a state tax return for five years?

No one right now is claiming these politicians owe tax money or are evading taxes, but the fact is none of the excuses pass the smell test, and it just shows again how many politicians today remain out of touch with the vast majority of citizens in this country. These politicians and others obviously do not have much in common with most ordinary Oklahomans, who would never even consider for a second not filing their state taxes.

I know Oklahomans without health insurance, people who make around $30,000 a year or less, and they have had to PAY more in state taxes at the end of year. But they filed their taxes on time.

Please get some perspective

The law that applies to state employees allows termination as a last resort for state employees who receive a warning - the same warning that lawmakers received - yet still do not file. Cargill said he filed as soon as he learned of the oversight. In a sidebar on the Oklahoman's story, the tax commission said approximately 3,000 state employees had not filed their tax forms. Do you think they should all be fired as well, or that they should be given a chance to correct it, for whatever reason? It is so unbelievable that an average person, (not rich or detached), might expect their accountant to actually file the forms?!?!? A little perspective please.

A special obligation

I see your point, and I appreciate your comment, but I don't argue that anyone should be fired, much less state employees. I merely ask Cargill questions about what he thinks should happen to state employees who do not file taxes two years in a row. For perspective's sake, then, here is another question: Should a state employee get fired for not filing taxes two years in a row if they have been warned by the Oklahoma Tax Commission? In addition, state legislators have a special obligation to file their taxes because they control, in most cases, how tax dollars are spent and they pass laws that affect all of us. I stand by this perspective.