Now that tax revenues are coming in below expectations in Oklahoma, state leaders need to get off the tax cutting bandwagon to ensure education and social programs remain funded at current levels.
Income taxes, sales taxes and gross production taxes came in below estimates in October, according to state Treasurer Scott Meacham. Total revenue is down 6.4 percent from last year, Meacham reported, and income tax collections are down 10.3 percent, reflecting recent tax cuts.
Some state leaders and organizations, including University of Oklahoma President David Boren, have correctly called for a tax cut moratorium this coming legislative session. This does not mean, however, that legislators and state panels should not try to restructure the Oklahoma tax system with progressive principles, giving more tax cuts to middle class people, while raising rates on the ultra wealthy. But the chances of that happening are nonexistent, given the influence of corporate money in our political system.
There is no argument over the fact the wealthiest people in Oklahoma and the country have seen their incomes soar under state and national tax cutting initiatives over the last several years. Meanwhile, middle class people have been stuck with stagnant wages, rising health care and energy costs, and skyrocketing college tuition increases. It has become increasingly difficult for middle class people to just get by and extremely difficult for them to obtain the college education they need in order to prosper.
So it is time for a major philosophical change in how we approach taxes in the state.
“Because of recent decisions enacted by the Legislature, Oklahoma’s revenue growth has slowed dramatically and we are facing long term budget shortfalls,” said David Blatt, chairman of the progressive-leaning Alliance for Oklahoma’s Future, in a recent press release. “Costs for the state’s existing programs are increasing faster than revenues and this situation will further put the squeeze on those priorities that matter most to Oklahomans.”
Blatt contends the state needs to provide a tax structure that encourages prosperity for all Oklahomans.
“With a grossly underfunded education system, increasing poverty rates among Oklahoma’s children, crumbling roads and bridges, and a crowded prison system, we believe these are the wrong questions [about tax cuts] for the committee to be asking,” Blatt said. “First and foremost, we need to guarantee that we are meeting our goals as a state to achieve an adequate tax system that provides every Oklahoman opportunity, prosperity and security.”
Much of what has happened in terms of the growing wealth disparity in this country has been based on the Grover Norquist “starve the beast” model. Under this model, conservative legislators, primarily Republicans, cut taxes to ensure vital government programs do not receive adequate funding. The underlying philosophy is to eventually privatize most aspects of government, such as public schools and colleges, making corporations richer on the backs of hard working people. Under this system, the extremely wealthy, America’s new oligarchy, call all the shots, and democracy becomes just another historical event rich people can study about in their plush private schools.
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