Democratic Lawmakers Stood Up In Recent Legislative Session

I believe it’s fair to argue that Democratic lawmakers this recently ended legislative session stood up strongly against Republican budgetary malfeasance and showed how the minority party in a deeply red state can be a force in a political arena dominated by ultra conservatives and the failed philosophy of trickle-down economics.

House Minority Leader Scott Inman and Senate Minority Leader John Sparks gave the Republicans a lot of, well, a lot they couldn’t or didn’t want to handle. Here was Inman, for example, on the Republicans back in April:

Their failed political philosophy, which turns on the premise that Oklahoma can somehow cut its way to prosperity or borrow its way out of debt, has given us $1 billion of tax cuts for the wealthiest of Oklahomans.

More importantly, however, is that Democratic lawmakers stood up for Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and didn’t back down when some Republicans, including Gov. Mary Fallin, first supported it under the nomenclature of “rebalancing,” but then backed off the idea when it became apparent GOP lawmakers here weren’t going to have anything to do with Obamacare.

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No More Last Minute Budgets

I’m a fierce critic of The Oklahoman editorial page, as anyone who follows this blog knows, but I’m in full agreement with a portion of a commentary in the newspaper Sunday arguing it’s long past time for the state legislature to stop unveiling the budget at the last minute in any given session.

The newspaper doesn’t mince words about it. Here it is:

. . . A rushed product is a flawed product, and Oklahomans shouldn't have to find out what's in the budget after it passes every year. An agreement should be unveiled and scrutinized much earlier, and lawmakers should be prepared to either defend it or amend it.The last-week madness must end.

For the record, I oppose the argument in the editorial about school vouchers, and I’m unsure college consolidation would save the state much money, but I do strongly endorse the last sentence in the above paragraph. It bears repeating: “The last-week madness must end. The last-week madness must end.”

It’s terribly unfair for stakeholders—leaders and employees of state agencies, teachers, health workers, etc.—to have to wait until the last week of a legislative session in May to find out how the state budget for the next fiscal year, which starts in July, will impact them. Operating particular agencies, such as the Department of Human Services, and, say, universities or schools, is complex and requires intense budget planning and decision making. The current system puts everything in a last-minute, panic mode.

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Court Question: When Is An Increase In Taxes Not An Increase?

Does Oklahoma really have a balanced state budget for next fiscal year, anyway, and how much more will middle-class Oklahomans have to pay in taxes while dealing with reduced appropriations in areas such as education?

There’s growing speculation that segments of the recent budget agreement, passed by the Oklahoma Legislature, could be challenged in court as unconstitutional on the grounds they are tax increases that were not approved by a three-fourths majority of legislators as prescribed by law.

The main issue, and this came up at the time of legislative debate, is the segment of the overall agreement that eliminates what’s called the “double deduction,” which allows Oklahomans who submit itemized tax returns to deduct state taxes on both federal and state tax returns. The measure, Senate Bill 1606, received a three-fourths majority in the Senate but not in the House, and is or maybe “was” expected to generate an estimate $97 million to help fill the $1.3 billion budget shortfall.

So is it a tax increase when an estimated 300,000 people pay higher state income taxes because of a bill passed by the legislature?

That question answers itself. Republicans, who control Oklahoma government right now and who created the disastrous $6.8 billion budget, absolutely know there are constitutional restrictions on tax increases that require a three-fourths vote in the legislature or a popular vote. It was, after all, their anti-tax ideology that created the three-fourths requirement in the early 1990s, which voters endorsed.

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