This is a blog of populist and liberal information and ideas, advancing the cause of truth and justice while fighting the ugly tyranny of right-wing oppression in Oklahoma and its surrounding environs.

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.

Inhofe To Oklahomans: Let Them Eat Snow Cones

Image of Jim Inhofe

“You don't want to get something you're not entitled to”—U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe on FEMA’s decision to deny the state’s citizens financial assistance for last month’s ice storm.

"I am not the person that is just going to jump on a bandwagon and say, 'Hey, let's just give everybody money.’ I want to make sure we only help those who need it with federal dollars and we scrutinize it.”—U.S. Rep. John Sullivan on the FEMA decision.

Where in the world is Oklahoma’s congressional delegation when you need it to actually do something?

People here suffered heavy uninsured losses from last month’s devastating ice storm, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency has ruled the state does not qualify for assistance. The decision left Gov. Brad Henry’s office “dumfounded,” according to a spokesperson, who pointed to the 13,000 damage reports filed after the storm.

Yet the Republican Inhofe, Oklahoma’s senior senator, told a Tulsa radio station there was not enough damage to qualify for FEMA help. He also claimed people have been given enough assistance. In other words, Oklahomans with severe property damage will have to tough it out.

Another Republican, U.S. Rep. John Sullivan, told the Tulsa World “careful scrutiny” is needed when it comes to helping people who suffered heavy damages, according to a media report.

Essentially, unless someone steps up, the state’s congressional delegation is once again doing nothing for Oklahomans. Sure, the state gets to boast it is home to conservative ideologues and blowhards like Inhofe and U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, but forget about them actually doing anything for the state when it needs help.

This is a perfect example of how Oklahomans continue to vote against their own interests. It is simply bewildering that so many of the state’s residents do not think they are good enough to elect representatives who will actually help them during a crisis or work for better wages and health coverage. The next ice storm may do $20,000 damage to YOUR house. Will your homeowner insurance cover it?

The storm killed 29 people, knocked out power to 640,000 homes and businesses, and some 13,000 damage reports have been filed, according to the governor’s office, but Inhofe wants to deny the state help. He will go out of his way to help big energy companies gouge consumers for profits, of course, but he will not raise a finger to help Oklahomans repair their homes because of a freak storm.

Fortunately, the state has a wonderful, competent governor who will fight the decision, and maybe other leaders in the state’s Democratic Party—U.S. Rep. Dan Boren certainly comes to mind—can also pressure FEMA to change its decision. But with the eccentric Inhofe claiming Oklahomans are not “entitled” to get help from a controversial, politicized federal agency, it will be an uphill battle.

Another Tax Plan For Oklahoma’s Wealthy?

Image of Lance Cargill

Eliminating some unwarranted tax credits and exemptions may be a worthy endeavor, but promising an income tax cut based on it without really knowing what should and should not be cut is irresponsible. Oklahomans deserve better, but they are not going to get it this legislative session.

Oklahoma’s House Republicans, led by Speaker Lance Cargill of Harrah, pictured right, announced this week they would try this upcoming legislative session to cut just over a quarter percent on the income tax rate to just under 5.25 percent, according to a media report.

The money would be offset by eliminating some tax exemptions and credits, according to Cargill. He said this would make the action revenue neutral. Under this logic, eliminating tax exemptions and credits would not raise taxes—the legislature must pass tax increases by three quarters of a vote—because the income tax cut would replace the increases. A scheduled reduction in Oklahoma’s income tax rate will not go into effect as planned because of a lack of decent growth in state revenues.

At least one Democrat, state Rep. Joe Dorman (D-Rush Springs), disagrees with Cargill on the revenue neutral issue, but the real problem here is that Cargill has no real plan, only the same hollow Republican rhetoric we have heard for years and years in this state.

Here are the obvious questions: What particular tax credits and exemptions will be eliminated? Will the elimination of these credits and exemptions primarily affect middle-class or wealthy people? (Because this is a GOP initiative, I would bet the elimination of credits and exemptions will take away money primarily from middle-class people.) Should recent reports showing declining revenues make legislators from both parties, as Gov. Brad Henry has argued, use “extreme caution” when considering tax cuts this year? Should the recent slowdown in the national economy and the housing market crisis affect tax legislation this year?

The point here is Cargill and the GOP and their propaganda ministry, The Daily Oklahoman, need to be upfront and specific about any tax proposal so people know what is going on, and Oklahomans need to stop selling away adequate funding for education and other important segments of state government for the brief, one-time Wal-Mart sprees they get when the legislature cuts taxes. The state’s wealthiest people have benefited the most from recent tax cuts, and they are almost certain to benefit the most again if Cargill and the GOP have their way.

Does the Oklahoma tax system need comprehensive changes? Would it help people here and the overall economy to eliminate the income tax and raise taxes elsewhere? (Texas, for example, has no income tax, but has higher property taxes.) That may or may not be so, but arguing for a supposed revenue neutral tax cut without fully researching the issue is irresponsible and shows again why Oklahoma has poor fiscal leadership under the Republican House majority.

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