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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Russell Unveils Anti-LGBT Agenda In Washington

While the Oklahoma budget crisis and the last-minute legislative shenanigans by conservatives dominated the news recently here, U.S. Rep. Steve Russell was stirring up his own pot of right-wing extremism in Washington, D.C.

Russell, a Republican who represents Oklahoma’s 5th congressional district, is trying to get an amendment inserted into the defense bill that would allow contractors to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people because of religious beliefs. His efforts have apparently generated much controversy and acrimony among his colleagues.

The amendment, itself, seems innocuous. It states the federal government when doing business with religious organizations must comply with sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the American Disabilities Act of 1990. The Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on religion, and the American Disabilities Act allows religious organizations to hire employees based on shared religious beliefs.

In other words, Russell is trying sneak around the 2014 executive order issued by President Barack Obama, which does the opposite of the amendment. The executive order prohibits federal contractors from discriminating against the LGBT community.

According to a published report, U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat from New York, had this to say about Russell’s amendment: “This is about bigotry, plain and simple.” Other Democrats and organizations also oppose the amendment.

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Pruitt Sues Feds . . . Again

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt continues to waste state resources and energy on suing the federal government.

In addition, many of our state legislators can find it within their ideological spheres to slash funding to Oklahoma colleges and universities by nearly 16 percent while at the same time supporting Pruitt in his anti-federal government outrages. It’s an obvious case of misplaced priorities, or maybe it’s just ideological myopia.

Pruitt’s latest sideshow, as Oklahoma faces a major financial crisis, is joining other states and other entities in suing the Obama administration for essentially stating the obvious that students should be allowed to use the restroom and dressing room facilities of the gender with which they identify at their schools.

Some other plaintiffs in the case include Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Louisiana, Utah, Georgia, the governor of Maine and the Arizona Department of Education.

Oklahoma legislators passed a bill at the end of last session supporting the lawsuit after a measure failed that would force schools to provide other accommodations to students who didn’t want to share facilities with transgendered students based on religious beliefs. The Oklahoman editorial board Sunday also praised the lawsuit as the “best way” for the state to respond to federal guidance on the issue.

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