I’ve had several conversations with people about State Question 766, which, if approved by Oklahoma voters on Nov. 6, would exempt intangible property from taxes.
The above advertisement, which ends with a fear mongering distortion if not an outright lie, has made some people anxious that if SQ 766 isn’t passed their taxes will increase. That’s not true. If fact, if it IS passed, people who own property could see property tax increases and funding to schools will be cut.
SQ 766 is a measure that rewards big corporations, such as utility companies, with tax exemptions. Homeowners could pay for these exemptions because some millage taxation is mandatory—school bonds, for example—because of legal obligation. The taxation that isn’t legally mandatory will mean funding to schools and counties will be cut. Those cuts could even mean less funding to some fire departments and law enforcement agencies. One state school administrator argues education overall in the state will end up with a $33 million cut. Some have estimated the overall cost to local government entities as high as $68 million.
Fallin’s pro-SQ 766 advertisement claims, “We know it’s just plain wrong to tax things like teaching certificates, pensions and insurance policies.” Well, yes, it IS wrong, but those “things” will NOT be taxed as intangible property whether SQ 766 passes or not. The legislature, in fact, passed legislation, Senate Bill 1436, last session that ensures that is the case. The bottom line is this: Teaching certificates, pensions and insurance policies will NOT be taxed as part of your “property” whether SQ 766 passes or not. The advertisement is terribly misleading. Fallin has every right to support big utility companies over ordinary Oklahomans as part of the ongoing Republican agenda here and elsewhere, but this specific advertisement smacks of craven manipulation.
The history of the measure is somewhat involved, and I think this has made many people simply ignore it. Let me simplify it. The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that AT&T was not exempt from certain taxes on intangible property. The company—and I would suspect other big companies—started to press for a political resolution. As part of their approach they relied on a slippery slope argument about intangible taxes when, in fact, it was nothing more than another tax exemption for larger corporations. Thus, SQ 766 made it on the ballot.
The measure itself defines intangible property as including “patents, inventions, formulas, designs, and trade secrets; licenses, franchise, and contracts; land leases, mineral interests, and insurance policies; custom computer software; and trademarks, trade names and brand names.” Obviously, the measure’s language shows its main purpose is to give tax breaks to corporations.
Fallin’s argument in her advertisement that SQ 766 “would protect Oklahoma taxpayers” really only applies to the biggest corporations doing business and paying taxes in the state. So, essentially, the measure could raise property taxes on individual Oklahoma homeowners, according to some, to ensure more revenue for large corporations.
SQ 766 supporters are clearly hoping voters here will not take the time to study the question’s real impact and simply accept the governor’s word. It’s another ploy to manipulate low-information voters. That’s unfortunate, and it’s also unfortunate the anti-SQ 766 forces didn’t have the organizational power and money to launch a larger counter campaign.
If SQ 766 passes, according to many people, school funding will be cut and property taxes could increase for ordinary homeowners. Oklahomans will once again be increasing the revenues of big corporations under the misguided notion they are helping themselves.
It seems like for now Oklahoma Republicans are rejecting the disaster-cost ideology recently presented by a national GOP leader, but what about next year?
In a response to Hurricane Irene, which hit the East Coast about a week ago, U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, made the argument that federal money used in disaster response and relief should be offset by cuts in other parts of the federal budget. Cantor told Fox News:
There’s a federal role; yes we’re going to find the money, we’re just going to need to make sure that there are savings elsewhere to continue to do so.
His comments drew praise from former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown, but U.S. Rep. David Price, a Democrat from North Carolina and a member of a Homeland Security appropriations subcommittee, called the comments “abhorrent.”
Meanwhile, Oklahoma faced its own weather-related disaster last week in the form of wildfires that destroyed a lot of property and disrupted many lives here. In contrast to Cantor’s position, Gov. Mary Fallin, a fellow Republican, made it clear that money wasn’t going to become the focus of the disaster-response operation.
According to NewsOK, Fallin said:
I want to make it perfectly clear that there is no holding back, of using National Guard personnel, helicopters based upon the financial cost. We will do whatever we have to do. We're not going to hold back on protecting families, on protecting homes and putting out the fires based upon costs.
Is Fallin, then, dismissing Cantor’s position?
As I wrote last February, Oklahoma ranks unusually high in FEMA disaster declarations. Without federal help in ensuring Oklahoma recovers from its annual litany of tornadoes, blizzards, ice storms and wildfires, would the state still even exist? That’s not hyperbole. Oklahoma has long been considered a receiver state that pays less in federal taxes than it receives back in federal money. The federal government, despite all the anti-government, Tea-Party rhetoric here, ensures Oklahoma’s viability and it always will.
Of course, Cantor’s comments were just typical political posturing, but they do expose a looming problem. As climate change produces more extreme weather events like hurricanes and wildfires, as scientists predict, how will government pay for disaster response and relief? His comments also provide a de facto litmus test for the new Republican Party. Will fellow Republicans, such as Fallin, have to cave in to extreme ideology that actually threatens the safety and welfare of citizens, in order to remain politically viable?
Fallin was right on the money with her comments, but will she retain her pragmatic position on disaster response? We’ve already seen her embrace right-wing extremism by refusing to accept federal money to help the state set up a health insurance exchange. That was a clear case of political gamesmanship. Will the state’s extreme weather become politicized as well?
Gov. Mary Fallin’s request for drought-relief prayers for Oklahoma was featured in a recent Salon.com article that noted a trend among Republican governors to leave it up to a higher power when it comes to weather disasters, including drought.
Here’s Fallin’s official statement:
I encourage Oklahomans of all faiths to join me this Sunday in offering their prayers for rain. For the safety of our firefighters and our communities and the well-being of our crops and livestock, this state needs the current drought to come to an end. The power of prayer is a wonderful thing, and I would ask every Oklahoman to look to a greater power this weekend and ask for rain.
Fallin’s statement follows a similar prayer request by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a prayer request that, well, according to the Salon.com article, just didn’t work.
But let’s hope Fallin is also praying the federal government doesn’t shut down because of GOP recalcitrance over raising the federal debt ceiling. As I’ve written before, Oklahoma ranks third, just behind Texas and California, in the number of declared disasters by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Without federal intervention, Oklahoma would probably be a desolate wasteland right now because of extreme weather, which includes the current potential for wildfires. What happens to FEMA funding in a government shutdown?
Let’s also hope Fallin is praying that Oklahoma’s U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, the nation’s leading political opponent of climate-change science, finds some higher guidance and drops his campaign against scientists who warn about the effects of global warming. No one weather event can be tied to global warming, true, but is this incessant summer heat part of a pattern? It deserves scientific scrutiny. Dr. Bruce Prescott, who blogs at Mainstream Baptist, has an interesting take on this issue from a religious perspective.
Fallin’s request is basically harmless, of course, but “the power of prayer” can’t make up for glaring political contradictions and pandering to big energy companies at the expense of the environment.