State Won’t Process Same Sex Marriage Benefits

Image of Mary Fallin

Gov. Mary Fallin’s decision to prohibit the National Guard here from processing military benefits for same-sex couples is an embarrassment to the state and further damages Oklahoma’s national image.

It makes Oklahoma seem backwards and intolerant, hardly an image that can be used as a recruiting tool for new businesses and an educated workforce. It also makes Oklahomans seem mean-spirited and bigoted.

The decision, of course, was a political gesture, and this makes it even worse. Same-sex couples can sign up for benefits at federal facilities in Oklahoma so, in essence, Fallin is just making an anti-gay statement to pander to her ultra-conservative base of voters. If she can’t stop same-sex couples from getting benefits, at least she can inconvenience them, right? It’s ugly and petty.

The Pentagon recently announced same-sex couples in the military now qualify for the same benefits as heterosexual couples. The announcement came after a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that required the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages.

But a Fallin spokesperson, according to media reports, said a state constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage passed in 2004 means the state can’t process benefits for same-sex couples married legally in other states.

Fallin’s decision, however, raises the issue of the U.S. Constitution’s supremacy clause, which mandates that the states must follow federal laws. Is Fallin looking for another lawsuit that pits Oklahoma against the federal government upon which the state is so highly dependent for money?

Oklahoma is now one of four states that are refusing to process benefits for military same-sex couples. The other states are Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana, which also have laws banning same sex marriage.

The state’s drastic cuts to education in recent years, its high incarceration rates and political gestures like this most recent one by Fallin continue to do immense damage to the state’s national reputation.

What’s also clear is that it’s long past time for extremist right-wingers to give up the bigotry. Same-sex marriage is here to stay as more and more states incorporate equality into their legal frameworks. Oklahomans need to accept it.

SQ 766 Supporters Distort Impact

This pro-SQ 766 advertisement clearly distorts the measure’s impact.

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.

Extreme Weather Produces Extreme Politics

Image of Gov. Mary Fallin

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?

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