Another Tax Plan For Oklahoma’s Wealthy?

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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.


Cargill Should Clear Air On Checks

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House Speaker Lance Cargill (R-Harrah) should explain why campaign checks were diverted from the Oklahoma Republican Party to the Oklahoma County Republican Party in 2004.

Cargill’s refusal so far to do so is the type of insider behavior that makes an increasing number of people believe our political system is beyond repair. Money rules; ordinary people have no voice. This is a non-partisan issue. State Democrats have had their share of money-related scandals in the past. But if Cargill insists on remaining silent and playing political games with the issue, the state GOP will suffer credibility problems.

According to media reports, the Oklahoma Ethics Commission is apparently investigating a state GOP fundraising effort in 2004. Twelve checks totaling more than $33,000 intended to go to the state GOP instead ended up at the Oklahoma County Republican Party. Some of those who wrote the checks say they have no problem with it. Others claim they wanted the state party to get the money.

In any event, former House Speaker Todd Hiett indicated Cargill was the person who solicited the money in 2004 for the Republicans. Cargill has remained silent, except to deny any wrongdoing to the media. Fine. But how and why did the checks get diverted to the county GOP? Who did it? Surely, he has some idea. If not, then why not? Cargill now has a history of not sharing pertinent information. He initially refused, for example, to divulge the names of the financial contributors who bankrolled his 100 Ideas scheme to frame the state’s future with Republican ideology.

On the surface, this may seem minor as scandals go in these heady days of massive political corruption, but Cargill owes it as House Speaker and a leading state Republican to clear up this mess forthrightly as soon as possible.

The larger issue here is that ordinary people without the financial resources to “pay to play” have no voice in the political process. And even if you do contribute a small sum, can you be sure the money will be used as intended? Even the nation’s worst newspaper, The Daily Oklahoman, which serves as the propaganda ministry for local Republicans, wants answers from Cargill.


The Ideology Before The Horse

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Cargill To Teachers: Go To Texas

The faulty logic in House Speaker Lance Cargill’s merit pay ideas for teachers is this: It completely ignores the fact Oklahoma continues to lag behind the nation in teachers’ salaries.

Cargill (R-Harrah) is putting his ideology before the horse. Any proposal that substantially changes the amount of money teachers are paid in this state should acknowledge Oklahoma has paid its teachers some of the lowest salaries in the nation for years and years. We need to catch up to or surpass national averages in teacher salaries before we tinker with an underfunded system.

Merit pay for teachers should be off the table until Cargill (pictured right) and the rest of the legislature make an even larger commitment to education in Oklahoma. Too often, Cargill and his fellow Republicans give hollow lip service to improving educational opportunities for Oklahomans as they work behind the scenes to starve the system of needed funding.

According to Cargill’s public relations firm, The Daily Oklahoman, the legislator “said he has given his last teacher pay raise without individual merit being considered in the increase considerations” (“Lawmakers want to know if teacher pay proposal is an idea with merit,” August 14, 2007). So there, teachers. Lance has spoken. On Tuesday, Cargill announced he would conduct an eight-week study on the issue. This “study” will include a series of orchestrated hearings designed to support Cargill’s ideas about merit pay.

Cargill’s blunt comments and the fact he would not allow an Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) official to attend Tuesday’s political stunt do not bode well for teachers. OEA is the primary teachers’ organization in the state.

In an ideal world, a merit pay system for teachers might work here. But, unfortunately, Oklahoma has major education funding problems. Until those problems are solved, the concept is wrong for a state that loses quality teachers each year to other states, especially Texas.

Willa The Winner

Democratic candidate Willa Johnson deserves kudos for her victory in Tuesday’s Oklahoma County Commissioner election. She will now face Republican Forest Claunch in a September 11 election.

Democrats need to pull together over the next few weeks to make sure Johnson wins the seat. Those who supported Debbie Blackburn, a former legislator, should now put all their wonderful energy and campaign skills into Johnson’s campaign. Blackburn received 2,039 votes, less than one hundred votes than Johnson’s total of 2,119.

Johnson is running for the District 1 seat once held by Jim Roth, who was recently appointed to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission by Gov. Brad Henry.