Democratic viewpoints on politics, policy and activism

Seeing the Light at the End of the Oklahoma Budget Debacle?

If more Oklahoma Republicans can be cured of their tax increase phobia, maybe we can get back to funding critical services in this state. Some real solutions are starting to be discussed at 23rd and Lincoln. Baby steps, but still!

Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer, but he also writes a regular guest column for The Journal Record. His latest op-ed addresses the foundational problem that has decimated our state’s budget in recent years: an out of date and unfair tax code.

In “Political spin, special interest cooks and future prosperity” (Behind paywall) Hamilton commends a handful of legislators who are trying to seriously review Oklahoma’x complex (and obviously broken) tax policies, and seek out solutions.

[I]t’s both notable and laudable that senators – led by Okemah’s Roger Thompson – took the first steps toward possible overhaul of a tax system that disproportionately burdens the working class and poor and undermines core state services whose funding is over-reliant on volatile revenue sources like oil and gas.

Noting how previous attempts to raise more revenue – like Gov. Fallin’s expanded service tax idea last year – have fizzled, optimism is not easy to come by, but the dire situation Oklahoma has in seems to have “woke” some Republicans to some realities that don’t mesh well with long-standing GOP dogma.

Thompson’s three-hour hearing this week served as a primer for senators of both parties seeking to better understand Oklahoma’s revenue picture. It also signaled that the Senate’s Republican majority has taken note of Kansas’ failed “trickle down” experiment – cutting taxes do not magically generate more income.

To me, that alone is cause for some ray of hope, but it’s a long way from the interim study currently underway and a supermajority required by State Question 640 to radically reform our tax code by changing rates and thus raising income taxes on high-earning groups. That will mean more than a handful of Republicans will have to recognize that “tax reform” doesn’t always mean cutting taxes for the wealthy and making the poor and middle class pick up the slack and suffer the effects of service cuts. Because, as Hamilton notes,

what helps create sustainable, predictable revenue streams to underwrite vital public services is a fairer, more broadly applied tax code that ensures the working class and poor have more to spend, the economy’s uber stimulant.

Slowly, it appears that this — the only real alternative to our current crisis — is getting through to those who make these decisions on our behalf. Perhaps the winning streak of reality-based Democrats in several recent special elections is playing a part in the new insights by the Republican majority.

We can hope!

What seems to Hamilton – and me – to be a very sane solution that will serve to tamp down Republican politicians’ nervousness about violating the Grover Norquist rule of polcymaking, is, yes, handing the job off to a bipartisan panel, an idea proposed recently by State Treasurer Ken Miller.

Such a group could tackle comprehensive reform – everything from income tax rates to sales taxes on services to gross production and motor fuel taxes – then present a plan for an up-or-down legislative vote.

That won’t be easy (thanks, Yes on SQ640 voters!) but can perhaps cushion the political pain for members of the majority running this state.

Because some of them are coming to the light and getting introduced to reality too. Hamilton quotes Miller, who, unlike some stubborn Norquist-bamboozled state legislators, reads the state’s books: “We need to have a modernization of our tax code,” he says. “It was built for an economy that doesn’t exist anymore.”

Ya think?!