After watching the Oklahoma House debate and then pass future income tax cuts for 2015 and 2016 on Wednesday, I almost have to wonder if Republicans haven’t intentionally placed a poison pill in the legislation through the process of logrolling.
The overall GOP argument for the cuts-basically, let’s cut taxes to make businesses locate here-was as vague and sloganeering as it gets and lacked any real, accepted empirical evidence beyond right-wing distortions and wishful thinking. The overall, rhetorical defense of the tax cut on Wednesday lacked basic conviction.
Meanwhile, the tax-cut legislation, according to Republican state Rep. Scott Martin, a Norman Republican, does “two fantastic things.” (Note the word “two.”) Those two things: (1) It cuts the top income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 5 percent in 2015 and then, perhaps, to 4.85 percent in 2016 if revenues go up enough to pay for the cut, (2) and it provides $120 million funding for repairs of the state Capitol building, two diametrically opposed initiatives.
The process of adding unrelated subjects to legislation in an attempt to circumvent the democratic process is called logrolling, and it’s unconstitutional here in Oklahoma. No matter how the Oklahoma Supreme Court eventually rules on this legislation, Republicans by their own admission and rhetoric have clearly separated it into two-shall we count it again, two, two subjects in one–different initiatives. It seems, forgive the word play, almost “two” obvious.
How many Republican legislators were willing to buck the bullying of the GOP leadership and vote no, either because they oppose the tax cut or the immediate allocation of money to repair the crumbling Capitol building? To be sure, seven Republicans did stand up, but in the end the vote was 65 to 35 to approve the measure, and now Gov. Mary Fallin will sign House Bill 2032 into law.
Fallin and the rest of the GOP leadership had to know the legislation would eventually face a constitutional challenge in the courts because it contains more than one subject so their overall reasoning deserves any speculation it can muster. Either they intentionally poisoned the legislation knowing it would never become law or, probably more likely, they’re simply rolling the judicial dice, knowing they can always come back next legislative session and pass the same or even larger tax cut for 2015.
Either way, Republicans can proudly say they passed a tax cut in 2013, which seemed to be the main purpose of the legislation, anyway, since no cut would go into effect until 2015. Remember, there’s still the next legislative session to undo or revise the whole thing. The entire GOP tax-cut spectacle this session could easily become meaningless next year.
This arcane political process means little or nothing to most ordinary Oklahomans. More than 40 percent of them won’t even get a tax cut under the legislation, and the average cut is only $88 annually. Those with the highest incomes fare much better, of course, because it’s a flat, regressive income tax cut. This is absolutely a tax cut for Oklahoma’s wealthiest citizens, though Fallin insists it “will let Oklahoma families keep more of their hard-earned money.” Well, frankly, governor, only some Oklahoma families, and it isn’t much money at all.
Meanwhile, the 2015 and 2016 tax cuts would cut $237 million from state revenues after a time period of drastic budget cuts to education. The proposed state budget, released yesterday, doesn’t even begin to address inadequate education funding in Oklahoma.
On the brighter side of Wednesday’s action, House Democrats held together and voted unanimously against the tax cut, and state Rep. Scott Inman, a Del City Democrat and the House minority leader, delivered the day’s most passionate and intelligent remarks about the issue.
Here’s to Inman, and his “it’s important” speech. It’s difficult to rouse energy and compassion in one losing cause after another in one of the reddest states in the country, something this blog has tried to do for nearly 10 years now. Inman gives us inspiration to keep up the progressive fight.