Oklahoma politics has long seemed incredulous under Republican dominance, but it reached a new level of weirdness early this week.
On Monday, Gov. Mary Fallin signed her highly-touted tax cut into law amid the usual GOP rhetoric about people keeping their “hard earned” money and joyful predictions of a stampede of new businesses and skilled workers soon to flood the state. This is just GOP code for what the bill really does, which is this: It rewards the wealthiest Oklahomans with a tax cut through an irresponsible decrease in state revenue.
Also, on Monday, Fallin signed a measure into law that raises fees for driver’s licenses by $12 making it all a net financial decrease for many of the approximately 40 percent of Oklahomans who won’t even qualify for the tax cut. Under the law, the top income tax rate would drop from 5.25 percent in 2015 and then to 4.85 percent in 2016 if there are available revenues to cover the cut.
Meanwhile, an Oklahoma City attorney, Jerry Fent, has announced he plans to sue the state over the tax cut measure, House Bill 2032, because he argues it contains more than one subject, which is unconstitutional in Oklahoma. The bill provides for the tax cut and $120 million in repairs to the state Capitol building. This could be considered log rolling, a political technique used to sway legislators to vote on a bill even though they stand against one component of it.
So let’s get this straight: Fallin and GOP leaders are making hoopla over a tax cut that doesn’t even give a break to some 40 percent of Oklahomans and might not even go into effect anyway because of a lawsuit. The hike in the basic driver’s license fee and other licenses’ fees under Senate Bill 652 would mean thousands of Oklahomans are actually paying more, not less, to the state.
But that basic reality didn’t stop the GOP propaganda machine, which was in full throttle Monday. Here’s Fallin in a press release issued by her office about the tax-cut bill signing:
One of the first questions I get when I am talking to business owners throughout the country is, ‘if I come to Oklahoma, are you going to raise my taxes?’ Passing a significant and responsible tax cut will help us to recruit these businesses and retain the ones we already have. Our tax cut will ultimately lead to more job opportunities for all Oklahomans.
Is that really one of the first questions she gets from business owners? Does the state even need businesses that are owned by people fixated on getting out of paying taxes?
Fallin called the tax cut “responsible” in her remarks, but the responsible approach would have been to delay a cut until the economy has fully recovered and then, with interest rates at historic lows, authorize a bond interest to fix the state Capitol building.
House Speaker T.W. Shannon, a Lawton Republican, had his say, too.
The way you grow an economy is by letting hard working people keep more of their hard earned money. Oklahoma has proven this conservative principle to be true over the past 15 years. By lowering the income tax rate, we are attracting skilled and educated workers to our state and making Oklahoma a leader in business and economic growth.
What is Shannon talking about when he refers to the past 15 years? Prior tax cuts that mean the state remains dead last on a regional basis in per pupil funding and has some of the nation’s worst medical outcomes? The state’s new-age dependency on the federal government for its sustenance and viability? The fact state workers haven’t had an across-the-board raise in six years? What we do know for sure is that the Great Recession beginning in 2008 devastated state revenues, the state has not fully recovered and education funding has taken the brunt of the hit. That’s not disputable, and that’s five of Shannon’s 15 glory years right there.
The average tax cut per person is $81 annually, but it would collectively cost the state budget $136 million in 2015 and then more than $230 million in 2016 if that year’s tax cut does take effect, according to estimates. The $81 average is a bit misleading. The bulk of the cut goes to the wealthiest Oklahomans, who will see an average cut of $2,031 annually, according to the Oklahoma Policy Institute. OK Policy estimates 41 percent of Oklahomans won’t get any break, people with incomes from $19,500 to $36,400 would only get a $9 reduction annually, and, overall, the bottom 60 percent of income earners will receive only 9 percent of the cut.
But don’t think the GOP isn’t thinking about the poverty-stricken here. On Monday, Shannon also announced that Fallin had signed into law his House Bill 1908, which uses money from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds to pay for a public service campaign promoting marriage. In other words, the GOP is taking money away from a program that helps impoverished people to tell them they need to get married.
So the class warfare waged by Republicans here continues.