Lawmakers are bracing for five marathon days of madness, dire predictions, back hallway deals, unmet promises, abandonment, and furious constituents on every side of every appropriation scheme.
This set of barriers has led many creative legislators and special interest groups to advocate for creative ways to increase taxes through gutting any built-in protections, set-asides, thresholds, or other considerations for the poor, disabled, elderly, or disadvantaged classes.
Lawmakers will no doubt feel besieged by lobbyists, neighbors back home, and even calls from business clients or distant relatives may be arranged by manipulative state contractors.
This may also be the biggest week for campaign donations to legislators who mostly have to file for the next election in less than 11 months.
Why Tax Increases Will Not Pass
by Rep. John Bennett
There has been much talk this year at the Capitol about the need to raise taxes to fill a budget gap of about $878 million from what was appropriated last year.
The governor would fill the gap by enacting the largest tax increase in modern history – an increase of about $1 billion dollars. The Democrats would do the same.
It’s important Oklahomans hear the truth about why neither plan will be adopted.
In the 1980s, the state went through a major oil bust, and the Legislature at the time, Democrat-heavy, tried to fix the problem by adopting a bunch of tax increases. The people, with State Question 640, put a stop to this. The question amended the state Constitution, making it law that taxes could only be increased in one of two ways: by a vote of the people on a state ballot or by approval of three-fourths (3/4) of the membership of the state House and Senate. Most states require only a majority vote to raise taxes, some require a 2/3 vote, but Oklahomans set the bar as high as possible, showing they had no stomach for continued tax increases.
Since 1992, the Legislature has not raised taxes with a 3/4 vote. In 2004, State Question 713 passed with only 53 percent of voters approving an increase in the tobacco tax. In 2005, State Question 723 would have increased fuel taxes, was defeated with 87 percent of Oklahomans voting against it. In November, 2016, voters rejected by about 18 percent State Question 779, which would have given teachers a pay raise and added to higher education coffers.
While most Republicans, including myself, are generally opposed to tax increases, the real reason we are not likely see a significant tax increase has less to do with which party is in charge and everything to do with the people’s requirement of a 3/4 vote.
Even if every single member in a party and their district supported the same specific tax increase – which has yet to happen – neither party will ever likely have 76 members in the House. The Republicans have 72 members in the House right now. In addition, regardless of who is in charge, a minority party rarely supports a majority party in these matters.
Before pro-tax groups and the governor criticize the Legislature for not having the votes to raise taxes, they should remember their proposed tax increases would not pass a vote of the people by 75 percent, so neither should they expect the people’s elected representatives to pass a tax increase by 75 percent of the vote.
From 2010 to 2017, Republicans have controlled the three branches of state government, having inherited the structures of bureaucracy, taxation and bankrupted pension funds created by more than 100 years of Democrat control.
Add to that, the downturn in the economy that created budget shortfalls in 33 states. States like Oklahoma are tightening their belt just like their citizens and private businesses have to do.
Oklahomans also deserve to be told the amount of total dollars that run our government. Last year, it was more than $24 billion. The Legislature appropriates only about $6 billion to $7 billion of that.
Many Oklahomans would like to have more money to spend in core areas like education, public health, transportation, and public safety, to at least keep up with demand on those services. But we get that through a growing economy that increases as demand increases, not through raising taxes on our citizens.
Voters in 1992 made it clear they were tired of government pickpocketing from their families. They required the government to live within its means unless they approve a new tax for themselves. That’s what we’re being forced to do.