Counting Every Penny

The Oklahoman recently published an editorial written by Oklahoma House of Representatives Speaker-elect Charles McCall (R-Atoka), in which he states that before the legislative sessions starts in February, the House will hold budget hearings for the top five appropriated state agencies. (He doesn't mention which agencies, but they are Education, Health, Human Services, Public Safety, and Transportation.) McCall also appears to want these hearings to be group participation activities, stating:

These hearings will take place in the House chamber, allowing every member of the House to attend and ask questions. In addition, the public will be encouraged to attend. When hearings are scheduled, a meeting notice with the date and time will be added to the House website at www.okhouse.gov.

Now, we're big supporters of public involvement and we certainly believe that the state budget deserves a close examination every year,  but we're rather disappointed that these hearings are only looking at spending and, yet again, ignoring income.  His decision to examine appropriations to five state agencies completely ignores (and arguably distracts from) the fact our state doesn't have a spending problem, we have a revenue problem. Everyone wants a larger piece of the pie, and rather than trying to slice it differently, we need to be looking at how to make the entire pie larger. 

{ Hey look, the proportions are the same AND all the slices got bigger! }

McCall's analogy of the legislature deciding about funding agencies like a mother who is forced to choose between buying healthy vegetables or face another week of PB&J sandwiches is not just overly simplistic (and sexist), it completely disregards any consideration of how much money is coming into the household and what other non-food expenses the woman may have. To better reflect the reality of how our legislature handles Oklahoma's budget, perhaps we should compare it to a man who complains he doesn't have enough money because he refuses to go pick up his paycheck from his employer (and then keeps spending what little money he does have on beef jerky and orange soda). 

If Oklahoma is going to experience growth and prosperity, we have got to talk about taxes. The only source of income our government has is from taxes, and yet some of the good folks at 23rd & Lincoln still believe that we can cut taxes year after year and somehow have more money. Think about that for a second - if someone said to you "If I give you less money, you'll actually have more money," you'd say they were delusional. It's not getting any cheaper to operate this state - the cost of everything has gone up. Roads, healthcare, pensions, copy paper, Capitol repairs - all these things cost money, and a million dollars doesn't buy as much as it did 10 years ago. (There are 50,000 more students in Oklahoma schools than there were in 2008, but we're spending $175 million less on education. How is that a good idea?)

Listen, I don't want to pay any more taxes than you do, but I'm okay with paying my fair share. And based on the conversations I've had with friends, family, and folks at the Capitol, it seems like most people agree. Most folks think that corporations should pay their fair share, too. People should be rewarded for doing a good job, but let's not go overboard. Call me crazy, but maybe companies shouldn't receive millions in tax credits and incentives even when they're making hundreds of millions in profits. 

So, what can you do? First of all, talk to your state representatives and senators. They need (and want) to hear from you. Ask them questions like:

  • "Will you move to stop future income tax cuts until the state economy has time to fully recover?
  • "Why does Oklahoma have the lowest gross production tax rate in the country? Will you propose restoring the gross production tax rate to 7 percent?"
  • "Why do we give money to energy companies for wells that don't produce anything?"
  • "Did you know that nearly 1 in 4 children in Oklahoma live in poverty? What are you doing to reduce the gap between rich and poor Oklahomans?"
  • "What are you doing to ensure that schools in my district have enough money to provide my children with the education and experience they deserve?"
  • "Will you stand up for what is right for Oklahoma, even if your party's leadership asks you to vote otherwise?"
  • "What's your favorite kind of cookie?"

(Throw that last one in there just to mess with them...and also as a reminder that they're people, too, who also pay taxes and have families and have to live in this state with us. Plus it's helpful to know what kind of cookie to send them as a thank-you for standing up for what's right, even when that's politically unpopular.)

Once they announce the date(s) of the budget hearings, we'll share the information on Facebook and Twitter