April 18, 2017
by Dale Denwalt
A coalition of 20 organizations on Tuesday presented its Oklahoma budget wish list, which includes familiar ideas to raise revenue.
The Save Our State Coalition proposed raising the tax rate on oil and gas production to 7 percent, up from the current 2 percent rate that lasts for the first three years. The group's “Blueprint for a Better Budget” also would create a new income tax rate of 6 percent for income above $200,000.
The group's first news conference was Tuesday, where several high-profile state Capitol advocates and other groups presented the plan. Leaders of the Save Our State Coalition include policy groups, grassroots organizations and groups representing teachers and state employees.
The plan resembles House Democrats' “Restoring Oklahoma” offering, but the two aren't identical. The Democrats are asking for a gross production tax rate of 5 percent and would implement a steeper tax curve, raising the top income tax rate to 7 percent.
Both plans would enact taxes on some services. Save Our State calculates that Oklahoma could net more than $90 million by adding a tax on repairs, digital downloads, landscaping, surveying and seven other services.
The Democrats want to raise more than $290 million by taxing services.
The coalition members worry that without clear ways to fill an $878 million shortfall in the budget starting July 1, important social services could be affected. Sterling Zearley, executive director for the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, said the state has lost more than 4,000 employees since 2008.
“We simply cannot afford any more agency reductions,” Zearley said. “A majority of those cuts come from agencies where we desperately need more workers, not fewer.”
Oklahoma Policy Institute Executive Director David Blatt noted that several of the ideas have been supported by Democrats and GOP leadership.
The coalition's plan includes both revenue and expenditures. There is $300,000 for a teacher pay raise and millions more for public education. It includes enough money to cover rising costs of Medicaid.
Blatt said, however, that some details were left out.
“We didn't feel like it was our responsibility or our role to say, ‘This is exactly how many dollars needs to go to each priority,'” Blatt said.
It's uncommon for third-party groups to present their own detailed, comprehensive budget suggestions. State Rep. John Montgomery, R-Lawton, said he's never seen an outside group do that during his time at the Capitol.
“Honestly, I think as lawmakers we owe it to our constituents to listen to them,” Montgomery said.