It was an eventful week at the Capitol, mostly compressed all into Monday. The historic StepUp Plan was presented on the House Floor. Only the tax raising aspects of it, all contained in one bill, HB 1033, was voted on. All the so-called “reforms,” set out in a variety of other bills, are still waiting to be heard. The morning was full of lobbyists, celebrities, retired politicians, the businessmen who put together this plan, and thousands of educators from around the state making the rounds giving their best shot on trying to convince Representatives on whatever their position was. I was visited by a very large contingency from Ottawa County, but not many others, I suppose because everybody knew where I stood - it is a horrible bill in many ways and a good bill in a few ways. That is what happens when a bunch of different things are all rolled into one bill, which constitutionally, can be done on revenue bills.
Since I am on the Committee that such bills have to pass through to get to the Floor (Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget or “JCAB”), I had already voted on it the week before. As much as I dislike most of the bill, I voted for it both times, simply because of the consequences of its failure. However, I also had concerns that if it passed, it would probably be a long time, perhaps decades, before anything else would be done in Oklahoma to undo the damage of the last decade of thoughtless tax cuts. In my last article, I discussed many of the problems with the bill, but could have written several more pages on that.
Interestingly, after that last article, I was attacked on social media by a constituent for voting for it - I voted for a tax increase. Yes, I did. I did not want to see our two medical schools shut down their Residency programs. Oklahoma already has one of the lowest ratios of doctors to population in the country and the problem is particularly worse in rural Oklahoma, i.e. my District. The statistics clearly show that Oklahomans are dying because of this doctor shortage. I do not want to force more Oklahoma teachers out of the State or out of the profession in order to make a living wage for their families.
I understand there are several people, several in my District, in fact, that want and regularly use schools and roads and law enforcement and colleges and a court system and prisons and mental health systems and hospitals and on and on, but simply do not want to pay for any of it. To those, while don’t argue your right to such beliefs, I will never be able to appease you. Yes, as that constituent urges you, vote for someone else. But the simple fact of the matter is, it is that belief that is destroying this State. Taxes are the cost of civilization and Oklahoma is rapidly becoming more like a third world country because for too long, too many legislators have shared that idea, let’s cut taxes and then we will figure out what we will do with what is left to provide services to the people.
I believe in an Oklahoma with a future. An Oklahoma where our children and grandchildren have a future. And to do that we have to raise our taxes. But more important than the rates of taxes is who bears the burden of those taxes, and therein was the basis of my problem with the StepUp Plan. The fact that it would be the largest tax increase in the history of the State bothered me but not as much as the fact that about three quarters of the increases were going to be paid by working and retired Oklahoma families and only one quarter paid by those that can most afford it, who happen to be the very same people and corporations that got the vast majority of the benefits from all the reckless tax cuts of the last decade.
Yes, StepUp would have raised a lot of money, but it would have spent all of it right away to avert catastrophes that are imminently facing the State. Since StepUP did not pass by the mandatory 75% of the House, we are still facing those imminent catastrophes AND lots of other long term systemic problems.
The Speaker now says that was it, our one and only shot that he was going to allow to be heard to address these problems. Five days into a four month long session and we will not make any other attempt to fix the problem, rather he will call to further cut funding to an already crippled State. That is nothing but irresponsible. If he changes his mind and allows talks to continue, I might offer a few suggestions: 1) negotiations actually means leaders from the different sides sit down and talk - together, not sending emissaries to do your bidding; please meet with the Democratic leadership and talk; 2) telling the other side what will and will not happen is not negotiating; and 3) in negotiations, both sides have to give a little and both sides have to get a little. The attitude of “What's mine is mine and only what's yours is negotiable” is not negotiations. What it will take to get every Democrat vote is pretty simple: some reasonable combination of a real and stable increase to the G.P.T., an increase of one quarter of one percent income tax on high income earners, restoring the Earned Income Tax Credit and a meaningful pay raise for teachers and other state employees.
Finally, on Monday it was my great pleasure and honor to introduce the State Championship, Class A Football, Afton Eagles on the House Floor. Because the gallery was packed, and there was no room for the team to sit there, the rule that we can only have eight people on the Floor for such presentations was waived, and we were able to have the entire team on the Floor. Coming off the Floor, who should they run into but Barry Switzer, who spent some time with the team? They then went over to the Senate side to be introduced there by Senator Bergstrom. Hopefully, it was a great experience for the boys. Job well done, and CONGRATULATIONS!