By Rep. Mike Sanders
The legislative session started Feb. 6 with the governor giving her budget plan in her State of the State address.
There were some positives in the governor’s proposal; however, there were plenty of tax policy questions that give me some heartburn.
The governor would do away with the grocery tax, calling it the “the most regressive tax on the books today.” She said this would save the average family of four between $350 and $676 a year. While this certainly sounds appealing, I would want to see the impact this would have on our local municipalities. Giving a family a savings on one hand and removing services on the other may not be the kind of help we want or need.
The governor also would do away with the corporate income tax, calling this “one of the most volatile sources of revenue” for the state. This idea has some merit, and I will aggressively look at all options of this.
The governor would offset these cuts by increasing taxes in other areas. One plan is to increase the gas and diesel fuel tax, with the money going straight to the state Transportation Department
This would remove the department’s funding from the state’s General Fund. I have some real concern with this. Granted, we do have one of the lowest gas and diesel tax rates in the country. However, being from rural district, I have some grave concerns with our family farmers and ranchers who would bear the burden of this.
I would be more in favor of moving all current motor vehicle and gas and diesel fuel taxes to fund transportation, and take the income tax the department now relies on and put that into the General Revenue Fund. We can do this without raising fuel taxes.
The governor also is seeking to tax services that are not currently taxed, such as plumbing services, numerous bank transactions, cable television, pet grooming, haircuts and lawn service, to name a few from a very long list. Again, I have grave concerns with this and its effect on our rural residents.
The governor also revived her request from last year to increase the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $1.50. I can see the value of this if money would go toward health care services and toward efforts to get people to stop smoking. Any tax increase, though, would require a three-fourths majority vote in both the House and Senate.
I’ll be looking earnestly at the governor’s plan in the coming weeks, but I don’t want to put the burden of funding core government services solely on the backs of Oklahoma workers and families. We must pay some taxes to enjoy state services, but we also have to be responsible in spending taxpayer money. I will repeat a sentiment I express often: anyone who believes there’s no waste left in state government is naïve. Instead of making taxes higher, we need to be looking at ways to cut this waste, and we need to work to bring new businesses to our state that will employ more of our people – expanding our tax base.
As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.