Tax Credits and the Budget

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

Legislative leaders are hard at work trying to sway the governor on fiscal matters and hammer out a budget agreement for fiscal year 2011. The state faces a $1.2 billion shortfall and there are differences in how the Oklahoma Legislature and Gov. Brad Henry want to resolve the problem.

Various groups have visited the capital lately, trying to find ways to spare cuts to the state programs they represent. Some of them are calling for a broad elimination of tax breaks, saying the state “gives away” close to $5.6 billion annually through tax incentives, credits and reductions. However, the truth is that the “give away” figure includes your personal exemptions and standard or itemized deductions. The figure also includes exemptions on Social Security and most retirement benefits. In reality, only $256 million worth of tax credits have been targeted and most of those credits are designed to bring jobs to Oklahoma.

Lawmakers are reviewing these tax credits and do plan to dispose of any that have failed to produce jobs. I assure you that a broad elimination of tax breaks would be counterproductive and hurt families in Oklahoma. It is also clear that eliminating some tax credits will not be enough (in and of itself) to patch the budget hole. We need to apply common sense in government and make targeted cuts rather than look for a scapegoat to take the brunt of the hardships the shortfall has created.

Gov. Henry has signed Senate Bill 1940. The legislation is my sixth bill to become law. It will reduce the number of county bridge projects that require engineering plans and specifications from the county engineer, raising the threshold from $300,000 to $400,000. This will make it easier for county government to maintain local infrastructure by reducing the cost of smaller projects.

I was happy to greet a number of constituents at the Capitol recently. I was visited by Patrick Griffin of the Hennessey School Board, Hennessey optometrist Dr. John Smith, and Dr. David Jones of Woodward, who came up for a special screening put on by the Oklahoma Optometrists. Jeanne Martin, the director of the Fairview Chamber of Commerce, and Ken and Vicki Woods were here for Small Business Day at the Capitol.

I would like to congratulate Dr. Michael Talley, a physician at the Okeene Municipal Hospital who was appointed to the Physician Manpower Training Commission. Okeene can also take pride in its boys’ track team who under the excellent supervision of Coach Mike Jinkens won its first track title. Our district has had a powerhouse of competitors this year. I want to congratulate the Watonga track teams; the boys’ and girls’ teams have both captured state titles. The Lady Eagles earned their third crown in four years and the Eagles won their first state championship win since 2006. The Kingfisher girls’ golf team took their third straight 3A title, winning the state tournament by 61 strokes. Bethany Darrough won her second straight individual title, just barely overtaking her teammate, Whitney Weems. I offer my congratulations on their hard work and to their coach, Craig Patterson. I also want to congratulate the Okarche boys’ baseball team, who were runner-ups in the state tournament and the Hennessey girls’ and boys’ track teams for their third place finish. Not only do these student athletes excel on the field, track and golf course, but these fine young people excel in the classroom.

Jared Crain from Woodward was recently named a 2010 OSU Outstanding Senior. He is also a Fullbright Scholar and will be conducting research with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico.

I will keep you regularly updated on the activities of the Legislature through this column. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.

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