By Rep. Mike Sanders
A group of business and civic leaders recently announced a combination of reforms and revenue measures they call the Step Up Oklahoma plan. Their hope is to eliminate abuse and waste in state government while raising revenue to pay for a $5,000 teacher pay raise and to fund what they consider to be core services for the state of Oklahoma.
The group behind this plan met with the governor and legislative leaders over the past several weeks. The group includes many corporate leaders as well as several large newspaper publishers as well as television and radio station owners. The plan is similar one released by the state chamber late last year.
The plan includes many reform measures, including these that I really like:
- Increase teacher pay by $5,000;
- Revise the state budget to reflect accurate numbers (all revenue sources and all expenditures – not just appropriated amounts under the purview of the Legislature);
- Establish a budget stabilization fund that would be structured similarly to an endowment where the income generated could be used to cushion the budget during economic downturns;
- Give the governor direct appointment power over the largest state agencies;
- Create an independent budget office to assist with eliminating waste.
Other suggested reforms:
- Modify term limits for lawmakers;
- Lower the supermajority required to raise revenue;
- Make the governor and lieutenant governor running mates;
- Change the process to fill Supreme Court vacancies;
- Allow voters to decide the structure of each county’s government – home rule.
Revenue-raising measures in this proposal:
- Raise the tax on cigarettes, little cigars, chewing tobacco and e-cigarettes;
- Raise gross production tax on oil and gas wells; impose a new tax on wind energy;
- Increase the price of motor fuels;
- Eliminate certain income tax deductions and loopholes and reform the tax code;
- Expand taxable gaming activities;
I want to express my appreciation and thanks to these community leaders for being willing to help Oklahoma come out of its recent recession and address budget reform. Their plan is certainly ambitious.
It must be noted that this plan could not proceed as one package deal. Several measures require constitutional changes and thereby a vote of the people through individual state questions. Another concern would be the state Supreme Court’s recent rulings on logrolling – legislation that contains more than one issue. Typically, appropriations bills are allowed to proceed under the one-topic rule, but combining revenue measures with reforms could pose a legal challenge.
I’ve talked to many lawmakers and they have concerns with measures such as the ones that remove income tax exemptions or that would raise personal income tax rates. Redoing county and municipal government under a home rule structure also brings concerns.
Oklahoma has 101 duly elected representatives and 48 senators in our state Legislature. Each represents a varied body of constituents. There has to be room for negotiation and give and take. We certainly will be reviewing this plan over the next few weeks. I’ll keep you posted on our work.