By Rep. Mike Sanders
House Republican leadership this week announced a plan that was agreed upon with the Senate and the governor. In it, we gave Democrats much of what they asked for in their own plan. We brought this plan to a vote on the House floor Wednesday.
The plan included an increase of $1.50 on the tax on cigarettes, cigars and smokeless tobacco; 6 cents on gasoline and diesel; additional tax on 3.2 beer; and the restoration of the Earned Income Tax Credit for the state’s lowest income earners.
The speaker also generously offered to put a measure raising the gross production tax on oil and gas wells to 5 percent to a vote of the House if the first plan passed. This is something the Democrats have requested for months.
Money would go to fill the current budget hole that threatens to affect health care, mental health and human services for our state’s most vulnerable citizens as well as to fund a $3,000 teacher pay raise and a $1,000 pay raise for state employees.
This plan contains recurring revenue, which is something everyone has insisted upon for our state budget. While it does include some revenue increases, it does so only on the basis of consumption. In the case of fuel, the tax will be spread out among all consumers – from high to low income as well as from individuals to corporations. In the case of tobacco products or beer, the tax affects only those who consume these products.
I campaigned on the premise of keeping taxes low. When it comes to making decisions that could keep my rural hospitals and nursing homes open and provide needed services for children and the aging, I had to vote in favor of people first. They are my first priority.
The gasoline tax would have gone to fund roads and bridges. This is necessary and something that should have happened 20 years ago. The gasoline and diesel tax in Oklahoma has not been raised since 1987. We have one of the lowest taxes in the nation and the lowest in the region. About 40 percent of the gas and diesel tax is already paid by out of state visitors, and as I said above, this is a tax that could be spread evenly among all consumers.
The earned income tax credit is something I voted against removing in the first place, and I have advocated for its return. This credit is something President Ronald Reagan and former Gov. Frank Keating both championed. I’m honored to join these heroes of conservatism in support of this good cause.
Teacher and state employee pay raises are paramount. Out teachers have gone without an increase to the minimum state salary schedule since 2008, and state employees have been without a pay raise for 11 years. This is something everyone wants and supports.
This plan is not perfect; no compromise is; but it would have solved the state’s current revenue problems and put us on a more sustainable path toward the future as we continue the work of reforming our budget process and begin work to audit our state agency spending.
At the end of the day Wednesday, Republicans put up 75 percent of the votes needed to pass this package while every Democrats voted in a block against it, even though every item included is something they have asked for in past plans. It’s always been apparent, but now more than ever, Republicans will have to fix this budget problem brought by a national recession and a depression in oil and gas by ourselves. The question is, do they really want a solution? Their actions say otherwise.
One final reminder: not everything you read on social media is true. There is no accountability in that theater. Instead, if you have a question or concern, my door is always open. I always respond to my constituents. I always have and I always will.