As the 2013 legislative session approaches, I recognize that advice to legislators from a former legislator is probably about as welcome as a lump of coal in your Christmas stocking. Regardless, here goes ...
Think big. Address the infrastructure crisis in this state — roads, highways and bridges as well as new construction and long-overdue repairs to our state facilities, such as the Capitol. This also includes our growing structural needs in higher education. Pass a large bond issue, at least $1 billion, to be paid for over 10 to 15 years. It would create thousands of jobs.
At least three sources of money are available to amortize the bond issue: part of the $560-plus million in the Rainy Day Fund; growth revenues; a small increase in the tobacco tax. About 25 cents per pack would fund the bond issue and drive down the tobacco addiction among young people who are motivated by price, not health concerns.
Most importantly, tell your voters what the bond issue will fund and they will support you. Former Oklahoma City Mayor Ron Norick should be your model in this effort. He asked voters to raise taxes multiple times and told them what it would buy. Look at the city now! Also, bond interest rates have never been lower; Oklahoma's current indebtedness is so small that we've been criticized for not taking care of our capital needs.
With strong growth revenues, throw a little money at education. Current funding for our public schools is $225 million in real dollars below fiscal year 2007, yet the schools are trying to educate 45,000 additional students compared with five years ago. Ninety-five percent of Oklahoma kids go to public schools. Surprise us and fund our schools first!
Avoid a protracted fight over whether to further cut the personal income tax by closing exemptions, credits and loopholes to pay for it. You won't eliminate enough of the tax credit giveaways to make a big difference in the income tax rate. Combined state and local taxes put Oklahoma in the bottom three states in the country. Why erode it further?
Ignore the extremists in both parties. There isn't a “left” left in Oklahoma to worry about. Conversely, ignore the extremists on the right who forced lawmakers and Gov. Mary Falllin to send back $54 million in federal tax money to fund a state health care exchange. Make it work for our 670,000 citizens without health insurance. Quit sending our federal tax dollars to other states!
Listen to smart people, starting with state Treasurer Ken Miller.
Hobson, of Lexington, spent 28 years in the Legislature and was Senate president pro tem from 2003 to 2005.