Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin on Monday called on the Legislature to cut the state's highest income tax rate by 0.25 percent and recommended that lawmakers cut most state agencies' budgets by 5 percent to help pay for it.
“I believe responsibly lowering the income tax is the right thing to do,” Fallin said during her State of the State address. “Let's take this opportunity to show our country that lower taxes and limited government do work.”
Fallin said she knows her request for 5 percent cuts in most agency budgets will cause some to proclaim the sky is falling.
“But guess what? It's not,” Fallin said. “Any business worth its … salt can find 5 percent cost savings without crippling the services it provides. Families have to make the same decisions and the same choices all the time.”
Fallin used some of the most colorful language in her speech to call for a bond issue to repair the state Capitol, which is crumbling both outside and within its walls and plumbing systems.
“This building has become a safety hazard,” the governor said. “The yellow barriers outside are an eyesore, and it's an embarrassment. ... The water stains that you see on the walls downstairs? I have bad news for you. That's not just water. It's raw sewage. It's literally leaking down into our basement. On the ‘good' days, our visitors and employees can only see the disrepair in our Capitol. On bad days, you actually smell it.”
The governor's executive budget calls for a $120 million bond issue for Capitol repairs and would appropriate $7.68 million for the first year's debt service.
Fallin also is asking the Legislature to:
• Consolidate several state agencies.
• Continue to fight Obamacare expansion.
• Allow patrons of local school districts to vote to raise their schools' debt limits to pay for tornado shelters and other public safety improvements.
Fallin's speech drew profuse praise from Republican legislative leaders and caustic criticism from their Democratic counterparts.
“I thought the governor gave an excellent speech — good content,” Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said. “We're certainly supportive of that.”
“This was a speech that was heavy on politics and light on policy,” countered Scott Inman, House Democratic leader. “If you're a state trooper today, if you're a teacher today, if you're a firefighter, if you're involved in state government at all, this was not a good speech for you, because on the whole, most of you are going to take a cut.”
Inman said the governor's proposed tax cut would primarily help the highest paid 1 percent of Oklahoma's population.
The governor cited an expected $170 million anticipated shortfall in next fiscal year's general appropriations budget as necessitating the state agency budget cuts but recommended that a few agencies be spared and even granted increases.
The Education Department, Department of Human Services, Department of Public Safety and Corrections Department would be among the budget winners.
“Good education requires appropriate funding,” Fallin said. “That's why I am proposing a $50 million increase to help students at our K-12 schools.”