Only two proposals remain to cut personal income tax in Oklahoma

The Oklahoma House of Representatives doesn't take up three Senate income tax-cutting bills. House Democrats, meanwhile, warn that the state can't afford reducing a key source of revenue, especially as natural gas prices continue to decline.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Published: April 27, 2012

The House failed to take up three Senate personal income tax-cutting bills by Thursday's deadline, meaning legislators will have two proposals to consider before the session ends late next month that call for reducing and gradually eliminating the tax.

The two remaining bills, which include a proposal from Republican Gov. Mary Fallin, call for a cut next year in the top personal income tax rate ranging from 0.3 percentage points to 1.75 percentage points. But House Speaker Kris Steele said it's too early to come up with a proposed cut for the Republican-controlled Legislature to consider for 2013 and whether the legislation would provide a formula for gradually eliminating the income tax.

“Obviously we just need one vehicle at the end of the day,” said Steele, R-Shawnee. “I still believe we're going to see an income tax reduction and we'll see income tax reform this session.”

House Democrats said Thursday they would oppose any proposal to cut the personal income tax and questioned the wisdom of reducing a key revenue source if natural gas prices continue to decline. If natural gas drops below a monthly average of $2.10 per 1,000 cubic feet, the gross production tax that the state collects drops to 4 percent from 7 percent; the monthly average so far is just under $2.

“We need to be treading very cautiously in any kind of significant cut to the income tax we believe will be very detrimental and could be maybe even worse with the decline in those gross production tax revenues,” said House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City.

The state Board of Equalization in February used $3.64 per 1,000 cubic feet in determining revenue expectations for the 2013 fiscal year, which starts July 1. If the amount comes in $1 below that amount for the entire fiscal year, it would result in an annual loss of $70 million, a spokesman for the state treasurer's office said. The gross production tax on natural gas is projected to bring in about 3 percent of the $6.6 billion lawmakers will appropriate for the 2013 fiscal year.

Preston Doerflinger, Fallin's Cabinet secretary of finance and revenue, issued a statement Thursday saying the lower natural gas prices will not lead to a budget hole for the 2013 fiscal year.

Record collections

Record sales tax collections are making up for lagging natural gas collections, he said. High oil prices are responsible for a boom in the oil industry.

“There's no reason to expect a slowdown anytime soon as industry experts, economists and the federal government are projecting oil prices will continue to increase in fiscal year 2013, perhaps $10 to $15 per barrel higher than the figure used in our official state estimate,” Doerflinger said.

Thursday was the deadline for the House to take up Senate-originated bills.

The two measures remaining alive are House Bill 3061, which contains Fallin's proposal, and HB 3038, which is a scaled-back version of a proposal supported by Arthur Laffer, an economist who gained prominence as a member of former President Ronald Regan's economic policy advisory board.

Continue reading this story on the...