Opinions of ordinary Oklahomans have helped shape tax cut debate

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: May 13, 2012
TAXES don't redistribute wealth. They redistribute people.

So says professor Arthur Laffer, the inspiration for the most far-reaching proposals on Oklahoma income tax reform. The conundrum for Laffer's believers is this: How do you redistribute opinions about tax cuts, from the general to the specific?

In general, most of us want a lower income tax bill. But when the specifics are mentioned — which spending, tax credits or deductions would be required; what other taxes might go up — opinions can change from ardor to lukewarm support to outright opposition.

Gov. Mary Fallin's tax reform plan, based in part on Laffer's recommendations, serves as an illustration of the shifting of opinions on tax cuts. No significant change in the tax code is likely this year because the plan first drew spontaneous opinions from taxpayers who don't want to lose favored deductions. At the same time came measured opinions from special interest groups that don't want to lose favored tax credits.

Last week, as Laffer faced off in a debate with an Oklahoma university economist, an anti-tax cut group released results of a poll that solicited opinions on tax cuts. As with any poll, the answers obtained depend upon the questions asked.

Thus, the more the drawbacks of tax cuts are mentioned, the less the support is. Pollsters posed either/or choices such as whether respondents want a tax cut if it means cutting funding for public schools. Or public safety.

In the larger context of public policy, these can be false choices. For example, education can be delivered in a variety of ways that don't involve traditional public schools. Some of these ways may be cheaper and more effective. Ditto for public safety and most other government services.

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