THE conservative Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, which pushed hard for a reduction in Oklahoma's income tax rate during the 2012 legislative session, wants you to know it has no plans to give up that fight.
OCPA President Michael Carnuccio issued a statement Thursday seeking to make that point clear. One day earlier Tina Dzurisin, a policy impact director for the think tank, had said the OCPA would focus more of its time on other areas such as workers' compensation reform and pension reform as opposed to “expending so much energy on a proposal that the Legislature didn't feel like they were quite ready to put through.”
The OCPA has promoted a plan, backed by former Reagan economic adviser Arthur Laffer, to immediately cut Oklahoma's top personal income tax rate by 3 percentage points, to 2.25 percent, and eventually phase it out entirely.
Carnuccio says his group is working to conduct new research with Laffer, to be released soon, and will “continue to build the case for Oklahoma becoming the next no-income tax state.”
The question will be whether lawmakers will pursue it. There was considerable chatter ahead of the 2012 session about cutting taxes, but that doesn't seem to be the case presently. Gov. Mary Fallin sought to cut the top rate to 3.5 percent and simplify the tax code, but her plan and others wound up being tabled.
Gov. Mary Fallin is seeking federal Environmental Protection Agency approval for the state Department of Agriculture to handle EPA's role in permitting concentrated animal feeding operations. Naturally, environmental groups are up in arms. David Ocamb, director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Sierra Club, says “water is our state's most precious resource” and claims animal feeding operations threaten water quality. But large-animal feeding operations also depend upon a clean water supply. Without it, dead carcasses and diseased animals start to stack up and massive financial losses accrue. Agriculture producers in general are far more reliant on clean water than the average citizen. It's nonsense to claim the Department of Agriculture — or the agriculture industry as a whole — would turn a blind eye to potential water pollution. Environmentalists prefer the EPA not because it's for clean water, but because its overreaching positions are often simply anti-business.
Where's the harm?
Injecting class-warfare arguments into nearly every debate is a staple of the Democratic Party machine and its operatives. Even a nonpartisan voter information project involving nonpartisan judicial seats isn't immune from class warfare. A Tulsa trial lawyer says the State Chamber's ratings of state Supreme Court justices is based on cherry-picked cases and “whether big business won or not.” Note: big business. The state's civil liability system and judicial precedents affect businesses large and small, and by extension the entire economy. All the chamber is doing is providing information, a small counter to the legal community's outsized influence on the selection of justices. Although they are appointed to office, the justices must be periodically “retained” by voters. Many voters are surprised by the retention ballot when they arrive at the polls. What's the harm of calling more attention to the ballot, regardless of who's doing the attention-calling? The trial bar's attempts to keep voters uninformed is self-serving and pathetic.
Shades of SQ 744
In 2010, Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly rejected State Question 744, which would have required education funding to increase by more than $1 billion over several years. This year, voters in five states — Arizona, Missouri, South Dakota, Oregon and California — face similar measures that involve tax increases to boost education spending. The measures range from a sales tax hike in Arizona to income tax increases in California. At least those ballot measures are transparent about who will pay the price. Oklahoma's SQ 744 provided no such details. The proposed massive infusion of money would have been the largest unfunded mandate in Oklahoma history. Sadly, those pushing for higher education funding in Oklahoma — such as the group “49th is Not OK” — continue to duck that issue. They refuse to say what taxes they'd raise or what programs they'd cut to boost K-12 funding, which already gets 34 percent of all state appropriations.