BY DAVID PERRYMAN
Maps are my passion. In another life, cartography would have been my chosen career. Getting from point A to point B is always exciting and apps like Mapquest or GoogleMaps move plotting trips to a whole new level. Most of us have at one time or another dreamed of putting a canoe in a stream and allowing the current to take them toward the Gulf of Mexico.
Winding rivers tend to provide a romantic allure. Crooked rivers on the other hand impart a whole other meaning. If not for maps that show how the river continuously winds back on itself turning one mile in three, four, five or 10 or more, many of us would probably have set off on such an adventure.
Just like water flowing across the surface of our state takes the path of least resistance, coursing its way through an often inefficient journey, we often tend to choose the path of least resistance in our lives. Gov. Mary Fallin has issued a press release indicating that she will likely call a special legislative session to address a revenue failure that has occurred because one party refused to negotiate with the other party regarding revenues that are needed to provide core services.
This week the editorial page of the Oklahoman opined that a special session was necessary because the Oklahoma Supreme Court determined that the $1.50 per pack cigarette fee passed by Republicans in the Legislature because they “failed to muster” support from Democrats was really a tax and was not legal. The Oklahoman was wrong.
The cigarette tax [HB 2372] needed 76 votes to be valid. At the time the bill was voted on, there were 72 Republicans in the House of Representatives and 26 Democrats. In other words, the Republicans needed just four Democratic votes to pass a valid cigarette tax. When the dust settled the vote was 63-34 with 12 Democrats voting for the cigarette tax.
While it was true that 14 Democrats voted against the cigarette tax, 20 Republicans did likewise and one Republican failed to vote. While it is not truthful to say that the cigarette tax failed because of Democrats, it has always been abundantly clear how to get 100% of the Democrat’s to approve the cigarette tax … increase the gross production tax [GPT] on oil and gas to pay for teachers’ raises and roads and bridges and rural hospitals.
Democrats could take the path of least resistance and vote yes on a cigarette tax without demanding that Oklahoma’s revenue problem be fixed but that would not be in the best interest of our schools and our public safety and our roads and bridges or our rural ambulances and hospitals.
However, the path of least resistance does not provide a solution to Oklahoma and Oklahomans.
According to a May 10 article in the Oklahoman, “What you can’t argue is that the state’s own effective rate for gross production taxes has been cut in half in the past five years, according to the Oklahoma Tax Commission. The state’s effective gross production tax was 3.2% in FY 2016. It was 6.25% in FY 2012.”
The cost to the state of Oklahoma and its schools, roads, infrastructure and rural health care has been in the hundreds of millions per year and not only have oil and gas gross production tax revenues dipped by $300 million to $400 million per year, according to a May 2016 KFOR news story, the scales have tipped.
Quoting Oklahoma Policy Institute Executive Director David Blatt, the KFOR article said, “We’re at a point now where we are losing more from tax breaks than what we’re bringing in from the gross production tax.”
Rolling over and passing a cigarette tax without demanding that reckless GPT and state income tax cuts be addressed would make one complicit in a long term plan to shift the tax burden from the wealthy to the middle class and working poor [those Oklahomans who do not have paid lobbyists].
GPT and state income tax cuts over the past 10 years have taken more than $1 billion a year out of the state’s revenue. Henry David Thoreau said, “The path of least resistance leads to crooked rivers and crooked men.”
Oklahoma’s solution will not come by taking the path of least resistance.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House