BY DAVID PERRYMAN
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his pen name of Mark Twain, was a close friend of both Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. During the era that the role of electrification in American society was being realized, Edison supported the virtues of direct current and Tesla was a proponent of alternating current.
Whether Clemens’ strong enthusiasm for science and scientific inquiry was the result of or the impetus for his relationships with these great innovators is akin to asking which came first, the chicken or the egg. What history clearly tells us is that Clemens realized the importance of formal education.
One of his most famous quotes was “Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail. What you gain at one end you lose at the other. It’s like feeding a dog on his own tail. It won’t fatten the dog.”
The wisdom of Clemens’ quote underscores the horrible quandary that Oklahoma is in. Through a regrettable lack of foresight, our state government is literally foundering in a sea of despair.
In early 2008, the price of West Texas Intermediate Crude reached a price of nearly $150 per barrel. That is the same year that Oklahoma voters placed both the state House and state Senate under the majority control of a party whose economic philosophy is primarily based on tax cuts and trickle-down economics.
Armed with a false sense of invincibility, income tax cuts and gross production tax cuts were enacted. As a result of those cuts over the past nine years, the state’s revenue stream from income taxes has shrunk by over $1.2 billion per year. At the same time, Oklahoma’s tax on oil and gas production has been cut from 7% of gross production to 2%, and Oklahoma Tax Commission records show that the gross production tax revenue stream has dropped from approximately $1.25 billion per year in 2008 to $391.5 million in 2016.
It doesn’t take Mark Twain or even scientists like Edison or Tesla to tell us that removing more than $2 billion per year from Oklahoma’s budget is devastating. Anyone who would doubt that fact needs only to look at our schools, our health care, our roads and bridges and the embarrassing way that we treat teachers and other public servants.
It is time for legislators to legislate. The first thing that needs to go on the table is to roll back income tax cuts and gross production tax cuts. It is the right thing to do.
Some of the other revenue measures being tossed around are cigarette taxes and gasoline and diesel taxes. The governor is touting taxing additional services. It is time to negotiate.
There is talk about a special session but there is nothing that can be done in a special session that can’t be done between now and the last Friday in May.
It is time to do the right thing. Mark Twain said, “Do the right thing, it will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”
Oklahoma is depending on us to properly fund core services and not transfer the tax burden from the wealthy to the poor. Otherwise, the most expensive budget items that Oklahoma will face for many years to come will be an unhealthy and uneducated population.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House