BY JOE DORMAN
Monday marked the beginning of the 2017 legislative session and a return to work for senators and representatives. This also was the day that Gov. Mary Fallin delivered her seventh State of the State address. In her speech, she urged the Legislature to prioritize and revise budgeting procedures, starting with the taxes our state collects.
Fallin suggested a series of reforms to modernize the state’s tax laws, including the elimination of the state sales tax on groceries. Based on her estimates, Oklahoma families could see an annual savings of between $350 and $676 for a family of four. Sales taxes fund municipalities in Oklahoma, so this would have to be done without financially crippling our communities.
A second proposal suggested by Gov. Fallin was to eliminate the corporate income tax. She suggested this would reduce the paperwork on businesses, and in turn reduce the number of tax credits and exemptions given to businesses.
For new revenue, Gov. Fallin again asked legislators to raise the cigarette tax to not only generate new tax dollars, but also to improve the health of our state. As she cited in her speech, smoking remains the No. 1 preventable cause of death in Oklahoma, costing our state $1.62 billion in health care annually.
Another new source of revenue suggested by the governor is increasing the gasoline and diesel fuel taxes that fund roads and bridges. As she pointed out, Oklahoma currently ranks 48th in diesel tax in the nation and 49th in gasoline tax. She proposes increasing the state’s gas and diesel taxes to the regional state average.
She encouraged lawmakers to invest in ways that are smarter on crime and tough on violent criminals. With 61,000 people currently under the jurisdiction of Corrections, our prisons are over capacity, and our prison population is expected to grow by 25% in the next 10 years without changes to how people are sentenced.
“Oklahoma’s overall incarceration rate is the second-highest in the country,” said Fallin. “We lead the nation in female incarceration – incarcerating women at 2½ times the national average.”
Going forward, lawmakers must either build or lease three new prisons, or look for ways to enhance rehabilitation.”
“Seventy-five percent of new admissions in prison are nonviolent offenders,” said Fallin. “The number of drug-possession offenders sentenced to prison with no prior convictions has more than doubled the last five years.”
Her suggested budget includes new money for corrections and treatment, which includes a $50 million bond issue to build wings on both a male and female prison for substance abuse offenders and rehabilitation.
These were budget priorities outlined by the governor. Now, the ball is in the Legislature’s court. It is important that people across our state share their views with their legislators on the priority issues that impact the health, education, safety and welfare of children.
The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy will be present throughout the session, encouraging legislators to pursue policies that are in the best interest of the children of Oklahoma.
– Former state Rep. Joe Dorman serves as the CEO for the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, whose mission is creating awareness, taking action and changing policy to improve the health, safety and well-being of Oklahoma’s children.