BY DAVID PERRYMAN
Just seven days after the Stock Market Crash of 1929, Will Rogers famously reported, tongue in cheek, that the poor people who had lost their money should take great consolation that it had “fallen in the hands of Mr. Rockefeller, who will take care of it and see that it has a good home and never be allowed to wander around unprotected again.”
While Will’s prognostications were mostly comprised of good humor and a disarming smile, they often ended with a barb aimed at wealth and privilege. The conclusion to his Oct. 31, 1929, remarks were as follows: “There is one rule that works in every calamity. Be it pestilence, war or famine, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The poor even help arrange it.”
Nowhere are the effects of this rule more evident than in Oklahoma where the state’s tax policy has been driven by trickle down theorists whose single minded focus on corporate welfare has destroyed the state’s ability to educate its children, repair its roads and bridges, treat the mentally ill and pay essential state employees more than a subsistence wage.
Day in and day out, lobbyists battle for their corporate clients, lining the pockets of campaign treasurers with enough money to stave off political challengers. The end game of the lobbyist is plain and simple: perpetually cut and eventually eliminate all corporate income taxes; establish corporate tax credits and incentives so lucrative that the state treasury becomes a debtor; eliminate the ability of local school boards to determine the means of educating their community’s children; and prevent municipalities from protecting the quality of life of its citizens.
A few years after the crash of ‘29, Will Rogers observed that Wall Street was being investigated. He reminded the American public that massive tax cuts that benefitted the wealthy didn’t just happen on their own: “You see where the Senate took that tax off the sales of stocks, didn’t you? Saved ‘em $48,000,000. Now why don’t somebody investigate the Senate and see what got them to get that tax removed? That would be a real investigation.”
Today, Oklahoma’s budget is in shambles because income taxes on the wealthy have been cut and gross production taxes on oil and gas companies have been slashed and hundreds of millions of dollars are being shuffled out the back door of the Oklahoma Tax Commission in the form of corporate welfare. Lobbyists have done their job well.
Paraphrasing Will Rogers, “Why don’t somebody investigate the Legislature and see what got them to get those taxes cut. That would be a real investigation.”
Over the next four weeks, there will be attempts to replace the lost revenue. Unfortunately, instead of reversing the income tax cuts and reversing the gross production tax cuts, tax proposals will unfairly target poorer Oklahomans and the proposals will be by the very lawmakers that poor Oklahomans elected.
Hence, the foresight of Will Rogers when he said, “The poor people even help arrange it.”
That resonates just like another one of Will’s anecdotes: “Ain’t it funny how many hundreds of thousands of soldiers we can recruit with nerve. But we can’t find one politician in a million with a backbone.”
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House