BY DAVID PERRYMAN
Maybe it was because he grew up young having lost his mother, enlisted in the Navy and married my mother all before he graduated high school. Maybe it was because he understood that in life few decisions are either good or bad but the bulk of our decisions are what we make of them.
He taught young men that dwelling on success was just as harmful as dwelling on failure and that if a decision was not obvious, then it was probably “six of one and half a dozen of another.” In fact, that was one of my Dad’s most often used phrases.
It wasn’t that he didn’t counsel students; they were taught to fully assess their options. He simply made certain they knew when a decision is made, it is time to move forward with life and not be burdened with “second guesses.”
While “six of one and half a dozen of the other” aptly describes many of our life decisions, it is not a suitable adage when we consider how to address Oklahoma’s revenue shortfalls. All taxes are not the same.
As the Oklahoma Legislature concerns itself with budget shortfalls, revenue failures and devastating cuts to agency appropriations, the debate over cause-and-effect still echoes through the Capitol rotunda. One group, mostly ultra conservative Republicans, still maintain that the state does not have a revenue problem and that the solution to Oklahoma’s financial situation is to make more budget cuts.
Of the two groups who do believe that Oklahoma has a revenue problem, one, mostly moderate Republicans, seeks to cure Oklahoma’s funding problem through the implementation of fees and taxes like a sales tax on new and used automobiles, charging an additional 7.5 cents for each cigarette purchased, and capping the amount that non-itemizing Oklahomans may claim as a standard income tax deduction.
The other, mostly moderate Democrats, believes that Oklahoma’s budget woes are directly related to income tax cuts and oil and gas gross production tax cuts over the past decade. They point to statistics issued by the Oklahoma Policy Institute that those tax cuts cost the state of Oklahoma somewhere between $1.6 billion and $1.8 billion per year. That amount of money would go a long way toward filling our budget hole and doing things like paying teachers, repairing highways and making Oklahoma safer.
So what have Oklahomans received in return? Well, the 20% of Oklahomans who make less than $12,700 pay $4 per year less income tax than they did before the cuts. The next 20% who make less than $28,400 annually have seen their income tax go down by $6 per month. The monthly savings for the third 20% who make less than $49,800 is only $19 per month.
Unfortunately, these meager savings are eclipsed by literally hundreds of thousands of dollars of lost services, potholes and cuts to education, all of which directly impact low income Oklahomans.
The real winners in the tax cut game are those who earn in the upper 20% of wages who see thousands of dollars in income tax savings. For instance, the upper 1% saw their income tax bill drop an average of $16,519 per year. That is a lot, but only a very small portion of their average income of $1.6 million per year.
Unfortunately, those legislators who want to ignore the income tax cuts and make up the difference in sales tax and taxes on services and tobacco are simply piling more of a burden on lower income Oklahomans who spend 100% of their income while allowing the wealthy who keep much more of their income [and very likely spend less in our state] to enjoy the lower income tax rates.
As a result, Oklahoma’s tax burden has been shifted from high income earners to low income earners. Perhaps that was the goal all along since “six of one is not half dozen of the other.”
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House