There has been much debate this year about whether we should raise revenue to shore up state agencies or reduce state spending. This can be an emotional topic. The minute you talk about reducing spending, people bring out the worst-case scenarios of how this will hurt the most vulnerable in the population.
Look at the other side of the equation though. To increase revenue often means you tax people. To tax people in a down economy, however, is cruel; to tax people’s addictions is cruel. It’s also irresponsible to raise revenue before you look at expenses, and that is something we don’t do a very good job of in this state. Most people in the Legislature can’t even tell you exactly how many state agencies we have. I’ve heard the numbers 100, 75, 64. If we don’t know how many agencies we have, we don’t know how many employees we have, how many state cars they drive, how many paperclips they use, etc. How can we truly know how much money they spend?
What’s been done to date is to give agencies their apportionment and let them decide how to spend it. If we cut them, we hear how this affects the blind, the disabled, small children, children in foster care, teachers, state parks, etc. We do want to give agencies some autonomy over how they spend their dollars, but at the end of the day, lawmakers are responsible to taxpayers for how their dollars are spent.
Before we ever consider increasing a tax on an individual, we must first ensure we are running the most efficient government possible and that we have cut all waste. We need to look at the overlap of state agencies and what services are truly needed for Oklahomans.
We next must consider every form of corporate welfare giveaway. We’ve started this conversation this year with ending the zero emission tax on wind energy for any project that comes online after July 1. We also have had quite a bit of debate over the 2 percent cap on gross production tax for the first 36 months of production for oil and gas wells drilled since 2015. The Incentive Evaluation Commission is examining many other tax credits, incentives and rebates. In addition, several other lawmakers and I hope to hold interim studies to study agency budgets in greater detail.
This brings me to last Tuesday night. I and 46 of my colleagues in the House voted no on what would have been the largest tax increase since 1985 in Oklahoma. The bill brought together two tax increases – one on cigarettes and one on gasoline and diesel fuel – and a renegotiation of the number of months oil and gas wells qualify for the 2 percent cap on gross production tax. The measure would have raised almost $400 million for fiscal year 2018.
There was some pressure from others in my party to vote on this measure, and some have suggested it must have been hard to stand against the tide. Honestly, though, it’s never hard to stand on principles. If you build your life on the word of God, that’s true bedrock, true freedom. Those principles will never let you down.
Government can never provide everything for everyone. It shouldn’t. We need to limit government and let people do for themselves. Instead of raising taxes on people, we need to let them decide for themselves what services they need and want. By letting them keep more of their own tax dollars, they will better be able to afford these services, and government can fund the core things it should.
Tom Gann serves Oklahoma House District 8. He can be reached by phone at (405) 557-7364.