Greetings from the state capitol!

You know that feeling in the pit of your stomach as you begin the big drop on a roller coaster that just seems to keep picking up speed? That’s what most of us are feeling right now as we watch our purchasing power shrink with no end in sight.

As we went into regular session in February, we could all see inflationary pressures building. House members filed 33 different measures that eventually were collectively dubbed “inflation relief”, either by returning some tax revenues to the people, or by not taking it in the first place. The Senate had proposals as well.

In the end, what emerged was a resumption of a sales tax exemption on the sale of motor vehicles, and $75 rebates ($150/married couple). Both were vetoed by the Governor as not enough of the right kind of relief. Frankly, I agreed.

He called for a special session focused on reducing taxes, specifically related to eliminating the state grocery tax and reducing personal income tax one fourth percent so that the top rate would be 4.5 percent.While we had the numbers to override his vetoes, and did so on other bills, the House unanimously voted against overriding those two, signaling its willingness to work with him.

This past week, the House passed several bills in answer to the Governor’s call. Two were versions of the one fourth percent personal income tax reduction, one for a two year moratorium, and another for a permanent reduction, but both to include the current 2022 tax year.

We also passed four versions of the grocery tax elimination. Two were similar in structure, one providing a two year moratorium, and the other a permanent reduction. Two more did the same things, but included provisions to prevent local municipalities and counties from raising their grocery sales taxes to “fill the gap”.

The projected impact of these measures also required us to adjust the budget we just passed. So we cut the budget for the Health Care Authority, with the Governor’s agreement (he appoints the director of that agency), as they had a large sum of unexpected carry over cash, and would not reduce services as a result.

Finally, we passed one bill I think will be the most significant for lower income households: a two-year increase of the sales tax relief credit from $40 to $200 dollars.

Those bills are now in the Senate for their consideration — they can take their pick of which ones they want to send to the Governor. Note that the House passed versions of the state grocery sales tax and income tax reductions during regular sessions, but they were not taken up by our counterparts, so I’m not sure if a little time will change minds.

On a more personal note, my plan to create a series of personal income tax reduction triggers based on overall revenue growth should get more study during the interim. A prominent Senator and I plan to conduct a joint interim study to more thoroughly analyze my plan.

A few things to consider as the days go by: first, there is no timetable on the bills we passed. When a special session is called without a negotiated deal ahead of time, it is just an open question for an indefinite period of time. There are no deadlines as there are in regular session. The House has sent its work to the Senate, and with primaries in a few days, its members have returned home to campaign.

Second, no one should think sales taxes on groceries will disappear completely, if one of the four grocery tax elimination or moratorium bills is signed into law. They only address the state sales tax on groceries, which is 4.5 percent. You will still see a sales tax on groceries levied by cities and counties in the range of 4.5-5.5 percent. The only taxes cities can collect are sales taxes, and most of them will continue to tax groceries. Some smaller towns only have income from one convenience or small grocery store. For the record, I voted against the bills limiting local jurisdictions. Municipal and county tax increases would take a vote of the people, and I don’t think we should preempt them on these issues.

Third, I'm all for eliminating the sales tax on groceries, but I wish we were looking at our entire tax structure to move away from taxes on income, investment, and productivity, and more towards consumption. Oklahoma is long overdue for overhauling our 1950s style tax system, moving it into this century!

Next time, I’ll dig a little deeper into the causes of inflation and possible responses.

As always, please drop by the office if you happen to be in Oklahoma City. You can call my office at 405-557-7380, or write to me at Representative Mark Lepak, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd, Rm. 453, State Capitol Building, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105.

Mark Lepak is the State Representative for District 9.

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