Rev­enue, re­form plan well worth pur­su­ing

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - OPINION -

WEARY of watch­ing Ok­la­homa slide to­ward the bot­tom of so many na­tional rank­ings, and frus­trated with in­ac­tion driven by po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­di­ency, a coali­tion of cit­i­zens has given the Leg­is­la­ture a rev­enue and re­form pack­age to con­sider when the spe­cial ses­sion re­sumes this month. The Ok­la­homan sup­ports the plan and urges cit­i­zens and law­mak­ers to as well.

Ap­prov­ing such sweep­ing changes, in­clud­ing tax in­creases, will re­quire dif­fi­cult votes by leg­is­la­tors. Yet tough de­ci­sions are needed, as teach­ers leave for other states or quit the pro­fes­sion al­to­gether due to pay con­cerns, and the state faces myr­iad other con­cerns.

The makeup of this coali­tion is no­table. Th­ese are men and women, from ur­ban and ru­ral ar­eas alike, who are Democrats and Repub­li­cans and in­de­pen­dents, with busi­ness and civic and com­mu­nity ties, who have spent the past six weeks for­mu­lat­ing their pro­posal. They share the goal of want­ing to see state gov­ern­ment work bet­ter.

Among the rev­enue rec­om­men­da­tions is ap­proval of a $1.50-per-pack cig­a­rette tax and an in­crease in the fuel tax. We have sup­ported th­ese in the past — boost­ing the cig­a­rette tax will drive down the smok­ing rate, which is among the high­est in the coun­try. The fuel tax, the low­est in the re­gion, hasn’t been in­creased in more than 30 years.

The coali­tion rec­om­mends an in­crease in the gross pro­duc­tion tax on all wells to 4 per­cent from 2 per­cent, an idea that was de­feated in spe­cial ses­sion last fall but which has the back­ing of a num­ber of those in the oil and gas in­dus­try. Also rec­om­mended is elim­i­na­tion of cer­tain in­come tax de­duc­tions and tax loop­holes while mod­ern­iz­ing the tax code. The new tax bur­den would in­crease with the more a per­son makes, but wouldn’t be oner­ous on any one group.

Th­ese changes, and a few oth­ers pro­posed by the coali­tion, would gen­er­ate roughly $790 mil­lion, which among other things would fund long-over­due teacher and prin­ci­pal pay raises of $5,000.

Many of the re­form ideas would re­quire a vote of the peo­ple. They in­clude low­er­ing to 60 per­cent from 75 per­cent the vote thresh­old needed to pass a tax in­crease in the Leg­is­la­ture. The speaker pro tem in the Ok­la­homa House, Rep. Harold Wright, R-Weather­ford, has filed a bill do this very thing. The change would make the thresh­old equal to the per­cent­age needed to ap­prove a school bond is­sue — still a dif­fi­cult propo­si­tion, but not as pro­hib­i­tive as the level vot­ers set in 1992 has proven to be.

The coali­tion also wants to see the creation of a bud­get sta­bi­liza­tion fund, struc­tured sim­i­lar to an en­dow­ment. It rec­om­mends form­ing an of­fice sim­i­lar to the fed­eral Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice to fer­ret out fraud, waste, and abuse in state gov­ern­ment spend­ing. It wants trans­parency about all the money the state spends each year, which in­cludes fed­eral funds— that to­tal can be three times greater, or more, than the “state bud­get” fig­ure bandied about each year.

It also sug­gests let­ting the gover­nor ap­point the direc­tors of some agen­cies now led by elected of­fi­cials. Coali­tion mem­bers also be­lieve the gover­nor and lieu­tenant gover­nor should run as a team, which would foster more col­lab­o­ra­tion.

No mem­ber of the coali­tion loves ev­ery piece of this plan, nor do we, but we all love this state. Ap­proval of the plan would help move Ok­la­homa for­ward. We’ve seen far too much of the op­po­site, for too long.

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