The Oklahoma Eagle Editorial
Like a returning flock to seasonal lands, Republicans are trotting out a system of tax cuts for the rich and limited spending for education. Limited, meaning 46th in the nation in spending on education, which is embarrassing enough, but even at 46th, Oklahoma is planning on zeroing out the budget for textbooks. Other cuts will hurt the least among us in already poorly funded programs for the vulnerable. It was hoped this crisis would open the opportunity to finally create a revenue stream for a quality education for Oklahoma children. So far that is not happening, thanks to powerful oil and gas industry lobbyists.
With our education system in crisis, this seemed like the best way to get even the most tight-fisted lawmakers to not raise taxes. The schools are letting people go, not filling positions, not providing new books, cutting programs everywhere, and closures are part of future plans. Why? Because Oklahoma decided to follow the failed trend of cutting taxes in the hopes of raising revenue. Yes, that is the math they keep employing. It is the plan of the rich. They love being rich and don’t like paying taxes. Neither do the rest of Oklahoma. The difference is the rich will never miss a meal or be denied one service. The poor and working poor are in a whole different situation.
Personal taxes, of which Oklahomans pay very little, and the sacred cow called Gross Production Taxes (GPT), which was reduced when the price of oil was at a record high, have not changed despite our budget shortfall. When the State was flushed with cash, they dropped personal tax rates and the GPT. The problem is that system is dependent on a barrel of oil being $200 a barrel and not $43. In between, there are massive cuts to every segment of State government. Mental health and social services were already taking big cuts or elimination. Why not raise it? Not to higher rates, but to their original rates. Together Democrat law-makers say we can restore education to pre-crash levels and assist the mentally-ill and educate our children.
Oklahoma is not trying to implement a new version of Voodoo economics, it is trying to maintain Voodoo economics. By the way, one only has to look at Kansas to see if this system works any better.
Republican Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas, cut taxes and promised the economy would grow, because the rich would spend their savings on new jobs. Oddly enough they just saved the personal revenue or enjoyed the savings. Meanwhile, Kansas increased about 7.8 percent less than it would have before taxes were cut. The number of Kansans working was 2.6 percent less, had taxes not been slashed. Reduced spending meant Kansas state government was spending less in the community, bringing down the overall demand for goods and services. Or in a word, it was counterproductive. Some may point to the U.S. economy under President Ronald Reagan who pushed through a similar plan. The main difference here is that Oklahoma cannot legally operate with a deficit. Oklahomans must cut and starve to, by law, balance its budget.
The U.S. government could and did run up astronomical deficits. When Dan Quayle bragged about how well the economy was doing with low taxes, 1988 Democratic candidate for Vice President Lloyd Bentsen, Jr. said he’d feel better about his situation too if he could borrow as much he liked without paying back a penny.
People may be enjoying the low gas prices today but because our future and tax base is tied to oil and gas production, every penny the price of gas goes down means thousands less for education. We do have to stimulate the economy but not at the expense of education.
Perhaps a better education formula is to mimic those states that invest heavily in education. Teachers making more, spending their paychecks in their community. Students got taught well and are not thrown in the streets destined to become a burden on our social and corrections institutions. Higher pay means keeping our best teachers educating our youth instead of relying on substitutes and furloughing state employees.
As it turns out the current poor plan is not yet etched in granite. Several lawsuits are challenging the tax plan of raising money from cigarettes and new car sales because of constitutional language on when new taxes can be voted on. If the courts say start over, the legislature will have to come back and start over in perhaps late July or early August.
This isn’t rocket science. Restore the rates and let’s support education. Is the education of our children and futures really worth lining the pockets of those who need no help?