Graphic by Madeline Woods

Two groups propose problematic Okla. budget fixes

Oklahoma Democratic Caucus beats out Step Up Oklahoma’s budget plan with emphasis on feasible taxes.

Groups Step Up Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Democratic Caucus have proposed budget plans to fix the issues Oklahoma currently faces after months of gridlock over a new state budget.
According to their website, Step Up Oklahoma is a “nonpartisan group of business, civic and community leaders.” With the assistance of lawmakers, they hope to fix not only the budget crisis of Oklahoma but also some of the problems in the way the government is run.
To fix the issues of the Oklahoma state budget, Step Up Oklahoma proposes a series of new taxes and tax credit removals. The major focus of this money is to increase the salaries of teachers across Oklahoma by $5,000. Additionally, it will increase the salaries of school principals. One of Step Up Oklahoma’s biggest sources of new revenue would be a cigarette tax of $1.50, which they stipulate would raise $243.9 million and is 31.2 percent of their total revenue. Through this new tax, they hope to raise a substantial portion of Oklahoma’s budget to stop any potential cuts to the state budget. However, this is not a new tax but rather a repeat of the previous tax bill created in 2017 that was declared unconstitutional by the Oklahoma Supreme Court because of when the bill was passed. Other taxes include increasing the gross production tax of oil wells, a tax on renewable energy production, a motor fuel tax and a increase in income taxes.
The Oklahoma Democratic Caucus proposed the Restoring Oklahoma Plan in 2017. The Oklahoma Democratic Caucus takes a similar approach to the budget plan promoted by Step Up Oklahoma while avoiding the shifts concerning state and local governments. Restoring Oklahoma focuses more on removing sales tax exemptions on corporations than creating new taxes. Restoring Oklahoma provides a smaller tobacco tax that will raise around $150 million for the state government. It also proposes moving the gross production tax of oil wells from two percent to four-to-five percent.
However, a more major focus of Restoring Oklahoma is removing a series of tax credits that are unnecessary to the current Oklahoma government. For example, the budget plan proposes removing “sales tax exemptions on services to specific industries: oil and gas, construction and certain entertainment production such as motion picture production.” The plan argues these industries already can receive tax credits for working in Oklahoma, so they should not be able to double dip.
Both groups have similar goals in mind, but they attempt to reach it in different ways. While both plans take effective steps to fixing the budget, the actions taken by Restoring Oklahoma are more effective, and Step Up Oklahoma’s additional governance reforms are problematic, due to the consolidation of power through the governor and unclear and unnecessary oversight.
Similar tax reforms in Restoring Oklahoma are more beneficial to Oklahoma than new taxes because they don’t affect such a wide audience. For example, all citizens are affected by a motor fuel tax, but most citizens of Oklahoma are not affected by Combined Corporate Reporting, which requires companies with headquarters in Oklahoma to report all nationwide profit on their state tax forms. This allows the state government to obtain the necessary resources without heavily affecting the average citizen. While it is important the government is properly funded, it should not be heavily detrimental those who cannot afford it.
However, the major problems with Step Up Oklahoma is its governmental reforms. These reforms attached to the budget plan attempt to produce a more efficient and open government. To speed up the flow of government, they negatively alter the balance of power by reducing the system of checks and balances. For example, one reform in Step Up Oklahoma seeks to “increase accountability to citizens by granting the Governor direct appointment power over the eight largest state agencies.”
These agencies include leaders such as the head of the Department of Education, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Head of the labor Department and the Corporation Commissioner and the regulator of gas and oil drilling. Previously, applicants had to go through a series of agency boards to accept or deny the governor’s choice for these positions. By removing these boards and giving the governor complete control, you remove a system that helps confirm the best candidate for each position. With this new reform, the governor of Oklahoma is free to staff important state officials without having them confirmed by several different groups. While this speeds up the process of hiring new officials, it could easily be used for nefarious means.
Additionally, some of the reforms propose concepts that already exist in the Oklahoma state government or are not properly explained. For example, the budget plan requires items such as a line item budget with effective legislative oversight and an independent budget office that will identify fraud and mismanagement in the government. However, these items are already in existence. According to an article on titled “Step Up Coalition adds to Conversation but plenty of work left to do,” the Oklahoma legislature already line-items parts of the budget, and the Oklahoma state government already has a state auditor and the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, whose sole job is monitoring fraud in government. Therefore, these reforms are either useless additions or concepts that are not fully fleshed out.
Both Step Up Oklahoma and Restore Oklahoma both provide an important set of ideas on how to fix Oklahoma’s budgetary crisis. However, Step Up Oklahoma faces issues due to its major effects on the average citizen, its problematic optimization of government and its unclear or useless legislative reforms. Due to these reasons, Restoring Oklahoma provides a better example of a future Oklahoma budget and should be pushed for in the coming year.

Post Author: Nathan Hinkle