By Rep. Scott Fetgatter
FetgatterThere are a lot of people at the Capitol talking about the budget right now. Unfortunately, very few of them seem to have any understanding of what to do about our budget shortfall. The democrats are using numbers that don’t make any sense, republicans are supporting taxes and the governor… well, let’s just say she isn’t helping things at the moment. If you are like me, you are probably pretty frustrated by the emphasis of politics over people.
However, the thing that bothers me most is the conversation that is not taking place. The new taxes, repealing old tax credits, ending tax loop holes, these are all ideas on how to increase the state government’s share of total funds in our state. The conversation that is not happening is how do we actually increase the total funds? Or to put another way, how do we get more high-paying jobs in Oklahoma?
Until we bring good jobs to the people that live in Haskell and Henryetta or Okmulgee, we will always be fixing this same problem. Our issue is not one of tax percentages or budgetary spending. Adjusting these, although necessary this year, is just a Band-Aid that will continue to fall off year after year. Our problem is that hardworking Oklahomans throughout rural Oklahoma can’t find jobs that pay a decent wage, and it is baffling to me that this conversation isn’t taking place every day at the Capitol.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, we are going to have to increase some taxes this year. Otherwise, we are going to have to cut services, and I don’t want that to happen. At the moment, the legislation that has the most traction is a three pronged approached that would see a $1.50 tax increase on cigarettes, a six cents per gallon tax on gasoline (an average increase of $37 per household), and an end to tax credits for oil and gas producers. I don’t like raising taxes. In fact, I hate it. However, I don’t like seeing classroom sizes grow or prisons continue to be overpopulated and under manned, and a lack of leadership and business pragmatism has put us in a situation that forces us to act in this manner.
Finally, I want to talk about oil and gas. Yes, we could make some money by increasing the gross production tax. However, the amount of money depends on whether or not you want to retroactively tax wells. There are those that say an increase on gross production tax would bring in more than $500 million. This is only the case if you retroactively tax wells that are already producing oil. This would not only be detrimental to the oil and gas industry, but it would also hurt our chances of landing new businesses in Oklahoma. How many businesses would want to operate under the condition that our state government may retroactively raise your taxes? Zero.
As always, I consider it a great joy in life to serve you in the Oklahoma Legislature. If you have questions, concerns or feedback, please reach out to my office at (405)557-7373.