Monday, February 20, 2017

Oklahoma needs a better long term budget plan!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair
     Last week, Lt. Governor Todd Lamb resigned from Governor Mary Fallin’s cabinet, where he served as the Small Business Advocate.  Lamb will still be Oklahoma’s Lt. Governor.  The cabinet position and the Lt. Governor’s job are separate.  Lamb said he couldn’t support Fallin’s plan to increase taxes on services that are currently not subject to state taxes.  Fallin plans to start taxing plumbing, barbers and attorneys and 160 more services. 
     Lamb said: “Governor Fallin deserves to have someone in her cabinet who can be a strong advocate for her agenda, and that is something I am unwilling to do.  While I respect the determination with which Governor Fallin met her obligation to present a balanced budget to the legislature, I cannot support her proposed tax increases.  This proposal will adversely harm Oklahoma’s small businesses and families, especially those in our service industry.  While Governor Fallin and I have disagreed on issues from time-to-time, our differences on this important topic are so significant they preclude me from continuing to serve on her cabinet.”
     Fallin responded by issuing the following statement:  “I was disappointed and surprised to learn from a press release that Lt. Gov. Lamb had decided to quit serving as a member of my Cabinet.   I have always valued Todd’s independent voice. I valued it when we first came into office when we dealt with a similar financial crisis and I value his independent voice today. I’ve never been afraid to have dissenting voices at the table. I think the people of Oklahoma benefit from that. There will always be a seat at the table for his independent voice.  Leading a state is never easy, especially when there are so many challenges and we are faced with a prolonged economic downturn. But through ideas, hard work, long hours and making tough decisions, we can find solutions to those challenges our state faces. We have to.  As governor, I have provided a reality check of doing the same thing over and over with the structural deficits of our budget and expecting a different outcome. If we want to educate our children, a teacher pay raise and ensure the health and public safety of our citizens as well as improve our roads and bridges, we must fix the structure of our budget so we don’t keep having budget shortfalls and uncertainty.”  Word is that Fallin’s Chief of Staff met with Lamb’s Chief of Staff before the press release and told him Lamb was resigning from the cabinet, so evidently there is a communication breakdown in the Guv’s office.  Three thoughts:
     First, Lamb’s action took courage, a trait rare for politicos.  He could have simply skipped the meetings, or sat quietly while Fallin pushed for more taxes. Resigning the cabinet position took guts.  Lamb is the preemptive favorite to be the state’s next governor and no doubt he believes staying quiet about Fallin’s tax plan wasn’t going to help his cause among primary voters in two years.  2017 is going to be a historically difficult budget year in state government and going along to get along would have been the safe play.  Lamb proved he doesn’t always play it safe- he takes risk.  The only leaders who ever make meaningful change are risk takers. They lead when everyone else follows.    
     Second, legislators have been talking a great deal about the revenue side of the ledger and not enough about the expenses.   It appears little effort has been made to actually ‘find the waste’ in Oklahoma state government.  Instead of trying to find ways to get more taxpayer money, there should be a full blown blitz to find where cuts can be made.  Churchill famously said: “We contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.”  Oklahoma needs bold leadership, not the same old tax and spend strategy.
     Third, the legislature should craft a long term funding mechanism that takes the peaks and valleys out of the revenue stream.  Oklahoma state government has been operating hand to chin too long.  Texas deposits 75% of their oil and gas tax revenue in their Rainy Day fund and only appropriates 25%. Oklahoma government spends every dime of oil and gas production tax every year. 
    By quitting the cabinet, Lamb proved he is willing to be against increased taxation.  Now he just needs to outline his plan to balance the budget.

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