Saturday, June 8, 2024

Oklahoma legislature fails to pass state income tax cut!

 Weekly Opinion Editorial


by Steve Fair

     The Oklahoma legislature adjourned sine die the Thursday before Memorial Day.  The state legislature is required to complete their business by the last Friday in May and the lawmakers just made it.  After a very public budget process instigated by Governor Kevin Stitt, the budget was finally agreed upon at the last minute.  Stitt attempted to get public sentiment stirred up for a cut to the state income tax by holding public negotiating sessions.  Senate President Pro Tempe Greg Treat, (R-Edmond) opposed the cuts and ultimately Stitt agreed to back off for the cut and sign the budget.  Treat termed out of the Senate.  Speaker of the House Charles McCall, (R-Atoka) is also term limited, so the legislature will have new leadership next year.  Here are three pieces of legislation they passed this session.

     First, impermissible occupation is now a crime in Oklahoma.  HB 4156, authored by Treat and McCall passed the House 77-20 and the Senate 39-8.  It is similar to Texas Senate Bill #4 which permits local police to arrest people they suspect may not have legal immigration status.  Treat and McCall say Attorney General Gentner Drummond wanted the legislation to help crack down on illegal marijuana grows and human trafficking.  Many of the state’s law enforcement community oppose HB#4156 because revenue to add manpower to enforce the law wasn’t included.  It is an unfunded mandate.  It is set to become effective July 1st.  The federal government has threatened to sue the state if they don’t agree to not enforce the law.  AG Drummond says he welcomes the lawsuits. 

     Second, Stitt did get concessions from Treat.  To get the governor to sign the budget, the legislature agreed to (1) give District court judges a +7% salary increase- from $145,567 to $155,756 annually, (2) appropriate $20 million to the Quick Action Closing Fund, a slush fund used by the governor to convince companies to move to Oklahoma, (3) keep funding the State-Tribal Litigation Fund, (4) Implement a task force to potentially a business court system in Oklahoma. 

     What are business courts?  Good question.  Senate Bill #473, authored by Sen. Lonnie Paxton, (R-Tuttle) creates an 11-member task force to study implementing business courts in OKC and Tulsa.  Over half the states have business courts that specialize in resolving business disputes.  Stitt contends corporations tend to not locate to states without business courts and they are needed to compete for new businesses. 

     Third, Oklahoma will not be using ranked voting.  HB 3156, authored by Sen. Brent Howard, (R-Altus) prohibits the use of ranked choice voting in elections at any level in Oklahoma.   Nine other states have similar laws.  Ranked choice voting is a system in which voters rank candidates in preference from their first choice to last.  Advocates say it eliminates runoffs and saves money.  Critics point out the person who gets the most votes could actually lose and the process itself is too complicated.

     Oklahoma taxpayers received tax relief when the legislature and Stitt agreed to eliminate the sales tax on groceries (HB#1955).  The cut only applies to the state’s 4.5% state sales tax, so consumers will still pay the local sales tax, which is as high as 7% in some municipalities.  The cut goes into effect in November. 

     The 2024 legislature failed to (1) identify government waste, (2) implement zero based budgeting, and (3) return the excess revenue collected to taxpayers.    

     All in all, the legislature earned a B.  Until they get serious about rightsizing government and remembering the taxpayer, that is a generous grade. 

     Will Rogers once said about the Oklahoma legislature: “When those boys are in session, neither man, beast or property is safe.”  Okies are safe until February 2025.

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