Tahlequah Daily Press

June 5, 2013

Tax cut? Don’t bet the farm


TAHLEQUAH — Oklahoma taxpayers who think Gov. Mary Fallin did them a favor by signing into law the new tax cut measure ought to do a little math, and then think again. As usual, the state’s playing that ages-old game known as “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

Some folks might see an average of about $82 per year on their individual returns, the Oklahoma Tax Commission says. But don’t bet on it; these things never pan out as advertised, and we’re pretty sure most Tahlequah residents won’t benefit. Besides, some of the savings will be offset by increased fees Fallin also signed off on.

The worst offense, as far as the huge numbers of Oklahomans living below the poverty level are concerned, is the $12 increase for a standard driver’s license. The excuse given for this hike is that those of us seeking renewal will have a shorter wait in line. Don’t bet on that one, either.

Democrats in the Legislature are right to question the hypocrisy of this back-door method of padding the state budget – though some of them, of course, are also guilty of hypocrisy.

Senate Minority Leader Sean Burrage, of Claremore, put it this way: “Proponents of a tax cut say they want more money in the pockets of Oklahomans while taking it out of the other pockets for fees.” And Rep. Eric Proctor, D-Tulsa, pointed out most of the people in his district won’t benefit from the tax cut, though they’ll be hit with higher fees.

Even Republican House Speaker T.W. Shannon seemed perplexed by the increased fees, which he says have gone up by about $100 million since 2007. He says he tried to ban this type of back-door taxing, but somehow, though a bill tamping down fee increases passed both the House and Senate, it was never sent to Fallin.

This means fees agencies charge for services can continue to rise – and rest assured, they will do just that.

Local Republicans – like party official Michael Stopp – are curious about that bill, too. Whose job is it, they ask, to get these bills onto the governor’s desk?

If you’re thinking no one’s being fooled by this maneuvering, you’d be wrong. Some of the shady legislators who voted for the tax cut will be able to go back home and tell their constituent they did that, and while the constituents are pumping their fists into the air and shouting “hallelujah!” about extra money that will never materialize on their paychecks, the legislators in question will quietly avoid mentioning the fee hikes and hope no one notices.

Some won’t notice. Others will, but they won’t say anything. They’ll just hope everything works out in the end, or blame some other politician they don’t like – one from the opposite political party, perhaps, or one who’s been caught up in sexual peccadilloes or some other scandal.

And by the way, another thing you don’t want to bet on is the validity of Fallin’s rationale that the state tax cuts will offset some of the tax hikes foisted upon us by the federal government. In the first place, no “new” taxes have been imposed on the vast majority of U.S. taxpayers; some temporarily tax “holidays” passed by both the Bush and Obama administrations have simply been allowed to lapse because, guess what? Most of the doom-criers in the Beltway want to get rid of the deficit in five easy pieces, and they’re willing to resort to extreme levels of austerity to do it.

Sure, some Oklahomans will tuck a few extra bucks into their wallets when all is said and done. But at what cost to the state? To our education system? To our state parks? To the health of our children? To our state employees – who, after all, are our friends and family members?

We hope folks will let us know when they see that big savings roll in, and they’ll let us know what they bought with it. A new dress, a couple of cartons of cigarettes, or if it’s on sale, a drill bit set? Was it worth it?