Tahlequah Daily Press

April 9, 2007

Lawmakers to focus on budget proposals

By EDDIE GLENN

The term “tax cut” is one that usually brings smiles to taxpayers’ faces. But as area lawmakers pointed out Friday morning, tax cuts always result in cuts in other areas as well.

“Tax cuts are popular in Oklahoma City, but there are holes in education, there are holes in corrections, and there are holes in health care,” said State Rep. Mike Brown, D-Tahlequah.

“We can’t even fill these holes – we don’t need another tax cut yet. I’m ready to pull our tax cuts off the table and pay our bills.”

Brown, along with Rep. John Auffet, D-Stilwell, and Sen. Jim Wilson-Tahlequah attended the Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce Legislative Focus, hosted by Tahlequah Public Schools at the high school media center.

According to Wilson, legislators will soon begin hashing out a new budget proposal after Gov. Brad Henry’s veto last week of the legislature’s initial budget.

“We’re going to let tempers settle down and start on it again Monday,” said Wilson.

Brown said he voted to uphold the veto, which could have been overridden by the House, because the budget didn’t include funding for several projects he feels are important, like teacher retirements.

Henry vetoed the bill Wednesday because of what he called a “flawed process” used by House and Senate leaders, without input from either his office or House Democrats.

Wilson said funding for state agencies this year won’t be any higher than it was last year, but that lawmakers had managed to make some progress in a couple of areas.

Teacher pay was increased, but only for teachers being paid the minimum required by state law. Teachers already making more than that won’t be affected.

Also, the income requirements of families receiving free health care for children were adjusted, so that – as Wilson put it – “virtually every child in Oklahoma” will be able to meet the new guidelines.

Addressing questions from the audience, Brown said the lottery that was approved by Oklahoma voters in 2004 is now bringing in $88 million for the state’s education system. He and Wilson both said that the amount is less than Henry had claimed the lottery would raise when the issue was being debated, but is in line with what legislators had predicted.

By the time the hour-long breakfast was over, the conversation had come back around to where it had started – tax cuts.

Wilson said a simple formula that can be used to compute taxes (and tax cuts) in Oklahoma is: Fifty cents per month – $6 a year – for each taxpayer equals $10 million in state funds.

He added that surveys of top corporations in the nation have indicated that low taxes are not a high priority when those companies are deciding to build locations in any state. They’re more interested, he said, in quality of life issues.

“We cannot attract businesses until we expand our infrastructure,” said Wilson.

“When you walk in and tell [employees], ‘Pack up, we’re moving to Oklahoma,’ they pack up. But when you go home and tell Mama ‘Pack up, we’re moving to Oklahoma,’ she says, ‘What’s there to do in Oklahoma?’”