Editor’s Notebook: tax rate cut surges, Barresi believes, Reynolds responds

 From an editor’s notebook: The proposal to put Oklahoma on a glide-path to eventual elimination of the state income tax took on critical mass in recent days, moving from the realm of theory to the arena of potential policy.

The woman who runs the state Department of Education, known for her development of two of the state’s most acclaimed charter schools, has reiterated her support for broader choice. And, a conservative Republican from south Oklahoma City wants to undo an Ethics Commission rule allowing lobbyists to buy lunch for legislators.

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In the wake of bill filing week, House Bill 3038 seems positioned – at least in the lower chamber — as a leading vehicle for the conservative Republican push to reduce income tax rates methodically over the coming decade.

In a press release sent to Capitol reporters last week, 23 House Republicans echoed the vision, advanced in the past two months by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA), to phaseout the income tax burden.

The object, the House release said, is to trim the income tax rates “in such a way that the state would have the lowest overall tax burden in the continental United States.”

One cheerleader among many was state Rep. Leslie Osborn of Mustang, who said, “Our goal is to transform Oklahoma into the best place to do business, the best place to live, find a quality job, raise a family and retire in all of the United States. Not just better than average, but the very best.”

The 23 House members amount to more than one fifth of the legislative body. Tom Newell of Seminole, a co-author of H.B 3038, said in comments sent to CapitolBeatOK, “The personal income tax is still our biggest dis-incentive in Oklahoma to work and produce at a higher level, to relocate a company to Oklahoma or start up a new one here, to create jobs, to pursue a better job, and to save and invest.”

The House release pressed the point: An average state family of four would save more than $1,300 after phase-out of the income tax. Rep. Charles Ortega of Altus said, “That’s a pretty decent pay raise for most Oklahomans. That extra income will give Oklahomans greater economic freedom, and our improved business climate and improved job market here in Oklahoma will give them a better shot at achieving the American dream.”

Also in the release, state Rep. Jason Murphey of Guthrie echoed points he advanced in last Thursday’s “agenda” press conference with House Speaker Kris Steele of Shawnee and Rep. Randy McDaniel of Oklahoma City. Murphey said, “We shouldn’t raise a tax to cut a tax. A rising tide lifts all boats. When the government has the courage to use tax reform to allow its residents to keep their money, that money will be used to provide jobs and economic activity. This expands the tax base and makes even more tax reform possible.”

Advocates are pointing to income tax elimination or reduction efforts elsewhere, including Kansas and Missouri in this region, to bolster their case.

David Derby of Owasso said a measured phase-in allows enough time to fashion a “transformational step toward increased prosperity and greater Opportunity. By making Oklahoma a no-income-tax state, we will have put together a winning recipe for business investment, new job opportunities and economic growth in Oklahoma.”

In addition to Reps. Osborn, Newell, Ortega, Murphey and Derby, primary authors of H.B. 3038 at this point include (alphabetically) Don Armes of Faxon, Gus Blackwell of Goodwell, David Brumbaugh  of Broken Arrow, Josh Cockroft of Tecumseh, Marian Cooksey of Edmond, Lee Denney of Cushing, George Faught of  Muskogee, Randy Grau of Edmond, Elise Hall of Oklahoma City, Corey Holland of Marlow,  Mike Jackson of Enid, Dan Kirby of Tulsa, Randy McDaniel of Oklahoma City, Glen Mulready of Tulsa, Mike Sanders of Kingfisher, Sue Tibbs of Tulsa, Steve Vaughan of Ponca City, and Harold Wright of Weatherford.

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Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi will be one of the featured panelists at Tuesday’s Townhall, “Restoring American Exceptionalism,” 7 to 8:30 p.m. Jan. 24 at the University of Central Oklahoma’s Constitution Hall, in the Nigh University Center off of Second Street in Edmond, north of Oklahoma City.

In a press release sent to CapitolBeatOK, Barresi said, “I am a huge advocate of a parent’s right to choose the education that best suits the needs of their children. In a free country, with so many exceptional school offerings, there is no reason a child’s education should be bound by his parent’s income level or his geographical location.”

Governor Mary Fallin has designated January 23-29 as Oklahoma School Choice Week, coinciding with nationwide advocacy of more options for parents and students. The program in Oklahoma is being promoted as one of the major events nationwide.

Also speaking at the event are state Sen. Gary Stanislawski of Tulsa, former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts of Norman, former Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund, and Jeff Reed of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

Barresi’s release noted, “Recent studies show Oklahoma’s students are ranked near the bottom when compared to other countries in math and literacy. Allowing more choice will help reverse this trend. It will reward schools that are doing a good job of educating students to state standards and will hold accountable those schools that are not meeting performance goals.”

National analysts designated Oklahoma a prime example of what was dubbed the “Year of Choice” in 2011, highlighting enactment of the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship program for special needs children in 2010, and the Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act in 2011.

Choice in education has progressed with bi-partisan support in the Oklahoma Legislature. Superintendent Barresi was a co-founder of Independence Charter Middle School and, later, Harding Charter Preparatory High School.

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State Rep. Mike Reynolds of Oklahoma City, a Republican, says he will press new legislation to ban the purchase of meals for legislators by lobbyists. The bill is intended to counter a step taken by the Ethics Commission that would loosen strictures on the practice.

“There’s no justifiable reason for a lobbyist to buy our meals,” Reynolds said in a press release sent to CapitolBeatOK.

The rule change passed the commission 3-2. Reynolds will press for a legislative vote to disapprove the commission rule before it takes effect. He said, “When lawmakers receive special perks not available to their constituents it undermines the integrity of the legislative process and creates a perception of corruption. I don’t think a free meal is worth that price.”