House Democratic Leader Scott Inman of Del City on Monday (February 6) decried Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin’s proposed income tax rate cuts.
Rep. Inman said that Fallin, a Republican, had announced “a return to a Washington-style budgeting” with her call for the largest tax increase in state history, combined with announcement of some areas where she is asking for increased spending from the Legislature.
In an interview with CapitolBeatOK after his conference in the state Capitol press room about an hour after Fallin delivered her State of the State address, Rep. Inman said the Legislature should instead concentrate on “creating jobs, funding infrastructure improvements and supporting public education.”
Inman said Democrats view with sympathy some of Fallin’s requests for more resources in targeted agencies, but that he and colleagues would oppose the governor’s plan to “take $2 billion out of the budget.”
The latter was a reference to the projected lower tax revenues, after years of implementation, resulting from the governor’s projected tax plan. Inman said he “can’t begin to understand her rationale” for tax rate cuts at the level the governor has envisioned.
Inman insisted Fallin’s proposal consisted of “fuzzy math.” He declared Democrats have “a complete difference of opinion” on how to make improvements in education, the Department of Human Services, mental health, nutrition centers and other areas.
Inman said the state needed “increased spending in each of these areas,” combined with “responsible reductions in the tax burden on working families.” Inman said he would prefer to press for reduction or elimination of the sales tax on groceries, as a way to reduce “lower and middle income taxes.” He said such reform could be funded with “some of the reforms envisioned in Rep. David Dank’s task force.” Inman served on the Dank panel.
In response to a question from CapitolBeatOK, Rep. Inman said he had not yet studied the governor’s executive budget details.
In a sign of one area of potential bipartisan accord, Inman said he remains supportive of the justice reinvestment initiative (JRI). Supporters of the JRI have organized a Thursday briefing with a Texas Republican legislator who has guided that state’s efforts over the past six years, with savings running to hundreds of millions of dollars.
Republican House Speaker Kris Steele believes the state can, if reforms are enacted, avoid $250 million in predicted cost increases, while redirecting $110 million of that amount into alternatives to incarceration and better supervision, post-sentence, of those released for prisons.
In this area, Inman said, “House Democrats are anxious to work with Republicans and the speaker, and the governor if she chooses to champion those reforms.”
David Blatt of Oklahoma Policy Institute offered a mixed but largely critical response to the Fallin tax proposal and its implications for state spending.
In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, Blatt said:
“Governor Fallin’s plan would bust a huge and permanent hole in the budget. After three straight years of cuts to services, further tax cuts should not be a higher priority than educating our children, training our workforce, fixing our infrastructure, and ensuring public safety. The plan will make us less healthy, less safe, and less attractive to business.
“Her proposal to stretch out the tax brackets to reflect modern income levels is a step in the right direction and an improvement on earlier plans from the legislature. However, by doing away with the child tax credit, sales tax relief credit, and other tax preferences that help hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans, the Governor’s plan would still unfairly increase taxes on many low and moderate-income seniors and families with children.
“We urge the Governor to seek more input from those who would be affected by these dramatic changes and work towards adopting tax policies that are fair to all Oklahomans and adequate to our state’s responsibilities.”