By Rep. Rick West
The Oklahoma House of Representatives tried once again last week to permanently increase taxes on Oklahomans because of a temporary problem. On Nov. 8, House members ultimately voted down a tax increase that would have supposedly generated nearly $450 million – all in the name of solving a $215 million hole.
Over the past few weeks, our state has seen agency heads admit to mishandling millions of dollars. We’ve witnessed government waste and inefficiency first-hand. The Oklahoma State Department of Health lost $31 million because of years of fiscal mismanagement. Leaders at the Department of Tourism have been writing blank checks. And if we had passed tax increases last session, I bet we would have never known about the fraud. Yet here we are again, as lawmakers, trying to approve $450 million worth of taxes. Why? To continue to cover up the corruption and government waste that is occurring within our state? I won’t stand for it.
The bill that representatives voted on last week was the same one that has been voted on time and time again, but this time there was the addition of an increase in the gross production tax. That specific increase is one that I am open to discussing, but when it gets thrown in with things like a tobacco tax and a motor fuel tax, I can’t vote yes.
I can’t vote yes on tax increases that will hurt our district. Tobacco users could simply drive a couple of miles to Fort Smith and buy their cigarettes there. It would kill our convenience store owners, and I wouldn’t be able to stomach it. Raising taxes on Oklahomans when we know there’s waste in government is just not right, especially when those increased taxes hurt our district.
Why would we increase taxes when state government currently has plenty of taxpayer dollars just sitting in funds right now? Oklahoma’s revolving funds have more than $1 billion in them. We have $83 million in unexpected carryover funds from last year. It’s pretty simple: there is money there, and using it wouldn’t increase the tax burden of everyday Oklahomans.
We need to protect our seniors. We need to protect our vulnerable communities. Teachers and state employees deserve to make more money. How great would it be to provide teachers and state employees a raise without increasing their taxes? We can do exactly that. I know it because I have seen the waste and inefficiencies within state government. If we could audit agencies, we could finally see the full extent of our financial situation. It’s the smartest step forward this state could take.
Going forward, we should fund the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, Oklahoma State Health Department, the Department of Human Services and the Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services. We should fund them using our cash reserves and tapping into our revolving funds. We should buoy these agencies now, and we should audit every agency to find out where $6.9 billion lawmakers appropriated last year is going.
Raising taxes will only continue to cover up the shell games, money shuffling and fiscal mismanagement occurring in state agencies. But let’s say lawmakers theoretically did raise the $450 million through tax increases proposed last week – we’d still be $250 million short next session. Whose taxes do we raise then? Who would we go after next? Taxpayers deserve better, and I will continue to fight for a more transparent and efficient budgetary system.
Rep. Rick West represents House District 3. He can be reached at 405-557-7413 or .