By Rep. Rick West
The Oklahoma House of Representatives and the Senate passed two bills the week of Dec. 18 aimed at patching funding holes at the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) and the Department of Human Services (DHS). As you may recall, lawmakers had already funded these agencies, but Gov. Fallin undid portions of the funding when she vetoed the bill we passed last month.
The House & Senate voted to appropriate nearly $18 million to OHCA and $26.5 million to DHS and sent the bills to the governor’s desk on Dec. 22. We’re using cash on hand through increased taxes on legacy oil and gas wells. Our goal is to get these agencies through April, and I expect we’ll reevaluate the next steps to take during the regular 2018 legislative session.
While we may get a short break for Christmas and the New Year, House leadership has told lawmakers to be ready to return to the Capitol in early- to mid-January. At that time, leadership wants to consider a “long-term, bipartisan and stable solution” to our budget. Frankly, I remain steadfast in my stance against burdensome tax increases on working families.
I keep scratching my head trying to figure out why we want more taxes. The Board of Equalization met on Dec. 20 and gave encouraging signals that our economy really is rebounding. Estimated revenue for next year is expected to be hundreds of millions of dollars more than the current fiscal year. This growth is great news – it means Oklahoma is improving and we’re closing the revenue gap.
The best part of that news is this: we saw progress without raising taxes on cigarettes, without raising taxes on motor fuel and without raising taxes on other items as suggested during the 2017 session. The Board of Equalization’s report should be seen as a sign of headway and as an encouraging move toward full recovery.
Even still, the governor continues to talk about raising taxes. I find this especially interesting given the fact our governor recently signed onto a letter addressed to Congress endorsing the federal tax plan. As you may know, that plan cuts taxes – it doesn’t raise them. In the letter, 21 governors wrote: “We’ve proved in our states that you can cut taxes, create jobs, and generate budget surpluses at the same time.” How can Fallin be promoting tax cuts on the federal level while simultaneously pleading with lawmakers to raise taxes here in Oklahoma? It doesn’t make a lick of sense.
If and when lawmakers return to the state Capitol in January, I plan to continue fighting for government reforms. I know there is progress to be made. For example, legislators recently learned about ballooning costs for information technology at agencies (costing more than $100 million between 2013 and now). We need to look critically at how we’re spending taxpayer dollars because you deserve to know your taxes are going to necessary and beneficial programs. I want to make sure that happens.
Thank you, and may God bless Oklahoma.