Recently, former Gov. Frank Keating, former Sen. Tom Coburn and former Oklahoma Secretary of Commerce Larry Parman penned a letter for the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA). The letter asks the Oklahoma Legislature to continue withstanding any revenue increases after a series of tax cuts for wealthy companies and individuals have devastated Oklahoma’s ability to deliver basic services like education.
The OCPA and the trio politicos try to support their viewpoint with nostalgic quotes from former President Ronald Reagan.
Reagan: Do as I say, not as I do
What these distinguished former Republican public servants may have forgotten is that what Reagan said is not in fact what President Reagan did. For example, today’s Oklahoma Republican legislators targeted the poor by ending the earned income tax credit’s refundability, while Reagan tripled the credit during his tenure. Oklahoma Republicans also want to do away with itemized deductions, but Reagan doubled the personal deduction and increased the standard deduction. Under Reagan, government spending rose nearly 40 percent, while Oklahoma has decreased governmental spending to the point that our own Republican governor has identified the cuts as “draconian.”
Trickle-down economics a joke
There’s a second problem with basing Oklahoma policy on sound bites from Reagan about the evils of government and how cutting taxes for the rich will lift up poor people: “Trickle-down” tax policy has been proven a failure. It wrecked the U.S. economy with massive deficits, and we are left today with limited funding for infrastructure, health care and education.
Not only is the theory of trickle-down economics a joke, it literally began as a joke. Oklahoma’s favorite son, Will Rogers, mocked former President Herbert Hoover’s Depression-era recovery efforts by saying, “… the money was all appropriated for the top in the hopes that it would trickle down to the needy.”
We should make rain for ourselves
As was pointed out nearly a year and a half ago, Oklahoma can make rain for itself. As of 2016, North Dakota — a state with a higher gross production tax than Oklahoma — built a $2 billion dollar rainy day fund, while Oklahoma’s was (and remains) far lower.
Why did North Dakota do so well compared to Oklahoma? In part, because in 2010 the Oklahoma Legislature cut the gross production tax, which shorted the state budget by about $300 million. Oh, by the way, several Oklahoma companies who fought for the cut in Oklahoma gross production taxes are eagerly drilling away and paying much higher taxes in North Dakota.
A prominent Republican in Oklahoma recently told one of us over breakfast that “when you cut taxes for an industry to incentivize them to do what they are already doing, you are merely making a cash grant to that industry from the state treasury.”
That was the case when previous legislatures let oil-industry special interests establish an unnecessary 2 percent. If Oklahoma restored the gross production tax to 7 percent on all wells, we could afford not only math books for our elementary school students but also to pay our teachers the wages they deserve. Oklahoma has cut public education funding more than any state in the nation, at 26.9 percent. Alabama is No. 2, and they have only cut public education 14.2 percent.
Look at the facts of today
In spite of Republican Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger’s description of the Oklahoma budget as “dire,” Keating, Coburn, Parman and the OCPA as a whole ask us to stay on our prescribed path of self-destruction. They are asking Republicans to continue starving public education until the only teachers in Oklahoma are those untrained citizens with emergency certifications. They accept that the waiting list for disability assistance could become 15 years, and they are unconcerned by health care funding problems that continue to wreck rural hospitals.
We ask that Oklahomans please look at the facts rather than listen to revisionist history about someone like President Reagan who would have never tolerated the lack of compassion shown to those in Oklahoma who need good educations, quality health care, reasonable public safety and decent transportation.
(Editor’s note: NonDoc occupies an office in a building owned by former Gov. David Walters, and a trade for advertising space is part of the rental agreement. Commentaries like this piece, however, are unrelated to that agreement.)