Step Up Oklahoma
OPUBCO CEO Gary Pierson promoted Step Up Oklahoma in a story on the front of his company's newspaper Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018. (Screenshot)

Oklahoma’s most powerful media are partners in the proposal Gov. Mary Fallin will almost surely pitch to lawmakers today during her final State of the State speech.

The CEO of The Oklahoman’s parent company, Gary Pierson, has appeared on his paper’s own front page as a leader of the Step Up Oklahoma coalition. The Tulsa World’s publisher, Bill Masterson, is listed among “supporters” on the coalition’s website. David Griffin, CEO of Griffin Communications, is also a coalition member. His is the parent company of KWTV-9 and KOTV-6, and it is apparently spearheading Step Up Oklahoma’s advertising sales. (We truly appreciate them choosing NonDoc as an outlet for some of that advertising.) The chairman and president of Perry Broadcasting, Russell and Kevin Perry, respectively, are also listed as a supporters online.

While Step Up Oklahoma could go a long way toward securing our endorsement with, say, the inclusion of a two-ply toilet paper mandate for all public restrooms, NonDoc will not be adding its name to the growing list of Step Up supporters. Call it a professional obligation (or maybe just a nondoctrinaire attitude).

But with so many media owners teamed up to support a slew of bills that legislative leaders have yet to reveal, we wonder whether the public — and lawmakers — will be posed a series of important questions about the Step Up Oklahoma plan.

What changed in two months?

First, why did the primary entities that lobbied against an extremely similar budget-fixing revenue measure in November come to the table with this plan roughly two months later? If raising the gross production tax incentive rate from 2 percent to 4 percent was such a deal-breaker for Harold Hamm, the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association and the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association before Thanksgiving, what changed their minds after the first of the year? How much does it have to do with fear of a potential ballot measure that would establish a flat 7 percent GPT?

So far, the answer business leaders have given — such as Devon Energy chairman emeritus Larry Nichols — involves their confidence in the 10 reforms currently included in the Step Up Oklahoma proposal. (Additional reforms have been discussed but abandoned, such as gubernatorial appointment of other statewide offices.) But what exactly “revenue transparency” and an “independent budget office” will look like remains to be seen, as does how a proposed “budget stabilization fund” will be different than the Energy Revenues Stabilization Act signed into law in 2016. It could be great, but the public will have to understand how it actually makes a difference before they pass it on a statewide ballot. The perceived impartiality and rigor of media, then, will be as important as ever.

How best to change the wind industry tax structure?

Second, how will Fallin and Step Up Oklahoma leaders convince lawmakers whose districts have benefited from wind energy that the industry should face a new gross production tax on electricity generation even though it is already taxed on ad valorem in a manner more substantial than oil and gas? The Step Up coalition and wind leaders have spent the last month in a dog-and-pony show about coming together on an agreement.

As Step Up announced Friday that those negotiations have broken down, it appears the group seeks somewhere between $15 million and $23 million from wind companies. The Wind Coalition replied Friday that it “has elected to take our message and our ideas to the people, and to the people’s representatives.” That means the wind industry could target public advertisements toward specific lawmakers, something the Step Up Oklahoma coalition is expected to do as well if its big revenue proposal appears to be short of votes. (Advertising critical of specific lawmakers caused drama in 2017, of course.)

How much leverage do Democrats have?

Third, the 2018 legislative session’s entire stage raises questions about what Democrats, particularly in the House, will do. Since their caucus supported the near-miss November vote at a higher percentage than Republicans did, will they vote in the same manner for a plan that now extracts a pound of air from the wind industry? Or will they take pause and return to their preferred 2017 position that the GPT incentive rate should be at least 5 percent?

Remember, the Senate more or less trapped the House in November, forcing it to consider GPT at 4 percent as a compromise solution to the revenue stalemate. The House Democratic Caucus largely voted in favor despite preferring 5 percent GPT. With the same forces who opposed 4 percent then suddenly pushing 4 percent now, Democrats likely see further leverage, making public statements last week that call for progressive adjustments to the plan’s income tax tweaks. They also requested to restore the refundability of the earned income tax credit, something that was in the November negotiation but has not been pitched by Step Up Oklahoma.

Will lawmakers listen to men more than a woman?

Fourth, how heavily will Gov. Mary Fallin be involved in Step Up Oklahoma’s negotiations? In 2017, one of the only things business leaders, lobbyists and lawmakers found consensus about was their distaste for Fallin, parroting each other to bemoan what they have viewed as a lack of leadership in her tenure. But such a narrative is too convenient, and its willful ignorance of the forces opposing new revenues and reforms can smack of latent sexism.

The state’s first female governor has called for new revenues each of the past three years, only to have her proposals ignored outright while representatives of the very industries she has sought to protect criticized her in public and private. When she asked House leadership to reconsider and apply pressure for the November revenue bill that needed only four more votes for passage, no action was taken. Instead, business and legislative leaders complained when she uncapped her veto pen to prevent further agency cuts. Two months later, the state’s goodest of oldest boys are suddenly imploring people to “step up” and pass a strikingly similar plan, acting as a collective Rip Van Winkle who woke up with a non-wind-powered lightbulb above his head.

Fallin may not give the greatest speech today — as that has never been her strongest skill — but she will reassert much of the same argument she has made for the past three years. With Oklahoma’s largest media companies on board, perhaps the Step Up coalition can achieve a solution to many problems.

But it’s probably best to keep the single-ply toilet paper lobby in the dark if this deal is going to get done. Georgia-Pacific and Kimberly-Clark are experienced in dealing with a lot of people’s shit.