Budget & Tax

Todd Lamb | April 22, 2014

YOU GUEST IT: Lt. Gov. Lamb: Conservative policies work, tax hikes unwise

Todd Lamb

Over the past four years I’ve focused on Oklahoma’s economy by traveling each year to all 77 counties to visit with small businesses. I routinely ask business owners, “What are our greatest impediments to growth?” We’ve made significant strides, including but not limited to reform of our workers’ compensation system.

This is what government should do. It shouldn’t salivate at the thought of increasing revenue collection, but it should lower costs, eliminate red tape and remove burdens. Conservative policies work.

Oklahoma’s future is limitless, but a potential burden stands in the way. It’s the possibility of a tax increase on the state’s largest taxpayer — the oil and gas industry. Some small businesses are worried the increase could be as large as 300 percent to 700 percent in real dollars. This cannot and must not happen. As a conservative, I know government is powered by the people. Tax dollars are taken from hard work and the sweat of the brow. Government doesn’t bestow upon citizens the right to the remainder of our dollars. Wealth is created by risk takers, workers and investors — not by government.

The current horizontal drilling tax rate is 1 percent. Proponents of an increase have suggested an increase to 3 percent or 7 percent. They’ve compared our current rate to other states, but not all soil, rock or shale is created the same. Oklahoma’s soil provides more risk and more investment, equaling more capital and effort.

Conservatives know the free market is the best allocator of resources. Capital investment goes where it can thrive. If taxes are raised, investment is impacted, harming our economy and costing Oklahomans well-paying jobs. Oklahoma has doubled the number of wells being drilled. The industry provides 22 percent of state revenues; the average salary in the oil field pays more than $100,000. Why risk this success?

All Oklahoma’s industries are important, but energy has long been a key economic driver. In the last few years (in different economic quarters), Oklahoma has led the nation in net job growth, manufacturing growth, the statewide unemployment rate and exports — all categories directly tied to the oil and gas industry.

Thousands of Oklahomans are employed by small companies related to oil and gas. I’ve spoken with business owners employing two employees to 50 who know that they’ll be forced to move jobs to other states if the tax increase occurs. Companies can easily relocate to another state. It’s happened before. We must be vigilant not just for the companies operating one or two rigs, but for the suppliers, small-town restaurant owners, home builders, truck drivers and others who depend on this industry.

I want these jobs to stay in Oklahoma. We can’t penalize a home-grown industry with a tax increase that encourages exporting oil rigs — in essence, manufacturing plants on wheels — and its jobs to Texas or another state.

[Todd Lamb is Oklahoma’s lieutenant governor. This piece first appeared April 19 in The Oklahoman.]

Todd Lamb

Lieutenant Governor of Oklahoma

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