Law & Principles
Ray Carter | January 3, 2023
Legislature selects leadership
Lawmakers in both chambers of the Oklahoma Legislature selected their leaders for the next two years during an organizational day on Monday. In subsequent comments, both men gave glancing views of potential legislative priorities for the 2023 legislative session, which begins in February.
Members of the Oklahoma Senate re-elected state Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, as Senate president pro tempore, while members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives re-elected state Rep. Charles McCall, R-Atoka, to another term as speaker of the House.
In his comments, Treat referenced behind-the-scenes work done on tax-reform proposals by a group led by state Sen. Dave Rader, R-Tulsa.
“Chairman Rader has been working with a strong group on tax reform. He and the working group have been studying and deliberating all summer, fall, and into this winter on crafting a proposal for long-term, meaningful tax reform for Oklahomans,” Treat said. “Their work product will serve as a guide for me as we lead in the discussions on tax reform.”
Last May, Gov. Kevin Stitt called on lawmakers to reconvene in special session to cut the state income-tax rate by a quarter-point and repeal the 4.5-percent state sales tax on groceries. Under Stitt’s plan, the state income-tax rate would have declined to 4.5 percent.
Members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives subsequently approved a raft of bills dealing with proposed tax cuts in a variety of ways that included both temporary tax cuts and permanent reductions. Because House lawmakers immediately adjourned the special session the same day they passed the tax bills, there was legal uncertainty regarding whether the Oklahoma Senate could consider and vote on any of those measures.
Members of the Senate opted to instead approach the tax issue in a more structured and strategic fashion, and Treat appointed a new tax-reform working group to develop a proposal.
In addition to Rader, the other members of the working group included state Sens. Micheal Bergstrom, R-Adair; Bill Coleman, R-Ponca City; Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville; Brent Howard, R-Altus; and John Michael Montgomery, R-Lawton. Senate Majority Floor Leader Greg McCortney, R-Ada, and Senate Appropriations Chair Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, served as ex-officio members of the working group.
Treat did not discuss any details of the tax proposals developed by the working group, but it is expected that the group reviewed proposals that included much broader structural reform of Oklahoma’s tax system that exceeded the piecemeal measures discussed last summer.
In the House, McCall referenced a range of issues in his speech, but put the most emphasis and detail on a proposal to reduce the penalties for those who fall behind on tax payments.
“In Oklahoma, if you get behind on your taxes, you will lose your professional license, so essentially you get punished twice, because you can’t work in your profession to dig yourself out of the hole,” McCall said. “I was recently approached by a person who works as a front-desk receptionist. He is a trained, experienced, and licensed nurse, but because he fell behind on his tax payments, he’s prohibited from renewing his license. This isn’t right. This is a problem for workforce in the state of Oklahoma.”
Both legislative leaders touted the existence of record state savings, but Treat also appeared to suggest lawmakers should not view those reserves as an excuse for a spending binge, noting the repeated shortfalls that occurred several years ago when legislative spending significantly exceeded recurring tax collections once oil prices slumped.
“Our fiscal restraint, prudent leadership, and the ingenuity, creativity, and work ethic of Oklahomans has led to a $3.2 billion surplus,” Treat said. “Just remember, though, it wasn’t long ago when we were facing a $600 million shortfall, an $800 million shortfall, and a $1.3 billion shortfall.”
Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.