Budget & Tax

Ray Carter | October 9, 2023

Republican senators back Stitt on tax cuts

Ray Carter

Although members of the Oklahoma Senate convened in special session on Oct. 3 to take up tax-cut bills, they instead adjourned the session within hours, preventing any votes on tax cuts.

But a growing number of Republican senators are now publicly voicing their disagreement with that decision and backing Gov. Kevin Stitt’s call to cut taxes for Oklahomans.

“This week I was very disappointed, but not surprised that the Oklahoma State Senate met in special session, with billions of dollars hoarded away for tomorrow’s politicians’ newest pet projects, for not even a full day, only to say the financial challenge of millions of hard-working Oklahomans is not worth our time,” said state Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman. “I have been serving in the Oklahoma Senate for eleven years, and it is amazing to me how much the Senate, and the Legislature in general, has changed. When I came in, we told citizens we would decrease the size of government and lower taxes, and we did that for over half my time in service. But, over the last few years we have steadily grown government, spending like drunken sailors on every new program that comes along, while giving no significant relief to the hard-working Oklahomans who voted us in office to help them keep more of their money.”

Standridge noted the Senate has operated in special session for far longer to address issues that he believes were far less pressing, and that lawmakers have prioritized what he views as less-important issues during the regular legislative session.

“It has been mentioned that there is not enough time in special session to give taxpayers a financial break, but over the last year I have seen us extend special sessions for months until leadership got the vote they wanted on tribal compact policy, have watched leadership hastily throw together one billion-dollar deal after another trying to bribe foreign woke companies, like Panasonic, to come to Oklahoma, using hard-earned taxpayer dollars to do so, and saw leadership spend over a hundred million dollars in additional funds for higher education, seemingly a financial reward for their non-stop efforts to discriminate based on race and indoctrinate young college students into their leftist ideology,” Standridge said.

“What was done this week, simply, was a slap in the face to hard working Oklahomans, telling them that their financial stability during this extremely unstable time with skyrocketing inflation, out of control interest rates, and a federal government arming the IRS and raising taxes, was just not worth the time,” Standridge continued. “I ran for office to decrease the size of government, lower taxes, stand up for parents’ rights, and protect Oklahoma’s children from attacks from every direction, much of it paid for by the very parents who are very upset by it. I have always and remain committed to these conservative ideals and leading through the convictions of my faith, and this week, as has the last few sessions, robbed me of that opportunity.”

During an Oct. 5 meeting of the Senate Appropriations Committee, some senators suggested tax cuts might impact one of the corporate-welfare-style programs referenced by Standridge. Lawmakers have put aside $698 million to lure just two companies, both believed to be green-energy businesses, to Oklahoma. Neither company has yet indicated they will come to the state.

The proposed tax cuts would provide far less money to all working Oklahomans than the aforementioned corporate-subsidy programs would provide to just two businesses.

In contrast to the $698 million set aside for corporate subsidies, the proposed quarter-point reduction in the personal income tax, which would lower the rate to 4.5% for Oklahomans, would involve $231 million.

Other Senate Republicans have also spoken out in favor of cutting taxes, despite the Senate’s adjournment of the tax session.

“Earlier this year, we successfully eliminated the corporate franchise tax and the marriage penalty tax, and this special session gave us another opportunity to provide tax relief for all hardworking Oklahomans,” said state Sen. Blake Stephens, R-Tahlequah. “I was surprised and disheartened that we adjourned so quickly without figuring out a way to responsibly lower the personal income tax. We’ve been fiscally conservative and built up historic savings in recent years to protect vital state services during economic downturns and have made record investments in education, public safety, and other important areas. Now our citizens deserve tax relief as well to help counteract the growing financial burden from out-of-control national inflation and the slowing economy.”

State Sen. Nathan Dahm, a Tulsa Republican who is also chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party, appeared at a press conference with Stitt and House Speaker Charles McCall in support of cutting taxes, and also issued a statement in favor of Stitt’s efforts.

“As so-called ‘Bidenomics’ continues to hold our wallets hostage, the OKGOP stands by Governor Stitt in his pursuit to cut taxes and deliver immediate relief to Oklahomans in this special session,” Dahm said. “As Republicans, our platform shows that we believe in lower taxes and less spending, and we applaud Governor Stitt for his unwavering commitment to fiscal conservatism, government accountability, and tax fairness.

“The Governor’s call for tax cuts is a direct response to Oklahomans who are struggling to keep up with the disastrous effects of Bidenflation,” Dahm continued. “The Oklahoma Republican Party believes that when taxes are low, our people and businesses will thrive, and our state will prosper. We hope that all Republicans will unite towards this goal.”

Two other lawmakers—state Sens. Warren Hamilton, R-McCurtain, and Cody Rogers, R-Tulsa—previously issued public statements criticizing the Senate’s refusal to take up tax cuts in the special legislative session.

“I am disappointed that we adjourned from special session without providing tax relief to Oklahomans,” Hamilton said. “We have put historic amounts in state savings, and it is time to give back to hard-working taxpayers. In addition, poor national economic policies have caused inflation that is making it difficult for Oklahomans to afford basic necessities. It is time to provide a personal income tax cut to our citizens and eliminate the grocery tax. Today, we missed the opportunity to answer the governor’s special session call and provide real relief to the Oklahomans we represent.”

“Unfortunately, we were not able to deliver a tax cut to Oklahomans during this special session,” Rogers said. “One of the arguments against lowering income tax is that we will lose too much revenue or will have to raise other taxes to make up the difference. Oklahoma’s economy has seen continued growth and our historic state savings offer security in the event of a downturn. Rather than Oklahomans’ hard-earned dollars continuing to grow government savings, it is time to put their money back in their pocket.”

Although he has not issued a public statement, state Sen. Shane Jett, R-Shawnee, also appeared with Stitt at a press conference in support of cutting taxes.

The Senate motion to abruptly adjourn the special session, and thereby block any votes on tax cuts, was approved by voice vote. No roll call was taken, preventing Oklahoma citizens from knowing how their local senator voted on the issue.

In a press conference after adjournment, Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, indicated he had to rely on Democratic votes to get majority support for adjournment.

“We conferred with the minority caucus before I walked on the floor, so I knew I had the votes for it,” Treat said.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

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.

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