Budget & Tax
Treat claims ‘no plan’ for tax repeal, ignores own bill
Ray Carter | October 4, 2023
Within hours of the start of the special legislative session on Oct. 3, the Senate adjourned sine die, a procedural move that ends the session and prevents any votes on tax cuts from occurring.
Only hours earlier, House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, said the House would be voting this week to cut the state income tax by a quarter-point, lowering the rate to 4.5%, and would also approve a plan to gradually eliminate the personal income tax.
Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, claimed senators chose to block action on the issue because Gov. Kevin Stitt, who called the special session on taxation, had not handed senators a specific legislation-ready plan.
“The governor didn’t present a serious plan,” Treat said during a press conference following adjournment.
But numerous plans for gradually eliminating the income tax have been filed for many years—including by Treat.
In 2012, Treat was one of four authors of Senate Bill 1587, which would have gradually eliminated the state’s personal income tax.
A press release noted that Treat’s bill “would lower the Oklahoma income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 2.25 percent in 2013, and then gradually lower it until the rate is zero in 2022.”
Under that bill, the first reduction in the income tax rate would have been paid for through cuts “in nonessential spending, along with the elimination of most personal tax credits, exemptions, deductions, and exclusions,” according to the release.
After that point, additional reductions in the income-tax rate would have been “paid for by natural revenue growth and dynamic economic growth that would occur as a result of the initial reduction.”
The release stated that under Treat’s plan, “It would not be necessary to cut core services or increase any other tax rates, including property and sales tax.”
A similar approach has been generally discussed regarding Stitt’s efforts to gradually phase out the personal income tax starting this year.
Despite insisting that the governor should develop the entire fiscal plan for the Senate, Treat admitted Stitt has no direct role in the legislative budget process, referencing in apparently mocking tones an ongoing lawsuit in which the governor and legislative leaders are on opposite sides.
Treat said an argument put forth in that case by Stitt’s attorney “referenced a ‘constitutional inferiority complex about the governor.’”
“He said, ‘It’s not like the governor has some kind of constitutional inferiority complex,’” Treat said. “I think he may. I think he wants to get into the budgeting process. His House district’s open. If he wants to have a vote on the budget and be a part of that, there’s an open House seat where he resides, a special election.”
Treat also said, “Taxation in general is a very complicated mix that we can’t just do in a day or a week without having some kind of agreement,” but then acknowledged members of his caucus “have been studying it for roughly 16 months.”
Senate Republicans have yet to produce a tax plan.
Senate leader says Oklahomans want bigger government, not tax cuts
Another Senate leader suggested that Oklahomans want increased government spending rather than tax cuts.
In an interview with NonDoc, Senate Appropriations Chair Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, said, “From the rural perspective, people in my district, they’re talking to me about services—they’re talking to me about health care, they’re talking to me about roads, they’re talking to me about keeping nursing homes open. They’re not talking to me about tax cuts.”
A recent survey, conducted by WPA Intelligence (WPAi) on behalf of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) and Americans for Prosperity (AFP), suggests otherwise.
That survey found that 65% of Oklahoma voters support cutting the state income tax, and 67% of voters support gradual elimination of Oklahoma’s income tax.
The survey showed that 82% of Oklahoma Republican voters support gradual elimination of the personal income tax, as do 64% of Independents and even 43% of Democrats.
Stitt has noted government spending has exploded in recent years and is on an unsustainable trajectory. He said tax cuts will help restrain government growth in Oklahoma to a more stable level.
From 2010 to 2023, Stitt noted that the population of Oklahoma increased by 8%, but the state-appropriated budget increased nearly 100% during that time.
“This is unsustainable,” Stitt said.
No roll-call record of vote to end session, block tax cuts
The Senate vote to abruptly adjourn the session, and thereby block any votes on tax cuts, was done as a voice vote. No roll call was taken, preventing Oklahoma citizens from knowing how their local senator voted on the issue.
However, several lawmakers can be heard voicing opposition to the adjournment motion on the recorded video feed of the session.
Some members of the Senate Republican caucus joined Stitt at his Oct. 3 press conference in support of tax cuts, including state Sen. Shane Jett, R-Shawnee, and state Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Tulsa.
Two other lawmakers issued statements expressing opposition to the early adjournment and derailment of tax-cut efforts.
“I am disappointed that we adjourned from special session without providing tax relief to Oklahomans,” said state Sen. Warren Hamilton, R-McCurtain. “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,” said state Sen. Cody Rogers, R-Tulsa. “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.”
Treat 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.
Democratic leaders echoed many of the talking points used by Senate Republican leaders to bash tax cuts and the special session—and to call for the ouster of Republican lawmakers.
“We gaveled into a Special Session with no plan to accomplish the Gov’s goal to eliminate the state income tax, but LOTS of infighting for the GOP,” tweeted state Rep. Cyndi Munson, an Oklahoma City Democrat who leads the House minority caucus. “STOP giving them power. They don’t deserve it.”
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.