Budget & Tax

Curtis Shelton | September 18, 2018

Oklahoma should look at its tax structure

Curtis Shelton

Fights over tax policy often revolve around tax rates: should they go up, or down? But a more important question is: what should we tax?

This is especially true of income and sales tax rates because these are the most visible taxes to individuals. However, a state’s tax structure—what it chooses to impose taxes on—has just as significant of an impact as tax rates.

The Tax Foundation examined all 50 states on four major tax categories: property tax, sales tax, individual income tax, and corporate income tax.

Of these four, property taxes are often favored by economists due to the limited impact on economic growth and its stability as a revenue source. Property values are less affected by short-term economic shifts than income and consumer spending.

On the other end of the spectrum is the corporate income tax. This tax can be extremely volatile during economic swings—as Oklahoma recently experienced when the oil and gas and agricultural industries entered a downturn. Taxes directly on commodities, like Oklahoma’s gross production tax, are even more volatile but were not analyzed by this study.

Oklahoma finds itself in the middle of our regional pack when it comes to our tax structure. But, if Oklahoma wants to make the move to the head of the pack it must compete with the country’s biggest economic powerhouse—our neighbor Texas.

Texas relies heavily on consumption taxes and levies no income tax. This tax structure limits barriers to economic growth while also allowing for a stable and predictable revenue base. This is one reason Oklahoma lost $1.5 billion in adjusted gross income across state lines into Texas between 1992-2016.

Texas provides an ideal tax structure for economic growth and stability. If Oklahoma wants to build a stable tax structure, we first need to examine our current foundation when it comes to assessing and collecting the appropriate taxes.

Case in point: After a study by the Oklahoma County Assessor’s Office, there was an estimated gap of $1 to $2 billion between where properties are currently being assessed and the actual market value. Thankfully, lawmakers approved a new assessment software this past year which should help county officials properly assess property values.

Proper enforcement of current tax laws is the first step in evaluating Oklahoma current tax structure and what can be done to improve it. Oklahoma has spent too long straddling the fence with our tax code. It’s time for lawmakers to fix the system, and then reform our tax code so we may compete with Texas, and the rest of the states, and prosper.

Curtis Shelton Policy Research Fellow

Curtis Shelton

Policy Research Fellow

Curtis Shelton currently serves as a policy research fellow for OCPA with a focus on fiscal policy. Curtis graduated Oklahoma State University in 2016 with a Bachelors of Arts in Finance. Previously, he served as a summer intern at OCPA and spent time as a staff accountant for Sutherland Global Services.

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