| October 27, 2011

Priorities and opportunity

The discussion of the proper role and size of government and its impact on citizens is a discussion citizens cannot afford for policymakers to get wrong. What is promising is that in Oklahoma, policymakers are leading the discussion, moving Oklahoma in the right direction. If Oklahoma policymakers will commit to establishing the core, limited priorities or functions of government, the opportunities for Oklahoma citizens are endless. Just this week, two lawmakers have addressed these issues, and their outlook seems to be right in line with the majority of voters, voters who want to see taxes lowered.

In a commentary published in the Oklahoma Gazette, state Sen. Greg Treat addressed the issue of priorities. While discussing the merits of increasing state funding for the American Indian Cultural Center & Museum, for which the state has already spent $67.4 million, Sen. Treat said the following (emphasis added):

“…It is time for a fundamental shift in vision and direction for AICCM. The agency must direct its fundraising efforts away from the state taxpayer. After all the assurances and disappointments, it has become clear the agency will not get serious about private fundraising efforts until the fountain of taxpayer funding runs dry. Completion of the AICCM will happen. State government, however, is not obligated to support every good project — it is only obligated to support legitimate functions of government, which cannot be done by the private sector. After investing $67.4 million in this project, state government has demonstrated its commitment to the center’s completion. It’s time now for the agency to make good on its promise to the Legislature and the people of Oklahoma and undertake a serious effort at private sector fundraising. . . . We cannot erase decades of careless stewardship of taxpayer dollars overnight, but we can chart a new course — one that holds agencies accountable and jealously guards the trust put in us by the voters of Oklahoma.”

In a commentary published in The Oklahoman, state Rep. Tom Newell, a former business and economics professor, suggested that phasing out Oklahoma’s state individual income tax was the way to grow the economy. In his commentary, Rep. Newell said the following (emphasis added):

“Other states are working to make themselves attractive to businesses looking to relocate. Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas has publicly announced his intention to lower his state's tax burden. Gov. Mary Fallin has stated her goal to eliminate Oklahoma's individual income tax. Many state legislators, myself included, are eager to send such a bill to her desk. To make this happen, decisions must be made. Some call them tough decisions. Not true. It's not tough to understand that state government is funded by dollars from private citizens who work hard for their money and who could spend the bulk of it better than bureaucrats. Core government services should be maintained: safe roads and bridges, strong public safety, a competitive education system. But no one thinks every penny of every dollar paid in taxes is spent effectively. And when polled, a majority of Oklahomans stated they would phase out the individual income tax even if it means reducing government services. By phasing out the income tax over several years, we'd see a natural increase in revenues from other sources, such as sales and property taxes. This effect would only intensify as more businesses and jobs come to Oklahoma because of the lower tax burden. With our already low cost of living, Oklahoma would be a magnet for businesses, individuals and retirees. More people, more tax revenue. It's clear that “growing” and “diversifying” Oklahoma's economy requires scaling back state government and letting taxpayers keep more of their money. The only question is whether our leaders have the guts to do it.”

I could not agree more with the perspective of both Sen. Treat and Rep. Newell. If Oklahoma policymakers are up to the task of “right-sizing” government and focusing on core priorities or functions, monumental opportunities await Oklahomans. It is time to begin the effort of phasing out Oklahoma’s individual income tax, thus increasing the opportunities to pursue economic freedom for all.

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