| April 12, 2012

Who’s Responsible Now?

Legislation currently making its way through the process would reduce and eventually phase out Oklahoma’s personal income tax.

Economist Arthur Laffer, who served as an adviser to President Ronald Reagan, has authored a study demonstrating that this can be done responsibly in Oklahoma. But some people aren’t persuaded. Some of our friends on the left, for example, are calling the idea “fiscally irresponsible”—indeed, the very “height of irresponsibility.”

Of course, there’s nothing new under the sun. “Should we return money to the taxpayers or be fiscally responsible?” one Democratic state lawmaker asked a dozen years ago. Another brushed off the idea of income-tax relief by saying, “Someone around here has to be responsible, or one wouldn’t have a government.”

You’ll forgive me if I crack a smile. As someone who has dealt with policymakers for 17 years now, “responsible” isn’t always the first word that comes to mind.

It’s worth remembering, for example, that someone around here has managed to run up billions of dollars in unpaid bills for our children—in a state with a constitutional balanced-budget requirement. That takes some doing.

Someone around here, rather than using part of the recent $597 million in Rainy Day spillover money to fix the crumbling state capitol building, decided that responsible stewardship entailed ignoring maintenance needs and instead spending those one-time funds on recurring expenses.

Oklahoma spends millions of dollars each year bribing mothers (by offering them higher welfare benefits) not to marry the fathers of their children. Given what social science tells us about fatherlessness, one could say this government spending is the “height of irresponsibility.”

We employ bureaucrats who encourage prospective welfare recipients to quit their job or not to declare certain income.

We take your hard-earned money and give it to people who spend it at tobacco retailers, use it to buy junk food, or (as one welfare recipient told KOCO-TV) cash it out to buy marijuana and cocaine.

Incredibly, one state agency paid Planned Parenthood $26,841 in part “to increase correct and consistent use of male condoms and insertion condoms during receptive vaginal and anal intercourse among youth (ages 13-19) and their sexual partners within the Tulsa, Oklahoma MSA.”

Though I am persuaded that a 10-year income-tax phaseout is responsible, I acknowledge that reasonable people may differ. But I am reluctant to heed advice on “responsibility” from people whose preferred policies amass debt, erode marriage, encourage fatherlessness and multigenerational dependency, and abet anal sodomy among 13-year-olds. I’m just quirky that way.

According to Oklahoma’s latest Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, state government spending is at an all-time high. My colleague Jonathan Small has outlined $2 billion of spending—in addition to the examples above—that we consider irresponsible. And a recent SoonerPoll found that nearly 9 in 10 Oklahoma voters think that state government wastes “a lot” or “some” of the money we pay in taxes (51 percent said “a lot”).

So next time someone holds forth on “responsible” stewardship, you might want to consider the source.

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