Stop Digging for the Common Good - April 12, 2015
State Representative David Perryman
My Dad and his cousins learned at an early age not to get between their Grandpa Davis and his spittoon. Likewise, Will Rogers warned “Never slap a man who’s chewing tobacco.”
Unfortunately, slow learners abound. Will explained it this way: “Some people learn by reading, some by observing, but some simply have to pee on the electric fence to find out for themselves.”
Today, legislators emulate Will’s definition of a ‘slow learner’ by putting our state in a world of hurt. Tax cuts and credits have caused a budget shortfall in excess of $611 million.
Cash strapped agencies face additional budget cuts. Fewer dollars means roads, education, health care and public safety are no longer adequately funded. Teachers subsidize the public education system by accepting low wages and using personal funds in the classroom.
Earlier this session, as a “last resort, last choice” option, I proposed that teachers receive an income tax exemption to give the average teacher a few hundred dollars more per year since there was no talk of a pay increase. I had hoped that option might help keep teachers in the state.
Charter schools, private schools and others quickly sought similar tax exemptions. What began as a small incentive to public classroom teachers quickly had the potential to springboard into a justification to eliminate the entire state income tax code.
I remembered Will’s famous quote: “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” We are in a hole created by millions of dollars in tax cuts and tax credits. We no longer have the ability to properly fund essential infrastructure and services needed by Oklahomans. Eliminating the state income tax would be a final blow.
Oklahoma tax policy is being driven by legislators who are annihilating the state’s revenue stream and pitting department against department in vicious competition for scarce dollars.
Teachers by nature are builders of opportunity and have the God given talent to open doors of knowledge. They, by nature, are constructive and that is why they continue to perform at high levels even with substandard pay. That is also why Oklahoma should be ashamed of its treatment of teachers and Oklahoma’s educational system.
What we need is revenue. Not additional tax cuts. Oklahoma teachers need and deserve a pay raise now, but cutting taxes is not the correct path. Rep. Earl Sears, a Republican from Bartlesville, is truly one of the most honest and respected members of the state legislature. He serves as the Chairman of Appropriations and Budgets and is doing his best to protect key services upon which Oklahomans depend. Unfortunately, tax cuts and tax credits make his task nearly impossible.
The legislature’s time and attention should be spent solving issues like making Oklahoma’s water available to all Oklahomans and addressing ways to facilitate the installation of truly high speed internet to all four corners of this great state. Instead, “slow learners” in our legislature diminish revenue, appeal to our base instincts of jealousy and greed and sidetrack the debate by maintaining that 49th in teacher pay is good enough.
I am convinced at this time that the best interest of Oklahoma will be served if we focus not on tax cuts, but on restoring Oklahoma’s ability to meet the needs of all Oklahomans. Step one is for all Oklahomans to engage as voters and elect legislators who are committed to doing the same so that every person and every business will pay their fair share of taxes and allow the debate to focus on matters like water and technology across Oklahoma.
Thank you for allowing me to serve as State Representative. If you have questions or comments about this issue or any other matter, please contact me at David.Perryman@okhouse.gov or 800-522-8502.