Opening Salvo in 2018 GOP Gubernatorial Contest Focuses Attention on Hemorrhaging State Budget, ‘YVC’ Panel Notes
OKLAHOMA CITY (19 February 2017) — The Republican contest to decide who will succeed Mary Fallin as Governor of Oklahoma opened last week with a double-barreled blast at the state’s chief executive officer.
“Your Vote Counts” moderator Scott Mitchell noted that 2002 gubernatorial candidate Gary Richardson released a two-and-a-half-minute video [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dyCEXVGNQds] Wednesday that mentioned just about every one of the 164 services on which Gov. Mary Fallin suggested the 4.5% state sales tax should be imposed as a means of establishing a permanent, reliable source of revenue for the State of Oklahoma, which has three consecutive years of huge revenue deficits.
The next day Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb resigned from the governor’s Cabinet. “…I cannot support her proposed tax increases,” Lamb said. “While Governor Fallin and I have disagreed on issues from time-to-time, our differences on this important topic are so significant they preclude me from continuing to serve on her Cabinet.”
(In a recent post on his blog, “My Back Page,” Blanchard Schools Supt. Jim Beckham recalled that Governor Fallin threw Janet Barresi “under the bus” because “it was no longer politically correct” nor in Fallin’s best interest to support her State School Superintendent. “[A]s Fallin jumped into the lifeboat off the sinking Titanic, she waved bon voyage to Barresi,” Dr. Beckham wrote, then added, “Well, what goes around, comes around – when it comes to politics.”)
“This is about getting the [GOP] primary started,” Mitchell said. He pointed out that Richardson, a Tulsa attorney, ran for Governor as an Independent in 2002, placing a distant third behind Democrat Brad Henry, the winner, and Republican nominee Steve Largent. Lamb is expected to be a gubernatorial candidate in 2018.
“This makes it a lot more difficult for the governor to continue to work on tax reform,” said Rep. Jason Dunnington. It is “disconcerting,” the Oklahoma City Democrat said, when the state’s lieutenant governor abandons his seat on the governor’s Cabinet “instead of sticking in there” and “working harder” to “help make a better future” for the state. “Average Oklahomans can’t leave their jobs when things get tough,” Dunnington said.
The Richardson/Lamb hubbub complicates efforts to resolve the state’s $900 million shortfall “and what we need to do” to plug that gap, said Rep. Leslie Osborn, who chairs the House Committee on Appropriations and Budget. Fallin “came out with a million tax increase ideas, which was probably too much and scared everybody to death,” the Mustang Republican said. But rather than propose solutions, Lamb and Richardson “threw up their hands” and shifted “to the far right.”
According to Osborn, 85% of all state agencies have had their budgets cut 40% in the last 10 years. “If we don’t want to do any revenue-raising measures – which would be small and few – we can cut them another 20% this year,” she said. “But do we want to keep cutting district attorneys’ councils and firefighters and the Highway Patrol and education?”
Oklahomans “want us to govern from the middle,” she said. “We need to come together and make a decision on what we want the future to be.”
“If the power shift continues to the far right and we continue to cater to those” who promote unconstitutional legislation that prohibits women from choosing their own health care, and legislators who “try to put a gun in every 2-year-old’s hands because we say it’s their God-given right,” Dunnington said, then “we’re getting farther and farther away from what we really need to do, which is focus on core services of government…”
Although the governor’s tax plan “is on the rocks,” Mitchell said, a proposed $1.50-per-pack increase in the cigarette tax that was defeated last year is back on the negotiating table this year. If it can’t pass the Legislature, “there’s not a chance in the world” that any of the governor’s other proposals will pass, either, Mitchell predicted.
The cigarette tax is “the template,” Osborn said. Polls indicate it is supported by 75% of Oklahoma voters. Moreover, the proposed tobacco tax increase would “shore up” mental health, rural health care, rural hospitals, the state Health Care Authority, the state Department of Human Services, and services for foster children, she said.
“If this doesn’t get bipartisan support,” Osborn said, echoing Mitchell, “it will be very difficult to get any revenue-raising measure” through the Legislature. “And then we’ll just have to keep cutting our way to prosperity.” The Legislature continues to evaluate state agency operations with an eye toward consolidating and streamlining wherever possible, she said, “but it’s also time to invest in our state.”
“This is really about the health of Oklahoma citizens,” Dunnington said. The proposed cigarette tax increase “would be a first step,” he said. “There are many other revenue measures out there … a lot of tax loopholes” that could be sewn shut. Oklahomans “are tired of the politics at the Capitol,” Dunnington said. “What we need to do now is … make sure we’re funding core services of government and taking care of the people in Oklahoma.”
“Your Vote Counts” airs Sunday mornings on KWTV in Oklahoma City, and afterward is streamed on the station’s website at “www.news9.com/yourvotecounts”.
MIKE W. RAY
Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives
(405) 962-7819 office
(405) 245-4411 mobile