Fallin’s Brick Wall

By Wayne Greene

Gov. Mary Fallin is getting her first full taste of what it means to be a second-term governor.

With less than two years left in office, no way to run for re-election and not a lot of political alternatives, she’s a lame duck, but with strong Republican majorities in the House and the Senate and GOP control of all state offices, she might have thought she would have some time left when she would be treated like the boss … at least among friends.

Not so much.

Nearly two weeks after Fallin released her budget, Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb resigned from her cabinet, after being shocked (shocked!) to discover that it included tax increases.

“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,” said Lamb, who remains the No. 2 person in the state’s executive branch and the smart money favorite to be No. 1 when Fallin leaves office.

Faced with a budget hole of nearly $900 million and another budget failure in the current fiscal year, Fallin has proposed a broad rewrite of state tax law, including a $1.50-a-pack cigarette tax increase, doing away with the state corporate income tax, raising state fuel taxes (7 cents on gasoline and 10 cents on diesel), eliminating state sales taxes on groceries and applying state sales taxes to a broad range of services, everything from haircuts to legal fees.

That last proposal in particular, the sales tax on services, has spurred a rebellion within Fallin’s own Republican Party with Lamb leading the pitchfork and torches gang.

After Lamb resigned, Tulsa County Republican Party Chairman Mike Ford sent out an email that took an even more strident tone in its opposition to Fallin’s tax plan, which he said “is destined to fail us as a party, and it’s economically and electorally dangerous.” He urged Republicans to call Fallin’s office to oppose tax increases.

His alternative: “massive spending cuts.” Ford says there are unspecified areas where the state is wasting hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars.

Then, 14 legislators — all Republicans — issued a press release criticizing Fallin’s tax plans too and again specifically pointing to Lamb’s resignation. After the press release came out, 13 more Republicans added their name to the rebellion.

Fallin has a prairie fire in her own party, which makes the potential for coming up with the 75 percent legislative supermajority needed to pass any tax increase (if you want it to count for next year’s budget) even less likely.

The truly dangerous potential would come if, emboldened by their opposition to the service tax, the Republican right wing tries to adopt the idea Ford suggests — trying to slash a path out of the budget jungle.

If Fallin can’t find a middle coalition that will make the fiscal changes necessary to get the state on the right path, the alternatives could be truly devastating.

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