OCPA: Misleading Statements Harmful

By OCPA President Jonathan Small

Former House Appropriations and Budget Chair Leslie Osborn recently stated Oklahoma is “50th in the nation in tax collections.” Calling for more tuition and fee increases on working Oklahoma families, University of Oklahoma President David Boren made a similar “dead last” claim regarding state support for higher education.

Despite Boren’s claims, the actual data show that Oklahoma ranks 31st in total state support for higher education. When adjusted for cost of living, on a per capita basis Oklahoma actually ranks 26th in state support for higher education.

Just as the actual data contradict President Boren’s claim, the undisputed data from the United States Census Bureau contradict Rep. Osborn’s statements, proving that we are far from being the lowest-taxed state.

Regarding Osborn’s assertion, the actual data show Oklahoma is not 50th in the nation. According to the latest available data from the Census Bureau, Oklahoma collects more in state taxes than Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Thus, Oklahoma ranks 31st, not 50th. Per capita, Oklahoma ranks 38th in tax collections. When adjusted for cost of living, Oklahoma ranks 36th in per capita tax collections.

What’s really astonishing is that the state managed to collect this level of revenue despite being in a recession while most states were not. Oklahoma lost 21,800 energy and manufacturing jobs, resulting in a loss of more than $13 billion in taxable income. Oklahomans reduced purchases subject to sales tax and use tax to the tune of $4.1 billion just to survive, according to available Oklahoma Tax Commission data. Given this, state government should not complain, and Oklahomans should be thanked for their sacrifice.

Throughout the 2017 legislative session, tax consumers tried to get lawmakers and the public to support more than $2 billion in tax increases. Oklahomans were told time and time again that the state has a “revenue problem” and we must “increase revenue” (that’s a crafted phrase for “raise taxes”) or Oklahoma will face dire consequences.

Despite desperate, last-minute attempts, no tax increases were constitutionally passed by the Legislature. It’s understandable why tax consumers are working so hard to get taxpayers to believe the false “50th” and “dead last” mantra: they want Oklahomans to be in the psychological condition to support and accept massive tax increases.

But in reality, state spending is at an all-time high. Oklahoma state government is now on track to spend more money next year – more than $17.9 billion – than at any time in state history. And, total state government spending is more than $3.83 billion higher than 10 years ago.

With those numbers, it’s no wonder many Oklahomans asked: What “revenue problem” and why do we need to “increase revenue” if the government is spending more money?

The truth is that we don’t have a “revenue problem,” and we don’t need to raise taxes. Oklahoma’s budget issues stem from two causes – an extended recession that hit the core oil and gas industry and the failure of some state leaders and many bureaucrats to address the convoluted, wasteful structure of government.

Oklahomans deserve an honest, open conversation about state spending, the budget, and taxation. While I believe Representative Osborn cares about Oklahoma, misleading statements from public officials such as Osborn and Boren are harmful to efforts to find viable, long-term solutions.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (www.ocpathink.org).

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  1. castor, 22 August, 2017

    I appreciate the call for an “honest, open conversation about state spending, the budget, and taxation” but an honest, open conversation is the last thing the common ed and higher ed people want. They just want more money, end of conversation.


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