Dear Oklahoma Policymakers,
Ronald Reagan once wisely warned: “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.” About taxes and spending, he said, “The problem is not that people are taxed too little, the problem is that government spends too much.” These words of wisdom apply directly to fiscal policies being debated in Oklahoma today.
Take, for example, the last several legislative sessions. Numerous lobbyists for special interests and numerous government executives have worked to focus the discussion on how to take more money from Oklahoma’s most vulnerable citizens, from working Oklahoma families, and from small businesses and job creators.
Each session, the discussion has focused on cries for more revenue, money to be taken from Oklahomans by their government.
The reality, though, is that Oklahomans are hurting—due in large part to the significant price declines in oil and to the failures of the Obama administration’s economic policies and regulations. The Oklahoma Tax Commission reports that from 2014 to 2015 Oklahomans lost more than $13 billion in taxable income. Further, from FY-2015 to FY-2016, Oklahomans cut their purchases subject to state sales and use tax by $4.1 billion just to survive. From September 2015 to September 2016, fully 21,800 oil and gas and manufacturing jobs were cut.
Given what Oklahomans are facing, now more than ever is the time for policymakers to steel themselves and get about the tough work of reforming Oklahoma’s government. This means focusing funding on critical core functions while working to implement efficiencies. It’s time to craft a state budget that respects Oklahoma families’ budgets.
Now more than ever, policymakers must deliver on their campaign promises to right-size government and adjust it to the current tax burden borne by Oklahomans.
During stern times like these, it is unwise to fall for the trap that is state-level “tax-reform”—when this really means raising taxes on Oklahomans and permanently cementing unreformed state spending so that government can avoid the hard choices Oklahomans have to make every day. Policymakers should especially resist increasing tax burdens on Oklahomans while a lack of transparency in agency spending still exists.
Policymakers should work tirelessly until all expenditures of every state agency are reviewed by our elected legislators. No state agency should hire lobbyists or staff with state funds in order to lobby for even more taxpayer money. Sound and fiscally conservative policy must always consider reforms and prioritizing spending. The people of Oklahoma have spoken clearly in favor of this approach. Most state office holders have earned their offices by voicing support of these principles.
Some claim that recent special-election results show that policymakers aren’t taxing their constituents enough. Nothing could be further from the truth. Voters will reward those who keep their promises, who work tirelessly to rein in the bureaucracy and special interests—and who carry out their duties and personal lives with moral integrity. When policymakers break promises, avoid reining in the bureaucracy, and have moral failings, none should be surprised when they themselves and those who claim to wear their political colors suffer electoral defeat.
During this special session, those who claim the principles and label of Ronald Reagan must act on their promises. Those principles reject all tax increases and efforts to generate more revenue during times like these. State reports and certified revenue documents show that lawmakers have already passed legislation which increased annual revenues available for appropriation by more than $500 million over the last three legislative sessions.
It is time to dig in to eradicate crony capitalism. It is time to rein in unreformed spending. It is time for real, market-driven Medicaid reforms and innovative health care spending. It is time to be honest about non-instructional growth in common and higher education. It is time to implement government-wide business process improvements and reform outdated government structures.
Policymakers must make the same difficult choices being made by the most vulnerable, by working Oklahoma families, and by small businesses and other job creators in Oklahoma.
Tom Coburn Former United States Senator
Frank Keating Former Oklahoma Governor
Larry Parman Former Oklahoma Secretary of State and Secretary of Commerce