As chair of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, Rep. Leslie Osborn was one of the legislature’s budget negotiators earlier this year. She used that position to make the case for a litany of tax increases, claiming that Oklahomans are “tired of us doing things the way we’ve always done them.” This begs the question: what has the state been doing?
As one of the most conservative states when it comes to election results, some might assume that the Oklahoma legislature continually cuts taxes. In fact, the state ranks 36th in per capita tax collections. A study shows that Oklahoma historically has had an above average tax burden compared to the rest of the nation. While there have been some state tax cuts, Jonathan Small has shown that the legislature has also increased revenue.
Despite changes in tax laws and fluctuations in revenue, what has remained constant year after year has been the increase in state government spending. According to the data from Oklahoma’s most recent Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), state government has increased spending in 22 of the last 23 years. Despite recessions in 2008 and 2015, when many Oklahoma families had to make tough choices, Oklahoma government continued to spend.
During the same interview Leslie Osborn said that “more than ever the message and the meaning is going to matter more.” Message matters, but it is imperative they be not only sincere, but also based on facts. Oklahoma government has been growing, not shrinking. People might question the priorities in the budget or in how agencies spend money, but the total burden on Oklahomans is higher than ever.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court opinion striking down SB 845 states “by strictly limiting the Legislature's ability to enact laws that generate additional revenue—the people's preference that when revenues shrink, so too does their government.” This is the people’s will as expressed in the Oklahoma Constitution. Maybe the state should try doing things this way?