Cutting budgets AND cutting taxes?

Today’s Tulsa World has a strong editorial opposing legislative proposals to enact further restrictions on property taxes.  For those who haven’t been following, this week has seen a public flare-up of a long-simmering internal battle within the House Republican caucus over proposals to tighten the maximum annual tax increase on homestead properties from its current 5 percent cap down to 3 percent or 1 percent.  In Monday’s Tulsa World, Speaker Chris Benge was quoted opposing the proposal:

“I think it is bad timing,” said Benge, R-Tulsa. “We are looking at a very tough budget year. To date, it is about 25 percent or 26 percent below the estimate. We are looking at a very difficult time to fill a budget hole in which we are going to have to cut budgets. We are going to have to use reserves. I just don’t think that the timing is good to reduce revenue.”

Benge’s position led to a sharply critical response from Rep. David Dank, who, along with Rep. Mike Reynolds, has led the charge in recent session for measures that would send a lowering of property tax caps to a vote of the people.  Rep. Dank bluntly stated that Speaker Benge must either let a bill come to a House vote or step down as leader of the House Republicans, arguing that current laws allow built-in automatic tax increases for hard-pressed homeowners and that the Speaker’s position violates core party principles.

The World’s editorial criticized the property tax proposal on two grounds. The first is the impact it would have on funding for education:

At a time when the other taxes that support public schools (and libraries, county government and many other key elements of government) are getting hammered by the recession, a new restriction on property taxes would be a disaster for the state.

The World also raises the equity issues involved when assessments on long-term residents are capped well below market value while people who purchase property are assessed at full value:  “Two identical homes sitting side by side can pay enormously different property tax bills because of the inequitable discount given to established landowners.”

Last April, we put out a 1-page fact sheet on property taxes in Oklahoma that set outs how property taxes are determined; the existing set of exemptions and preferences to the tax, and Oklahoma’s property tax rankings. In 2005, U.S. Bureau of Census data showed that Oklahoma’s per capita property taxes were 4th lowest in the nation and just 43 percent of the national average. You can also find information on the property tax from this page of our Online Budget Guide.

With the Legislature still more than a week away from convening, it’s already clear that while revenues will be in short supply this session, political drama will not.


Former Executive Director David Blatt joined OK Policy in 2008 and served as its Executive Director from 2010 to 2019. He previously served as Director of Public Policy for Community Action Project of Tulsa County and as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma State Senate. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and a B.A. from the University of Alberta. David has been selected as Political Scientist of the Year by the Oklahoma Political Science Association, Local Social Justice Champion by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice, and Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers.

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