Legislature again takes up the shrinking county tax giveaway (Tulsa World)

By the Tulsa World Editorial Board

One of the worst legislative ideas we’ve ever seen — the shrinking county tax giveaway — has reared its ugly head again this year.

House Bill 1156 would give a 100 percent income-tax exemption for five years to anyone who moves from outside the state to an Oklahoma county with a shrinking population.

So, if someone moved from Coffeyville, Kansas, to South Coffeyville, for example, we’d forgive their taxes for five years. They’d still get to drive on the roads that are paid for with taxes. Their children would still get free public educations at the schools that are paid for with taxes. They’d just be freeloading off the rest of us.

A legislative analysis shows the tax giveaway would apply to 25 counties in the state. Oklahoma Tax Commission figures estimate the result would be nearly $30 million in lost tax revenue through fiscal year 2023.

The House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee has given approval to the measure, which is now pending consideration by the full House.

There’s no evidence this plan will actually do anything to stop shrinking counties from shrinking. In fact, empirical evidence shows it will not work.

When the idea was first proposed two years ago, the Oklahoma Policy Institute pointed out that when Kansas tried the same thing in 2013 the shrinking counties it applied to shrank faster.

How could that be? It’s simple: Income-tax policy is an ineffective lure in determining which Oklahoma county immigrating people will move to. They choose their new homes based on family, schools, jobs and amenities. The only effect of the proposed change would be lower tax bills for people who were going to move to the same place anyway. It does precious little to actually change the forces that are driving migration patterns.

Meanwhile, there’s less money to support the schools, roads and other essential state services that are being used by more people.

The Legislature considered and came dangerously close to passing the same idea the past two years. We urge House leaders to bottle up this ridiculous tax giveaway and start looking for smart and effective ways to grow the state without robbing from essential government services.


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