OK Policy recently commissioned a scientific poll that showed a majority of Oklahoma voters oppose going forward with a tax cut at a time when the state is looking at a $611 million budget shortfall and lawmakers are planning more cuts to education and almost every other core public service. The poll shows that while just 27 percent of Oklahoma voters think the state has not cut taxes enough, a whopping 74 percent think Oklahoma is not spending enough on education.
Of course, that didn’t sit well with The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) and their closest allies, who advocate for deep tax cuts every year. They issued a press release questioning the poll’s validity. The criticisms don’t stand up to reality.
OCPA vice president Jonathan Small took issue with facts about the tax cut that were included in some of the poll questions. He argued it was “not factual” that the tax cut will leave Oklahoma with $57 million less in tax revenues and contribute to the budget shortfall. His belief that cutting revenues doesn’t add to a budget shortfall is a curious one, and this belief contradicts the basic facts used by the state to make its budget. The $57 million cost of the tax cut comes straight from the Oklahoma Tax Commission and legislative staff, who also estimate that the cost will grow to $147 million in fiscal year 2017 and $199 million in FY 2018. These reduced income tax collections caused by the tax cut are part of the Board of Equalization’s revenue certification, which is a legally binding limit on how much the Legislature can budget for next year.
Of course, tax cuts would be very popular in a world where cutting revenue doesn’t make it harder to pay expenses. But according to just about every credible economist, we don’t live in that world.
Small also ignores that even before hearing these facts, the first two questions of the poll showed large majorities believe Oklahoma has cut taxes enough and cut education spending too much. In the press release, Rep. Tom Newell commented that a large percentage of appropriations go to education, which is true, but it doesn’t erase the fact that Oklahoma has made the largest per pupil cuts in the nation to state aid for schools. That K-12 education still makes up the biggest part of appropriations only confirms the larger point — the problem is not the slice going to schools; the problem is the shrinking overall pie due to faltering revenue.
Rep. Newell attempts to shift the blame for this year’s shortfall onto falling gas prices that have led to layoffs in the energy industry. Certainly that is part of it, but he conveniently ignores that legislators provided flat funding or cuts to nearly every state agency last year as well, when gas prices were high and the economy was booming. Legislators also raided one-time funds for hundreds of millions of dollars last year, which may have helped in the short term but made this year’s crisis even more difficult. The inescapable truth is that in both good years and bad, the state is not bringing in enough revenue to provide the services that Oklahomans expect.
[pullquote]Shapard implies outright what is usually said behind closed doors — when Oklahomans don’t vote, it’s easy to ignore the will of the majority.”[/pullquote]Finally, Bill Shapard of SoonerPoll criticized the poll for talking to anyone who was a registered voter in Oklahoma instead of screening for only those who are likely voters. He said that likely voters were a smaller subset numbering less than half of the number of registered voters. First of all, the intent of this poll was to examine public opinion, not to predict an election, so registered voters are an appropriate sample. However, Shapard’s comment brings up a good point — Oklahoma’s very poor voter turnout and uncompetitive elections do seem to have skewed the Legislature to be more extreme than the citizens of Oklahoma. Shapard implies outright what is usually said behind closed doors — when Oklahomans don’t vote, it’s easy to ignore the will of the majority.
Our lawmakers will continue to ignore the majority of Oklahomans unless more of us vote and more of us speak out. As a first step, you can contact your legislators and tell them to halt the tax cut using this simple online form.