There are some things to crow about in the budget agreement unveiled this week by state lawmakers, but proposed cuts to corporate and personal income rates aren't among them.
If there is anything Oklahoma's legislative leaders should have learned during the past year it is how woefully unprepared state government was to respond to a public health crisis. The novel coronavirus exposed a public health system so crippled it practically had to learn how to walk before it could respond.
Obsolete technology left tens of thousands of unemployed Oklahomans financially crippled for weeks. Calls to underfunded, understaffed and often empty state offices went unanswered for months — even after the governor declared Oklahoma "open for business!"
Granted, progress was made on some fronts during the intervening months. But the $8.3 billion budget being proposed will be among the smallest this century after adjusting for inflation and population growth.
State leaders champion tax cuts like the singularly best business recruiting tool — that approach is too simplistic. Research shows a highly educated and skilled workforce and good quality of life often outweigh a state's overall tax burden.
While Oklahoma's overall tax burden is ranked among the lowest tax in the nation — the online financial services provider WalletHub ranked the state 46th in United States — it has room to improve on other fronts. The proposed corporate tax cut from 6% to 4% would cost $48.5 million this fiscal year and $110 million annually thereafter, and a 0.25% reduction in the top personal income tax bracket would cut $170 million a year from state agencies after subtracting $66 million this fiscal year.
Policy analysts at Oklahoma Policy Institute report tax cuts instituted during the past two decades contributed to a 25% reduction in the state budget. During the decade following the 2008 collapse of financial markets, appropriations for higher education fell more than $3,550 per student while tuition increased 44%.
While oversight of spending always should remain a priority to guard against waste, fraud or abuse, lawmakers must invest what is necessary to ensure state government delivers quality services Oklahomans deserve.