I get a lot of questions about the state budget process.
With the number of news stories about state agencies potentially losing funding to take care of services for Oklahoma residents, this is understandable. Let me give you a rundown of the budget work I’ve seen at the House this week.
The Joint Committee on Appropriations & Budget, made up of House and Senate members, and the House Appropriations & Budget (A&B) Committee met to consider a number of bills.
Many of these measures would raise fees or end tax credits, exemptions or deductions. These measures, while they would result in a positive budget outcome for the state, would require only 51 votes in the House.
While there’s some argument about whether increasing fees constitutes revenue-raising, the courts have ruled in the past that they do not, which is why they only require a simple majority to pass.
It is hoped that the measures will help us close the budget gap and pay for a teacher pay raise or at least get us close. On Tuesday, we passed three of these measures that would pull back tax incentives putting money back into the General Revenue Fund.
Then there are bills that would raise revenue through tax increases. These require 76 votes.
Several of the items mentioned in this category are raising the price of tax on tobacco, raising the tax on gas and diesel fuel, increasing the tax on alcohol, raising the gross production tax, among others.
Just last week I had a meeting with a former speaker of the house who served in the 1980s and ’90s. I have these meetings often and have found it is a great way to learn about our legislative past.
I asked him how they made it out of the downed economy stemming from the oil busts in the 1970s and ’80s. He told me the state had just rebounded from a terrible oil bust in the 1970s and in 1981-82. Oil was selling for $65-$75 dollars a barrel (this would be around $200 today) and in 1983, oil fell to $7 a barrel.
He said they created and increased too many taxes and, in return, the citizens of Oklahoma responded by passing State Question 640 in 1992. This state question is really important because it constitutionally requires 76 votes to pass any tax. How effective has SQ640 been? Since 1992, there has been one minor increase.
I’m not opposed to raising revenue if necessary to ensure we continue vital government services for those who truly need them. But, there’s a line between what government should cover and what should be the responsibility of those who desire to have certain services.
Why should I get to decide how you spend all of your money? There are some measures that I believe make sense, one being the fuel tax.
We have one of the lowest fuel taxes in the nation and are 8 cents below our regional average. Our fuel tax has not been addressed since the 1980s when vehicles guzzled gas. A fuel tax is fair; no certain group is singled out. Everyone in this state would pay and also anyone who travels through the state.
As always, it is truly an honor to serve District 5. I always welcome your comments and concerns.
Lastly, we lost a great man and colleague last weekend, in the passing of Rep. David Brumbaugh (R-Broken Arrow) from a sudden heart attack. David was also a fellow veteran and 101st Airborne Division brother.
I am glad I had the chance to get to know David during my campaign and in our service together in the House of Representatives. Please keep his wife and two daughters in your prayers.
Rep. Josh West, (R-Grove), serves District 5 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. For more information, persons interested may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 405-557-7415.