Recently a loose association of business and community leaders asked our state to enact a plan — Step Up Oklahoma — which, in part, includes tax increases. I believe that asking Oklahomans to shoulder new tax increases now is the wrong approach.
Consider what is happening at the national level where President Trump signed a tax cut package to feed momentum in our national economy. This growth is delivering higher wages, more jobs, and making America more competitive in a global economy.
I’m excited about the steady gain that is also taking shape for Oklahoma’s economy, and I’m concerned this has not been given due consideration as the state Capitol looks to pass a $800 million tax package to kick off 2018.
Consider, financial numbers released Jan. 8 indicate that state revenues are growing. Revenue exceeded estimates by more than $25 million in both November and December, and that was before oil was at $63 a barrel. With six months to go in the fiscal year, the budget hole is fixing itself through economic growth. Which means the current tax package, if passed, could become an excess to grow a mismanaged government.
As I hold town hall meetings across the state, Oklahomans tell me their top concerns are to address our mismanaged government, get our state growing again and to fix the education system.
I support some of the Step Up Oklahoma’s governance ideas, such as budget-line itemizing and a budget stabilization fund. I also believe we can make government more efficient by reducing the more than 400 state agencies, boards and commissions and incentivizing streamlining by allowing part of the new savings to provide state employee pay raises. The governor also needs more authority to remove poorly performing appointed agency leaders.
I also endorse total tax reform once we have addressed our broken government. Any effort to modernize our tax code must be for the purpose of spurring a free market and leveling the playing field so that we are no longer incentivizing certain industries over others at a cost to Oklahoma.
We should prioritize a pay raise for K-12 teachers that is competitive with our six-state footprint. The search for new funding should start by assessing why we are sixth in the nation in district administration costs but near last in outcomes. We also need to bring together the best educators from across Oklahoma to help government align the roughly 39 percent of state spending that supports public education.
I urge the Legislature to stay focused on the task at hand of balancing the current budget, supporting free markets, instituting line item budgeting, streamlining government and holding agency heads accountable. Then, as our economy grows, we must set clear priorities to leverage the subsequent revenue growth with the focus on our next generation and not the next election.
Oklahoma has a great future! We are made of entrepreneurial, hardworking, and God-fearing people. Let’s not allow the status quo in our politics and our government hold us back.
Stitt, of Tulsa, is a Republican candidate for governor and founder and CEO of Gateway Mortgage Group.