Special Session Ends Without Tax Cuts
On the day the Special Session began, Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City) said that after meeting with the Republican members and discussing it with the Democrat leadership, he made the decision that there was no clear path forward for Stitt’s plan and ended the Senate session “Sine Die” without taking any action.
The Oklahoma House also met on October 3, and filed several bills related to tax reform. The following day, the House met and quickly adjourned subject to a call of the chair. But, with the Senate gaveled out, any legislation passed by the Oklahoma House could not make it to the Governor’s Desk.
Governor Stitt held a press conference at the Capitol on the morning that the Legislature convened and said he wanted to start Oklahoma on the path to zeroing out its personal income tax. He reasoned that with Oklahoma bringing in surplus revenues and having more than $5 billion in emergency savings that tax cuts and reform could be done. Stitt also called on the Legislature to pass a law that would require budget proposals to be made public for 72 hours before a vote could be taken. And he pressed for the trigger bill. Joining Stitt to support the tax reform measures were Americans for Tax Reform founder and president Grover Norquist, Oklahoma State Treasurer Todd Russ, and Oklahoma House Speaker Charles McCall.
During the Regular Session earlier this year, the senate leadership also blocked most tax cut proposals, and several senators were critical of the abrupt end of the Special Session.
Senator Warren Hamilton (R-McCurtain) said:
“I am disappointed that we adjourned from special session without providing tax relief to Oklahomans. We have put historic amounts in state savings, and it is time to give back to hard-working taxpayers. In addition, poor national economic policies have caused inflation that is making it difficult for Oklahomans to afford basic necessities. It is time to provide a personal income tax cut to our citizens and eliminate the grocery tax. Today, we missed the opportunity to answer the governor’s special session call and provide real relief to the Oklahomans we represent.”
Senator Blake “Cowboy” Stephens (R-Tahlequah) said:
“Earlier this year, we successfully eliminated the corporate franchise tax and the marriage penalty tax, and this special session gave us another opportunity to provide tax relief for all hardworking Oklahomans. I was surprised and disheartened that we adjourned so quickly without figuring out a way to responsibly lower the personal income tax. We’ve been fiscally conservative and built up historic savings in recent years to protect vital state services during economic downturns and have made record investments in education, public safety, and other important areas. Now our citizens deserve tax relief as well to help counteract the growing financial burden from out-of-control national inflation and the slowing economy.”
Sentor Rob Standridge (R-Norman) said he was very disappointed, but not surprised that with billions of dollars hoarded away for tomorrow’s politicians’ newest pet projects, to hear that helping hard-working Oklahomans is not worth our time:
“It has been mentioned that there is not enough time in special session to give taxpayers a financial break, but over the last year I have seen us extend special sessions for months until leadership got the vote they wanted on tribal compact policy, have watched leadership hastily throw together one billion dollar deal after another trying to bribe foreign woke companies, like Panasonic, to come to Oklahoma, using hard-earned taxpayer dollars to do so, and saw leadership spend over a hundred million dollars in additional funds for higher education, seemingly a financial reward for their non-stop efforts to discriminate based on race and indoctrinate young college students into their leftist ideology.”
Senator Cody Rogers (R-Tulsa) said:
“Unfortunately, we were not able to deliver a tax cut to Oklahomans during this special session. One of the arguments against lowering income tax is that we will lose too much revenue or will have to raise other taxes to make up the difference. Oklahoma’s economy has seen continued growth and our historic state savings offer security in the event of a downturn. Rather than Oklahomans’ hard-earned dollars continuing to grow government savings, it is time to put their money back in their pocket. I look forward to revisiting discussions on reducing income tax and eliminating grocery tax, but if we can’t come to an agreement and provide these tax cuts, I’d like to see our surpluses go towards one-time funds for infrastructure projects to improve roads and bridges.”
The governor’s call for a trigger bill is something that many believe must be addressed by the Legislature. A case filed by Alicia Stroble is currently pending before the Oklahoma Supreme Court. It argues that Native Americans living on land within the historic, pre-statehood reservation boundaries of some tribes are exempt from paying the state income tax. Stroble’s case has the support of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, Cherokee Nation, Chickasaw Nation, and Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, all of which have filed briefs in the case.
A recent poll shows Oklahomans strongly oppose exempting individuals from paying state income tax based on their status as a member of a Native American tribe. According to the survey, conducted by WPA Intelligence (WPAi) on behalf of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA), 63% of voters agree that members of Native American tribes in Oklahoma should be subject to the same tax laws as all other citizens in Oklahoma. The WPAi survey found that 76% of Republicans, 56% of Independents and even 44% of Democrats believe that members of Native American tribes should be subject to the same tax laws as all other citizens in Oklahoma.
The House Democratic Caucus put forth tax proposals for the Special Session including eliminating the state sales tax on groceries, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, and expanding the sales tax relief credit. Oklahoma House Democratic Leader Cyndi Munson (D-Oklahoma City) said, “My hope is that the partisan pandering and insistent infighting of the Republican supermajority will calm down so we can focus on the actual needs of all Oklahomans and return to the State Capitol during the regular session with a bipartisan plan to address real tax relief.”