Here's a truth that won't go down as smoothly as your sangria: Oklahoma is a low-tax state.
A bottom feeder, actually.
Our combined state and local tax burden is 8.53 percent. Forty-seventh lowest out of 50 states.
Yet to hear our elected state leaders tell it, Oklahomans are on the verge of financial ruin because of over-taxation.
But it's total bunk -- a Big Lie.
I confess that I instinctively wince every quarter when our CPA advises how much we must send to the federal and state treasuries.
But that fleeting pain is quickly supplanted by long-term heartburn fueled by the realization that nearly $1 billion in ill-advised tax cuts in recent years have crippled vital state services.
You ever stopped to think why public school classrooms are overcrowded, teachers are being laid off, facilities are crumbling and programs are being eliminated?
The fact is, when it comes to per pupil expenditures, we are -- yet again -- 47th. Our public schools now receive about $200 less per student in state taxpayer support than they did four years ago.
Can you imagine the big checkbooks that underwrite OU and OSU football cheering our teams' No. 47 ranking? Not only no, but hell no.
Scholarships would be revoked. Coaches would be fired. College presidents' heads would roll.
The tax cuts haven't only crippled public education, of course. State prisons are at capacity, but staffed at less than 75 percent. Oklahoma's roads and bridges rank among the nation's worst. The state Capitol is literally falling down, making some areas off limits because they're too dangerous.
Yet Gov. Mary Fallin and the Republican-dominated Legislature insist that more tax cuts must remain front-and-center on their agenda, essential to making Oklahoma attractive for business relocation and expansion.
So we end up with proposals like state Sen. Patrick Anderson's 2.95 percent flat tax that would be laughable were it not for the fact the Legislature's pandering louts might be foolish enough to pass it.
Anderson promotes his plan as "simple, fair, and revenue neutral."
"The bottom line is if you replace our current tax system with a flat tax, then all taxpayers are treated equally," said the Enid Republican.
It is surely simple (make that simple-minded).
And it may be revenue neutral (though that remains to be seen). But it is hardly fair.
Anderson's plan would eliminate all current income tax deductions, credits, and exemptions.
What does that mean? It would be great news for the richest one percent. Their taxes would decline. But it would be disastrous for almost everyone else -- the lower income tax rate would be more than offset by the loss of deductions.
"Many communities rely on these exemptions and deductions simply to make ends meet but early estimates are that a flat tax would actually increase taxes on the majority of Oklahomans -- upwards of two-thirds to three-quarters," said House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City.
"In short, Anderson's plan will shift the tax burden onto the backs of Oklahomans who can least afford it," Inman added.
According to the Tulsa-based Oklahoma Policy Institute, a married couple with two children with a combined annual income of $24,000 would see their taxes increase $1,083.
Moreover, OKPolicy reported, taxes would increase for similar families earning $57,000 or less, while taxes would drop $1,666 for those earning $150,000.
Change you can believe in?
Anderson's proposal dovetails perfectly, of course, with the GOP's long-held but thoroughly discredited supply-side economics narrative that reducing taxes generates higher tax revenues.
Yes, it's counterintuitive. It certainly never worked for me on a personal level. The more I spend, the less I have in my Rainy Day fund or for retirement.
Anderson and his ilk in the Legislature cling to the fiction that lower income taxes -- some support eliminating the state income tax altogether -- will magically stimulate faster economic growth and produce more revenue for education and roads, prisons and health care.
The facts may be inconvenient for legislative Republicans, but here's the reality:
According to Mickey Hepner, dean of the University of Central Oklahoma's College of Business Administration, Census Bureau data from seven states without an income tax -- and two, New Hampshire and Tennessee, that tax only dividend and interest income -- fails to support the theory.
"Since 2000," Hepner wrote in a recent column that appeared in the Edmond Sun, "Oklahoma's per capita personal income has outpaced seven of the nine states that lack a personal income tax.
"Furthermore, Oklahoma's median household income -- arguably the most relevant economic statistic regarding the well-being of the typical household -- has grown faster than the median household income in all nine states that lack a personal income tax.
"In short these two key economic indicators (which are confirmed by decades of economic research on the subject) show that cutting state income taxes is not a panacea to prosperity. The path to prosperity is paved with investments for the future."
Since the Great Recession, Oklahoma has fared better than much of the nation thanks to a strong energy sector. So the state will have about $270 million more to spend in fiscal year 2013-14 than it did this year.
That sounds like a bunch -- until you consider the overall state budget is about $7 billion and you recall the massive cuts that vital state services have shouldered the last few years as prior income tax cuts kicked in.
And, of course, even before the 2013 legislative session begins Feb. 4, Gov. Fallin already has announced about $56 million in new funding proposals for mental health programs and Medicaid that would sop up about 20 percent of the growth revenues.
Even so, she insists she'll push lawmakers to consider another cut in the state's top income tax rate of 5.25 percent.
So, evidently, vital state services will continue to be starved. And the state's wealthiest residents will continue to keep more of their money while everyone else will pay more.
Unless ... the state's voters push back and declare "enough."
Enough of the Powers-That-Be helping their rich campaign contributors become richer. Enough of failing to invest in things (education, highways, health care) that really will help Oklahoma become all it can be in the 21st century.
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