“Alligators” lurk in and around the swamp of the Oklahoma State Capitol. It’s that time of year when the special interest predators descend on state government to gobble up as much money and special benefits as possible without regard to performance, accountability, or financial sense.
I recently got close to several alligators in the Everglades National Park. In fact, check out the photo below to see the harrowing moment an alligator stalked me from behind. I certainly felt like “alligators” were stalking me during my many years at the Capitol as well.
With so much extra money in state coffers this year, lobbyists and special interest groups will be on the hunt for more and more of Oklahomans' hard-earned tax dollars. In 2005, my first year in the Oklahoma Senate, the state appropriation was $5.5 billion. This year, total spending is $10.2 billion; but have reading and math scores improved? Did we grow jobs and incomes more than the national average since then? Of course, the answer to both is sadly no.
Increasing spending and cutting taxes during the good times does not lead to excellence. And there will be great pressure this year to spend more money, cut taxes some, and carve out special incentive deals for the political class. Working families, our kids, and our grandkids will not benefit from the same old strategy. When you increase spending, cut taxes, and dole out special tax breaks at the same time, you guarantee another awful budget period of shortfalls and backward progress.
If state leaders want to make a real difference, they should focus on transformative, bold changes— like restoring the accountability of the Reading Sufficiency Act by funding Superintendent Ryan Walter’s plan to pour $100 million into reading programs and following the lead of Senator Dave Rader and reforming the tax code in a revenue-neutral manner to a low flat tax or better yet to no income tax at all!
Highly educated students and a tax code that attracts money and jobs are the best path to growth and prosperity for our state. Let’s make it so.