Friday, July 03, 2020

Small: Speak up to prevent tax increases in aftermath of Medicaid expansion vote


Speak up to prevent tax increases
By Jonathan Small

Here come the tax increases. State Question 802 passed by the narrowest of margins this week, which means Oklahomans will now be constitutionally required to expand the Medicaid welfare program to include able-bodied, working-age, childless adults.

The state tab for that expansion could run up to $374 million extra each year, and that added cost comes even as lawmakers are expected to face a $1 billion shortfall in 2021.

This financial challenge was created in part by California labor unions that supported SQ 802 and urged Oklahomans to put the last optional piece of Nancy Pelosi’s Obamacare scheme into our state’s Constitution. (Notably, the pro-SQ 802 campaign broke state laws/regulations by refusing to file mandatory spending reports.)

To the degree there is a fiscally responsible approach to this challenge, it involves reducing spending elsewhere to offset increased Medicaid costs. But politicians, even in Oklahoma, are far more likely to promote tax increases than do the hard work of serious budget planning. You’ll recall just two years ago, facing a similar shortfall, the Legislature passed the largest package of tax increases in state history.

Well, here we go again.

Fortunately, this week’s vote on SQ 802 also shows why lawmakers should not enact tax increases if they have any sense of self-preservation. A majority of voters in 70 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties voted “no” on SQ 802.  Nearly 55 percent of those voting in person on election day voted against SQ 802. The yes campaign prevailed because of absentee ballots (of which 80 percent were “yes” votes, an astounding divergence with general voting trends).

This means most voters in most legislative districts held by Republicans opposed Medicaid expansion—period. If lawmakers want to stay in office, they would be wise to note that fact.

They should note that SQ 802 supporters didn’t include a funding source in their proposal, which was a tacit indication it should be funded without tax increases.

It’s also worth noting that Republicans who voted for tax increases in 2018 continue to pay a political price. In the 2018 election cycle, four Republican incumbents who supported tax increases were tossed out of office, and another nine Republican lawmakers didn’t even try to run for re-election after voting for tax increases. This week, another Republican senator who supported the 2018 tax hikes was ousted while three other Republicans senators who supported the tax increases were forced into runoffs. In a House race, an incumbent Republican who criticized the Oklahoma’s Constitution’s supermajority requirement for tax increases was defeated by a primary opponent who endorsed spending restraint over tax increases in times of shortfall.

If Oklahoma taxpayers don’t want to endure another shakedown in 2021, we need to start communicating to our legislators immediately that tax increases are unacceptable—and that those who vote the wrong way will pay a political price.

Sign up at www.highertaxesnotok.com to join the fight.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

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