By Chris Eversole
Local state legislators said Tuesday that they support selective tax increases as the only alternative to drastic cuts in state services, including education.
“I never thought in a million years that I would increase taxes, but we have to make some tough decisions,” State Sen. Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City, said at the the Yukon Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Breakfast.
Bice said she favors increasing the fuel tax because Oklahoma has the lowest gas tax of any state.
“We also need to raise the cigarette tax because we need people to stop smoking as a public health issue,” she said.
Any tax increase should be accompanied by a forensic audit of state spending to ensure that money is being spent wisely, State Rep. Rhonda Baker, R-Yukon, said.
“My constituents consistently ask for a raise in gross production tax on oil and gas drilling and a teacher pay raise,” she said.
Bice said that while she favored some revenue increase, she was against hiking the gross production tax.
“It wouldn’t give us the money we need,” she said.
She said she hoped the Legislature would avoid the proposed 3.17 percent across-the-board cut in state services that would be necessary if no tax increase was adopted in the current special session. “We are in a really tough spot,” she said. “The 3.17 percent cut would be $77 million for education.”
The state’s financial woes stem primarily from lower revenue from the oil and gas industry in recent years. “We’ve had $400 million siphoned off,” she said.
Proposed cuts would hamper important programs such as drug court and mental health court that benefit people and keep prison populations, she said.
At the breakfast, Steve Carson, a field representative for U.S. Sen. James Lankford, said that Langford was working for the proposed Succeed Act, which would provide a 15-year road to citizenship for Dreamers, undocumented children of illegal immigrants who meet certain criteria.
They would be eligible for green cards after five years, and they would have to have a clean record for the next 10 years in order to apply to become naturalized citizens, Carson said.
“If you have every attended a naturalization ceremony, it makes you very proud of the people who earn their citizenship,” he said. “We want the path to citizenship for Dreamers to be tough so we don’t cheapen anything the other naturalized citizens have done.”
Legislation helping Dreamers should include strengthening of border security, he said. “There shouldn’t be standalone legislation for Dreamers,” he said.
Carson also noted that Langford watching discussions of modifying NAFTA. “Agricultural exports to Mexico and Canada are a huge benefit to the United States,” he said. “We want to hold agriculture harmless.
“Although we understand the problems that manufacturing has with NAFTA, we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water when it comes to agriculture.”
Bennett Beard, a field representative for U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, noted that Lucas is helping promote the federally backed Farm to Food Bank program, which is making available cover crops such as squash and okra that are grown under certain guidelines.
“People who use food banks really need very nutritious food, and this program provides them with food that comes from Oklahoma,” he said.