A senate review by Senator Al McAffrey

Oklahoma State Senator Al McAffrey. Photo by Robin Dorner.

We’re down to the last month of session. This week, the House and Senate voted on some major legislation – whether it was good or bad, I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

I was disappointed that Senate approved House Bill 2032, which calls for cutting the income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 5.0 percent on January 1, 2015; and then from 5.0 percent to 4.85 percent on January 1, 2016. Fortunately, this is all contingent upon total revenue growth in FY 2016 being equal to or greater than the FY 2016 fiscal impact of a 0.15 percent tax cut.

However, there is no reason to cut the tax rate other than to pander to voters. The state pays for all of the state services we depend on each day with state taxes. You cut taxes and you lose state services. The math is simple! This tax cut is going to cost our state nearly $240 million a year when it’s fully implemented. And what will taxpayers get? An average of $143 more per year or $11 more per month.

We just in the last couple of years got out of a terrible recession that led to state agencies having to lay off hundreds of employees while other agencies furloughed thousands. Our state employees haven’t had a raise of any kind in at least seven years including our teachers.

The state is appropriating $200 million less to our public schools than they were four years ago yet enrollment is continually increasing. The conservatives have spent so much time the last couple of years coming up with grading systems and other plans to improve our schools when all they really need to do is restore our schools’ funding to previous levels.

Our colleges and universities are receiving $100 million less than four years ago and they have thousands of new students. This forces state schools to have to charge more tuition, which puts more of a financial strain on students and their families, and even keeps some from enrolling because the expense is just too much for them.

Our highways aren’t safe. The Highway Patrol is dangerously understaffed. The number of state troopers on the highways is the lowest in 22 years. They put their lives on the line to keep our roads safe but their pay isn’t worth the danger and many are leaving to work for other entities.

The understaffing problems at our state prisons have been ignored for years. Just like our state troopers, these are individuals who are terribly underpaid to do a very dangerous job. At some prisons, corrections officers are outnumbered by inmates 160 to 1. Would you want to be locked in a facility with some of Oklahoma’s most dangerous criminals for a paycheck that barely pays your bills? Just another example of a state agency that is losing workers because of insufficient pay and lack of adequate staffing levels.

 Our state’s economy is doing so well and I’ve been excited the last year because I just knew the Legislature was going to take advantage of rising revenues and restore funding levels at those state agencies that provide vital services to our state. There are so many financial needs in our state but instead conservative legislative leaders and the Governor are cutting one of our largest sources of revenue, the state income tax. It’s terribly irresponsible, $143 isn’t worth putting our vital state services in danger.

If you have any questions or comments, I can be reached by email atmcaffrey@oksenate.gov or by phone at (405) 521-5610. You can also write me: Senator Al McAffrey, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 527A, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105.