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By Michael C. Carnuccio
Guest Columnist

In the 1950s, famed political scientist David Easton defined politics as the authoritative allocation of values in society. When I lectured at Oklahoma State University, my students preferred “who gets what, when and how.”

The point is, while social issues will always dominate election-year headlines, the legislative process is first and foremost about appropriations.

In Tulsa last fall, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels incorporated yours truly into a discussion about the ethical approach to this responsibility.

“Start with the premise that government should never take a dollar from a free citizen without an essential reason for it,” he said. “When I took Michael’s dollar a minute ago, I made him that much less free. If he still had that dollar, he could decide what to do with it; now, I’ve got it and I’m going to decide. Now, sometimes we have to do that, but we should never do that through the coercion of taxation unless we have a necessary public purpose for it.”

The state of Oklahoma has about 43 types of taxes and is spending more money than it ever has. At $16.64 billion, state spending is at an all-time high, according to the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report produced by the Office of State Finance.

Therefore, we have a moral obligation to ask: Has every dollar appropriated and spent by the state of Oklahoma been used in the most efficient, productive way so as to achieve the specific, targeted mission of the taxpayers’ intention?

Mind you, in Oklahoma we pay the chancellor for higher education equal to what the United States pays its commander-in-chief, yet on average Oklahoma’s public four-year colleges graduate only 22 percent of students in four years. State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones recently said Oklahoma doesn’t know how many buildings and vehicles we own. Could the $400,000 we appropriate for losses on golf courses be better utilized for public safety? Also, since when did exhibits at aquariums and rodeos become essential services worthy of state tax dollars?

SoonerPoll found that 87 percent of Oklahomans believe the state wastes taxpayer dollars. So, while free-marketers and Keynesian economists can debate public policy, there is a moral question on the table demanding an answer.

After all, this is people’s money we are talking about, not the state’s.

Michael C. Carnuccio serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affair.

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According to a poll taken by Sooner Poll in late November/early December, Oklahomans favor a flat tax over the current state personal income tax system. Nearly sixty percent of likely voters polled said they preferred just one marginal rate. Voters registered Republican preferred simplifying the system over those registered Democrat and Independent.

The state income tax has been at the forefront of Governor Fallin and the Oklahoma Republican legislature agenda for the upcoming 2012 session. They want to eliminate the state income tax over an extended period of time- something like 10 years. They claim by letting Oklahoma private citizens keep that money, it will grow the tax base and revenue to Oklahoma state government would not suffer. Much of their conclusions are based on the ‘Laffer curve’ and economic projections from the Oklahoma conservative think tank- OCPA.

First, I am not against reforming or even elimination of the Oklahoma state personal income tax. However, the Governor and the legislature should use this opportunity to take a two pronged approach. Phase out the income tax and trim government by the same amount. Deal with both sides of the ledger. We know Oklahoma has too many state employees. Make strategic surgical cuts to Oklahoma government- not across the board cuts. Some state agencies need more funding, some need to be cut back or completed eliminated.

Second, the talk of a Flat Tax implies the Oklahoma personal income tax is not going away, but is just going to be reformed. A flat tax is a far better and fairer system of taxation than any other. Everyone pays the same percentage, so as your income increases you pay the same percentage. If that system (the tithe) is good enough for a sovereign creator, it should be good enough for Oklahoma state government. But going to a Flat Tax is not what the Governor and legislature are talking about- they are talking about phasing out the state income tax completely.

Third, currently Oklahoma’s personal income tax system is unfair, but we know it exists- it’s the devil we know. When Oklahoma state government starts talking about eliminating the income tax- over twenty percent of state government’s income stream- it causes me to worry about where they plan to make up the shortfall if the Laffer curve projections fail. I believe in supply side economics and the projections may come to past, but if they don’t where will they hide the taxes and fees to make up the shortfall?

Until I see the details, I am skeptical of revamping, reforming, eliminating the state income tax. Oklahoma Republican leaders should not miss a golden opportunity to put forward a ten year plan to streamline Oklahoma government and reduce taxation at the same time.

Steve Fair is a guest political analyst and commentator at SoonerPoll.com.  Steve is Chairman of the 4th district of the Oklahoma Republican Party and the author of  the popular blog Fair and Biased.

 

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Most likely Oklahoma voters say the current tax system is unfair and just over half say they would prefer a flat tax system with one marginal rate, according to a SoonerPoll survey.

When asked if the income tax system currently used by the state and federal government is fair or unfair, 59 percent of respondents said unfair and 34.2 percent said fair.

A 50.4 percent majority prefer a tax system that imposes the same tax rate on all taxpayers by taking the same percentage of income from everyone regardless of how much an individual earns.

By comparison, 40.2 percent said they prefer the kind of tax system currently used in the United States, which imposes a higher tax rate on those with higher incomes.

“It just makes sense that if you’re going to have a tax, everyone should pay the same rate,” Jonathan Small, Fiscal Policy Director at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, said. “Sales taxes, property taxes, fuel taxes, and a host of other taxes are not based on income. The concept of a flat rate is present in almost every other area of life.”

See Complete Data and Analysis

Results indicate that 53.6 percent of respondents that said the current tax system is unfair also prefer the flat tax, while 37.4 percent still prefer a progressive tax system.

Over the past several months, many Republican presidential primary candidates have embraced flat tax plans as part of their campaign.  Candidates who embrace the flat tax often face criticism from those who say a single marginal tax on all Americans would adversely affect lower income Americans.

Despite the criticism, results indicate that 46.9 percent plurality of likely Oklahoma voters who make less than $35,000 a year prefer the flat tax to the progressive tax system.  By comparison, 54.3 percent of respondents that make $100,000 a year or more prefer the flat tax.

“No one wants everything they do judged by their income,” Small said.  “What will really help all Oklahomans is having more of their own income to spend, produce jobs, and charitably give as they see fit.”

Additional crosstab analysis reveals that a majority of all parties think the current tax system is unfair.  When examined by political label, the results reveal that a plurality of liberals and a majority of both moderates and conservatives agree that the current income tax system is unfair.

Results also indicate that a 59.1 percent majority of Republicans prefer the flat tax, while a 58.6 percent majority of Independents and a 47.1 percent plurality of Democrats prefer a progressive tax.

A 57.3 percent majority of liberals and a 53.2 percent majority of moderates prefer a progressive income tax, while a 59.7 percent majority of conservatives prefer a flat tax system.

SoonerPoll.com, Oklahoma’s public opinion pollster, commissioned and conducted the scientific study using live interviewers by telephone of 512 likely voters from Nov. 17 – Dec. 6. The study has a margin of error of ± 4.3 percent.

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A majority of likely Oklahoma voters do not feel they are receiving a good return on their investment of $8,400 per student a year in education spending.

Poll respondents were asked, “According to official state data, education spending in Oklahoma is approximately $8,400 per student. Are taxpayers getting a good return on their investment of $8,400 per student per year?”

Results reveal that 62.4 percent of respondents said no, while just 22.9 percent said yes. Another 14.8 percent of respondents had no opinion.

“It’s a pretty sobering indictment of the status quo,” said Brandon Dutcher, vice president for policy at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA), “and this is using the government’s own spending data. If voters knew the real cost of education—which, as OCPA has demonstrated, is north of $10,000 per student—I suspect the return-on-investment results would be even lower.”

Further analysis reveals that 58.9 percent of Democrats say they are not receiving a good return, which makes them 6.1 points less likely to be unsatisfied than Republicans. Results also indicate that 73.3 percent of Independents are dissatisfied, which makes them 8.3 points more likely to be dissatisfied than Republicans.

When results are broken down by political label, a different trend emerges. Results show that 64.8 percent of liberals feel they are not receiving a good return, compared to 63.5 percent of conservatives.  An even lower percentage of moderates, 59.1 percent, feel they are not receiving a good return on investment.

Interestingly, just 17.9 percent of liberals say they are receiving a good return, compared to 22.2 percent conservatives and 28.4 percent of moderates.

“We have a bipartisan consensus among taxpayers that they’re not getting a good return on their investment,” said Dutcher. “Couple this with earlier SoonerPoll data showing that voters overwhelmingly believe more school spending won’t improve student performance, and it’s clear policymakers need to try something else. I would suggest that they continue to look to the one reform that consistently has shown to improve public schools: school choice.”

SoonerPoll.com, Oklahoma’s public opinion pollster, was commissioned for this poll by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. SoonerPoll.com conducted the scientific poll July 25-Aug. 11. Likely Oklahoma voters were selected at random and given the opportunity to participate in the poll by phone or online. Of the 587 respondents who participated, 17 took the survey online and 570 responded via telephone interview. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.04 percentage points.

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In a recent poll conducted by SoonerPoll, 53 percent of likely Oklahoma voters indicated that they would support a proposal to levy a $50 fee on Medicaid enrollees that smoke. The poll also revealed that 38.3 percent of likely Oklahoma voters polled would oppose such a proposal, while 8.7 percent had no opinion.

Jason Sutton, Health Care Policy Analyst at the Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs, said these results show that Oklahomans recognize that unhealthy behaviors drive health costs to unsustainable limits.

“What Oklahomans are saying is that citizens who lead an unhealthy lifestyle in which they engage in unhealthy behavior should be held accountable when it comes to receiving tax payer subsidized health insurance,” Sutton said. “Oklahomans want Medicaid enrollees to have some skin in the game.”

OCPA’s Jason Sutton on Medicaid Fees

SoonerPoll’s Wesley Burt asks Jason Sutton, Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs Health Care Policy Analyst, about his take on the latest SoonerPoll results concerning a proposal to levy a fee on smokers who recieve Medicaid.

 

The question comes at a time when many states face Medicaid budget cuts while many of their citizens continue to enroll in the program. In April, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer put forward a similar proposal that also extends a $50 fee to both enrollees who smoke and overweight enrollees.

Sutton said that Oklahoma, like many other states, faces a situation similar to Arizona’s as the state’s Medicaid enrollment continues to increase, reaching unsustainable levels.

“The real benefit of extending a fee on unhealthy behavior has less to do with the monetary value of the fee collected and more to do with creating incentives for change.” Sutton said. “If you incentivize people by requiring some cost sharing on unhealthy behaviors then you will see less people engaging in these unhealthy behaviors, which, in the long run, will lower costs for the entire system.”

Crosstab analysis reveals bi partisan support as the percentage of Republicans and Democrats who would support such a proposal is within margin of error. When results are examined by party label it is revealed that conservatives are 10 points more likely to support the proposal than liberals with 54 and 44 percent respectively.

Crosstab analysis indicates no corresponding pattern between income and support. The results do reveal that 55.5 percent of those who make less than $35,000 a year, the most likely to be Medicaid users, would support the proposal.

SoonerPoll.com, Oklahoma’s public opinion pollster, was commissioned for this poll by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. SoonerPoll.com conducted the scientific study using live interviewers by telephone of 509 likely voters from May 2 – 12. The study has a margin of error of ± 4.34 percent.

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A SoonerPoll conducted in May reveals that 54.4 percent of likely Oklahoma voters think the current tax burden is too high. By comparison, 32.6 percent of respondents said they think the tax burden is about right and only 3.3 percent of respondents said the tax burden is too low.

Respondents were read the following question: “According to the Tax Foundation, the average Oklahoman worked from January 1 until April 2, 2011 to earn enough money to pay this year’s tax obligations at the federal, state and local levels. That’s a total tax burden of roughly 25 percent. Do you think this tax burden is too low, too high, or just about right?”

“These results demonstrate that a majority of Oklahoma voters are rightly concerned with the amount of effort that the average taxpayer has to expend to fund government,” Jonathan Small, CPA and OCPA fiscal policy director, said.  “Oklahoma families are experiencing rising costs in order to purchase essentials such as gasoline, food, clothing and health care. Yet despite a recession, state government spending continues to climb, reaching an all-time high of $16.6 billion in Fiscal Year-2010.”

OCPA’s Brandon Dutcher on Taxes

Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs President Michael Carnuccio asks the Vice President for Policy Brandon Dutcher for his take on the latest SoonerPoll results concerning taxes.

 

When broken down by political party, the results reveal a similar “too low” response rate from Republican and Democratic respondents as 3.4 and 3.6 percent respectively answering “too low.” However, results also indicate that Republicans are 11.4 percentage points more likely to think the tax burden is too high while Democrats are 8.8 percentage points more likely to say “just about right.”

On the same poll, respondents were asked the following open‐ended question: “In your view, what is the maximum tax burden (federal, state, and local combined) a citizen should be required to shoulder?”

Results show that 53.3 percent of respondents indicated a percentage less than 25 percent, the number which was described in the preceding question as the percentage that the “average Oklahoman” pays each year.

According to the poll, 18.5 percent of respondents preferred a tax burden of 10 percent, while 17.7 percent preferred 15 percent. Results reveal that 17.9 percent of likely voters polled chose a response between 25 and 40 percent.

“Unfortunately, the politics of envy have historically been what have determined tax burdens,” Small said. “Policymakers need to ask a fundamental question: What portion of a person’s income – his property – should we take from him to fund government? And before we answer that question it might be wise to take a lesson from God himself, who somehow thought it was reasonable to take only 10 percent.”

Data also revealed that 1.2 percent said it depends on the taxpayers income, 0.4 percent said it should remain what it is now, while 2.4 percent indicated their support for a fair tax or flat tax system. Another 22.2 percent had no opinion.

SoonerPoll.com, Oklahoma’s public opinion pollster, was commissioned for this poll by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. SoonerPoll.com conducted the scientific study using live interviewers by telephone of 509 likely voters from May 2 – 12. The study has a margin of error of ± 4.34 percent.

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According to a recent SoonerPoll, 70.3 percent of likely Oklahoma voters believe that the current welfare system discourages marriage and should be changed. By comparison, 20.6 percent of respondents said the system does not need to be changed and 9 percent had no opinion.

Respondents were asked the following question: “Oftentimes, under Oklahoma’s current welfare system, a young woman can receive more financial benefits by remaining single than by marrying the father of her children. Other times, a woman who is already married, can receive more financial benefits by separating from or divorcing her husband. Some people say it is unwise to discourage marriage in this way, and that this policy should be changed. But, other people say marital status shouldn’t matter, and that the policy doesn’t need to be changed. Which view comes closer to your own?”

Most welfare programs in Oklahoma, and the rest of the United States, unintentionally create disincentives for single parents who would otherwise decide to get married through a policy of “means testing.” “Means testing” is policy designed to make sure that welfare programs only give assistance to families who need it.

This policy cuts off access to welfare programs to those who make more than a certain level of income decided by a federally‐set poverty level. Oftentimes, parents are better off staying unmarried since a spouse’s income will figure against their welfare benefits.

“Unfortunately, the ‘war on poverty’ really has been a war on the family,” said OCPA Fiscal Policy Director Jonathan Small, CPA. “I have family members and friends who have personally experienced the tough choice between marriage and government welfare, and all too often have chosen welfare, likely destroying their family and future generations.”

Small went on to say that since the ‘war on poverty’ began in the 1960s, the percentage of children born out of wedlock has increased from a little more than 6 percent to more than 40 percent.   For blacks, the percentage of births out of wedlock is over 72 percent.

Though encouraging marriage is often seen as a nonpartisan issue, further analysis reveals some variation of results along party lines. Independents are the most enthusiastic about changing the system with 76 percent in favor of change compared to 73.6 percent of Republicans and 66.7 Democrats.

Similarly, only 60.3 percent of liberals are in favor of changing the system compared to 76.5 percent of conservatives.

“No rational person disagrees with the fact that the intact two parent family is both the greatest incubator for success and the greatest, most consistent driver for economic achievement,” said Small.  “According to US Census data, more than 36 percent of single mothers with children were poor, compared to six percent of married couples with children. The overwhelming majority of poor families with children are single parent families, equaling 71 percent of all poor families with children. ”

When results are broken down by sex, men are more likely than women to support changing the welfare system with 74.4 percent of men in favor compared to just 67.4 percent of women. The crosstabs also reveal that 74 percent of evangelicals favor changing the policy, while only 66.8 percent of non-evangelicals would like the policy changed.

SoonerPoll.com, Oklahoma’s public opinion pollster, was commissioned for this poll by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. SoonerPoll.com conducted the scientific study using live interviewers by telephone of 509 likely voters from May 2 – 12. The study has a margin of error of ± 4.34 percent.

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A recent study conducted by SoonerPoll found that a majority of Oklahoma’s likely voters would prefer the state’s public universities to cut spending if less revenue is available.

The survey asked respondents to choose between the following options in the event of a revenue shortage: raise tuition; increase class size; delay new facilities; freeze faculty pay; reduce administrative overhead; require professors to teach more students and do less research; or raise taxes.

‘Reduce administrative overhead’ was the top response with support from 37.8 percent of respondents, followed by ‘delay new facilities’ with 12.8 percent. ‘Freeze faculty pay,’ the survey’s other cut spending oriented response, was chosen by 8.9 percent of respondents, bringing the cut spending category total to a 59.5 percent majority.

‘Raise tuition’ and ‘raise taxes’ were the two responses with the least support with 5.5 and 4.5 percent respectively.

“Taxpayers are wise to want to reduce administrative overhead,” said Brandon Dutcher, vice president for policy at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. “A recent report from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, for example, found that in the five-year period ending in 2008, the University of Oklahoma more than doubled its spending on administration.”

SoonerPoll.com, Oklahoma’s public opinion pollster, was commissioned for this poll by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. SoonerPoll.com conducted the scientific study using live interviewers by telephone of 508 likely voters from Jan. 24 – Feb. 3. The study has a margin of error of ± 4.35 percent.

The study found that when respondents were asked which option they next most prefer the three spending cut options remain the most appealing. ‘Delay new facilities’ was the most popular second preference with 23.7 percent, followed by ‘reduce administrative overhead’ and ‘freeze faculty pay’ with 20.5 and 14.2 percent respectively.

‘Raise tuition’ and ‘raise taxes’ remain the lowest preferences.

The survey also asked respondents to agree or disagree with the statement “Public colleges and universities in Oklahoma can be run more efficiently.” Results showed that 81.3 percent of respondents agreed, 57.9 percent strongly and 23.4 percent somewhat. Only 6.3 percent disagreed while 12.4 percent remain undecided.

Richard A. Burpee, a retired Air Force general who also served as a vice president at the University of Central Oklahoma for four years, said there is definitely room for increased efficiencies in higher education. “We need to take a hard look at how much teaching professors actually do,” Burpee said.

Respondents were also asked to agree or disagree with this statement: “Professors should be paid based on how much teaching they do, especially how many students they teach.”
A 63.4 percent majority agreed with the statement, 38.8 percent strongly agreed while 24.6 percent somewhat agreed. Only 24.8 percent disagreed, while 11.8 remained.

Similarly, with 9.1 percent of respondents in favor, ‘require professors to teach more students and do less research” was the third most popular response to what public universities should do in the event of a budget crisis.

“It’s not fair to parents to send kids to college only to have them be taught by teaching assistants,” Dutcher said. “We should demand that more professors follow the example of University of Oklahoma historian Dr. J. Rufus Fears and actually teach large numbers of students. Taxpayers deserve no less.”

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As this year’s Oklahoma Home Educators’ Capitol Day approaches, a new SoonerPoll finds that a majority of Oklahomans, 55.7 percent, know someone who currently home schools their children.  The poll found that only 42.5 percent of respondents do not know anyone who prefers to educate their children at home while 1.8 percent of respondents are unsure.

Respondents were asked: ’Many parents prefer to educate their children at home instead of sending them to school. Do you know of anyone that currently home-schools their child?’

An Education Next-Harvard PEPG survey conducted last year asked a similarly worded question in 2010 and found that only 36 percent of respondents nationwide knew a family that home-schools, while 64 percent did not.

“This is an indicator that home schooling has become more mainstream in Oklahoma than in many of other states,” Brandon Dutcher, Vice President for Policy at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, said.

SoonerPoll.com, Oklahoma’s public opinion pollster, was commissioned for this poll by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.  SoonerPoll.com conducted the scientific study using live interviewers by telephone of 508 likely voters from Jan. 24 – Feb. 3. The study has a margin of error of ± 4.35 percent.

The Oklahoma Home Educators’ Capitol Day is an event held every year to encourage home schooling families and students to build relationships with lawmakers.  Protecting the right parents have to home educate their children from future regulation is one stated goal of the event, which will be held February 17.

The event also gives families the opportunity to demonstrate that home education is a viable option for providing an education.

“Home schooling is an educational option that more and more parents are embracing, and I expect that trend to continue,” Dutcher said.

Dutcher went on to mention that many home school graduates have recently made headlines in Oklahoma, including two 21-year-olds who were elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives in November.

“People are getting accustomed to seeing home-schoolers win things like spelling bees and robotics competitions,” Dutcher said. “And then last month a 17-year-old home-schooler is crowned Miss America, while Miss Oklahoma, another home-schooler, finishes in the top five. Then last week Prudential Financial and the National Association of Secondary School Principals honored the top six youth volunteers in Oklahoma—and three of them are home-schoolers.”

When the results are broken down by party, it is revealed that 60.3 percent of Republicans know a family that home-schools compared to just 52.9 percent of Democrats.

Similarly, the likeliness that a respondent will know a home schooling family corresponds directly to his or her political ideology.  Only 44.8 percent of those who consider themselves very liberal know a home schooling family, compared to 53.6 percent of moderates and 62.9 percent of those who are very conservative.

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