Once again several of our state government leaders are calling for cutting taxes in the upcoming legislative session. Their carefully worded statements make it seem so appealing. They say we are taking in too much money, more than we need to spend on core services, that our surpluses are too high, that we are overtaxing our citizenry. The thing is, we have heard these arguments before, and they put our state into economic peril. We are finally back on a strong financial path; we must heed the lessons of the past.
In 2023, Oklahoma was in the bottom 10 of all states in overall tax burden, according to WalletHub, a nonpartisan personal finance website. That means that when property, sales, income, motor fuels and all other taxes are combined, we are bottom 10 in the percentage of taxes our residents bear to fund government.
The reason our surplus is growing is that we are still not investing in our state like other successful states invest in theirs. For example, if we say that we have not cut public education funding but are not giving steady cost-of-living increases, then we are stagnating and not keeping up with costs. Successful states that are attracting new businesses are investing in services such as improved infrastructure, quality public education, investing in high quality subsidized early child care programs, more mental health care beds, increased public safety, and higher matched rates for health care workers in nursing homes and rural hospitals.
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In 1993, Oklahoma City made a massive investment in MAPS. The goal being “if you build it, they will come.” Under Mayor Ron Norick and followed by all his successors, it was a road map for investing in the city to make it a destination for businesses and residents. The project has been an unparalleled success. These investments in infrastructure, parks, wellness centers and bike trails have paid off in spades. Oklahoma City is a template for investing in yourself paying off for future success. They are thriving because they have not starved out services and quality of life.
In the last few years, our state has tried to lure multiple multinational businesses to the state with massive tax credits, but we keep losing the projects to other states. Why, you might ask? Because we have not used the success of MAPS on a state level. We put the bare minimum into things that change the trajectory of our future. We pay low wages to critical occupations, such as public school teachers, who have a 32% pay discrepancy with commensurate bachelor’s degrees, to social workers and mental health professionals.
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Instead, last year we eliminated the corporate franchise tax at an estimated $55 million a year impact. We believe the false narrative that if we lower taxes everyone will want to move their businesses here, but instead they opt for states that have a higher quality of life.
If you agree, it is the perfect time to reach out to your local legislators and give your input. Your outreach and opinions can make an impact in our future.
Leslie Osborn is Oklahoma’s labor commissioner.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Oklahoma could learn from OKC’s MAPS investment strategy