Saturday, June 17, 2006

Budget Battle

(My neighbor Keith Gaddie wrote this over at his blog Others are sounding off on this issue so thought it would make a good weekend who won?)

June 16 2006


The budget battle is over, and everyone won.

Well, not exactly.

Individual taxpayers in Oklahoma will enjoy a cut in the state income tax rate, an increase in the standard deduction, and an elimination of the inheritance tax, all in sum a projected cut in tax obligations of $6 billion over ten years. The state also committed real monies to repair our crumbling road and bridge infrastructure, thereby fulfilling the latent dreams of every county commissioner to be able to pour concrete where there are votes. And, state employee salaries get hiked 5% and the teachers get a raise and the OTRS will finally be fully funded.

So who won?

Well, that’s not so clear. No one decisively lost, but the status of winner and is relative to what one had to give up in the process. Mike Morgan and the Senate Democrats can claim a win, for certain. One Senate Democrat related to me, at the end of regular session, that “the difference between Hiett’s proposal [a 2-point tax cut] and the deal we thought we had is the difference between raises and no raises” for state employees. Morgan and the Democrats get to claim credit for creating the things Democrats run on -- Roads, Schools, [public] Jobs – and also for defending the little man by cutting his taxes and improving his services. In sum, they did what was needed to activate their base.

Republicans get to win in general. Speaker Hiett does get to claim another tax cut, but as more than one Republican insider observed, “he caved.” The Speaker / Lieutenant Governor Aspirant sought even more severe tax cuts and less spending, and got the deal he could have had during regular session. Morgan and Hiett played chicken, and Morgan didn’t veer off the line. How this gets played in the coming primary has yet to be determined, but taking half a loaf after playing chicken can also be viewed as smart negotiation and building leverage.

As always, the governor won, because he got what he had agreed to. Also, Mr. Henry, of whom I admit to be a fan, gets the best of both worlds. He served Democratic constituencies by getting to sign legislation protecting core Democratic interests, and also gets to sit in the middle of the table, signing tax cuts and handing out pens while all the other political players who covet his chair look on. Mr. Henry’s Zen political quality has served him well, as he watches other players exhaust themselves and navigates a happy center.

Glenn Coffee, the Republican leader in the Senate, is left in the unfortunate position of trying to spoil the party by ascribing blame for the situation. Coffee, in his statement to the press, observes that “Thankfully Senate Democrats have backed down from their obstructionism that brought us to the brink of a government shutdown. If Republicans ran the State Senate, the state budget would have been completed on time and this costly special session would not have been necessary." And he decries the spending increases in the budget. Sadly for the Republican effort to seize the Senate majority, Democrats did not cause government to shut down, so an entire campaign strategy based on demonizing the dozen unaccountable, term-limited Democrats of the Senate will have to go on the shelf. Bernest Cain and Mike Morgan and Cal Hobson do not get to become active issues in state senate contests.

Mr. Coffee is both intelligent and responsible. But, unfortunately, in a heady environment of lower taxes and flush revenue, his words only ring true for the most conservative of conservatives. Oklahomans, when polled, wanted the spending approved by the legislature. They also know that their neighbors are those public employees and teachers who received those [rare] public pay raises, and they make use of the services provided by those agencies. They just didn’t want to pay more taxes to get them.

And the voters got everything they wanted. Now let's hope that we have not defied the Wildcatter's Prayer: "Oh Lord, Please Give Me One More Boom And I Promise Not To Piss It Away."

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