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Counterpoint: A matter of perspective


Brandon Dutcher January 12th, 2011

According to our friends at the Oklahoma Policy Institute, Oklahoma “will face prolonged constraints on the state budget.”

They say that as if it’s a bad thing. It’s not. As the Nov. 2 shellacking made perfectly clear, people want less government and more freedom. As one wag observed, that wasn’t an election — it was a restraining order.

From Nov. 5 to 11, telephone interviewers for SoonerPoll asked likely voters: “Which would you rather see in Oklahoma: a smaller government with fewer services, or a larger government with many services?” Answer: 71 percent want smaller government, 17 percent want larger government, and 12 percent are undecided.

Oklahoma’s center-right majority wants smaller government, and they’re going to get it. This is not bad news.

According to OPI, the FY ’12 budget shortfall looks to be nearly $400 million less than this year. But, of course, a budget “shortfall” is in the eye of the beholder. Our friends on the left seem to assume state government is entitled to whatever it got last year. It’s not.

When budgeting, politicians should start with zero. Whatever money comes in, that’s what they get to spend. “Shortfall” problem solved.

State Treasurer Scott Meacham said the following: “In good times, I do think that it’s true that government is subject to ‘mission creep.’ … When the revenue is flowing, maybe there’s a trend to drift into areas that are outside of the core mission or missions of government. What happens when things are going well is that things that are ‘nice to do’ become new programs.”

But the shellackers are tired of all these programs. They want the shellackees to stop taking their money. According to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, the average Oklahoman was forced to work more than three months this year before he was able to enjoy the fruits of his own labor.

“Tax Freedom Day” arrived on April 6, 2010 — that’s the day the average Oklahoman had finally earned enough money to be able to pay the federal, state and local tax collectors. That burden ranks 30th among the 50 states.

As University of Oklahoma classics professor J. Rufus Fears has observed, “the American public pays an amount of taxes that no despotic pharaoh in antiquity would have ever dreamt of imposing upon his people.”

So enough already. The voters want — how to put this? — “a smaller government with fewer services.” They don’t want politicians to go searching for new “revenue options.”

“Generally speaking,” SoonerPoll asked, “when Oklahoma has budget problems, is it better to raise taxes or cut spending?” Sixty-one percent of self-identified liberals said cut spending; 93 percent of people who call themselves “very conservative” preferred spending cuts to tax hikes. Among Oklahomans overall, the margin was a staggering 86 to 7.

Well, OK, nobody likes taxes. How about, “Is it better to raise fines and fees or cut spending?” Again, the winner (72 to 19) is “cut spending.”

Our friends at OPI are concerned that the revenue for next year’s budget is “far less than what is needed to meet growing costs and demands for services.”

True enough, if they’re talking about your family budget. Between Christmas bills and dental work for the kids, higher health-insurance premiums and new brakes for the car, the demands for services are endless.

Dutcher is vice president of policy at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA), a free-market think tank. He lives in Edmond.

Opinions expressed on the commentary page, in letters to the editor and elsewhere in this newspaper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ownership or management.

 
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