The Journal Record
Gas tax overdue, as is
gross production tax
Finally, there is some level of agreement that Oklahoma has to pay its way. There are no free roads, no free schools, no free prisons.
The remaining question is who will pick up the tab. Legislators and the governor will figure that out this month, and Oklahomans should be encouraged that even the most ardent of the smaller-government crusaders has come around to the idea that the state can’t afford to keep cutting taxes.
The response so far has been a long way from perfect. Leadership has declined to give criminal justice reform proposals the serious, urgent attention they require. Critical repairs alone will cost $123.5 million, and the overcrowded, under-supervised, dilapidated facilities will only worsen with time. Prosecutors, public defenders, mental health experts, the governor and the public have all called for an end to harsh prison terms for nonviolent offenders. Only some parole board members and the Legislature seem to think there’s no problem there, and they’re dead wrong.
Teachers need raises. Publicly funded education is critical to maintaining first-world standards, and good teachers are critical to good educations.
There are many other needs that have reached critical status, and there’s no fat left to trim. That leaves only one option: Increase state revenue, which is a nice way of saying, “Raise taxes.”
The best effort put forth to date would have cut some oil and gas incentives and raised taxes on motor fuel and cigarettes. Those three proposals would combine to improve the state’s economic picture by $675.4 million, more than two-thirds of what’s needed to close the budget gap.
Democrats should be ashamed of themselves for refusing to budge on the gasoline tax increase; yes, it’s a bigger proportion of the poor’s income as are all sales taxes, but that’s an increase that’s long, long overdue.
Republicans have refused to consider any adjustment to the gross production tax rate and they should be equally ashamed. A small increase would leave the state in a strongly competitive position while inching Oklahoma closer to the rates Texas and North Dakota collect.
We applaud the Legislature for preventing any further income tax cuts, but they must quickly move off their ideological turf and lead.
Obamacare is collapsing,
now time for real reform
After fits and starts, the U.S. House of Representatives has advanced legislation substantially altering and rolling back the Affordable Care Act. Democrats wail that widespread devastation awaits. Yet Democrats ignore the fact that Obamacare is collapsing and lives are going to be disrupted no matter what.
Insurers are already announcing huge rate increases or warning of withdrawal from Obamacare exchanges. Recent regulatory filings in Virginia and Maryland revealed several insurers are seeking major increases for 2018 Affordable Care Act exchange plans. Anthem Inc. is seeking an average premium increase of 37.7 percent in Virginia. CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield filed for a 52 percent increase in Maryland and a 35 percent increase in Virginia. Cigna Corp. is requesting a 44.7 percent increase for Virginia exchange plans, and 37 percent in Maryland. And officials at Cigna and Anthem both indicate they may still pull out of the Virginia exchanges altogether.
Virginia and Maryland have earlier filing deadlines than many states and highlight the dramatic premium increases likely to come nationwide.
Officials with the insurer Medica have announced they may withdraw from Iowa’s exchange next year. Aetna plans to leave Virginia’s exchange in 2018. In February, Humana announced it is withdrawing from all state exchanges.
Medica’s announcement could mean Iowa natives will have no insurance providers in that state’s exchange after Aetna and Wellmark Blue Cross & Blue Shield both announced their exits earlier this year.
Oklahoma is among the states with a shaky Obamacare exchange, as noted by U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne, in a release touting his support for the House repeal measure.
“Several states, including Oklahoma, are down to only one insurance provider on their state exchange and health premiums continue to rise at a staggering rate,” Lucas said.
Even when people can find and afford Obamacare coverage offered through a state exchange, the ACA’s many mandates have forced insurers to dramatically restrict provider networks and impose large deductibles to control costs. The result is that even when people get coverage they can still struggle to pay for health care or access the best doctors.
In addition to exchanges, the ACA also increased coverage by adding millions to Medicaid, the state-federal welfare program. But Medicaid pays providers well below market rates. As a result, the best doctors don’t take Medicaid patients or at least limit those numbers.
And several states that expanded Medicaid have since struggled with paying the state share of dramatically rising costs associated with the program.
For several years, Democrats decried ACA opponents who did not offer an alternative plan. Now House Republicans have advanced one and the script has been flipped. It’s now incumbent on Democrats to explain how they would overhaul and reform Obamacare in a fiscally prudent fashion, because those who refuse to support reform are turning a blind eye to the chaos and hardship that is already underway and growing by the day.
Veto was right for lucrative
payday lending legislation
Gov. Mary Fallin did the right thing when she vetoed House Bill 1913, a proposal to create an expensive new form of payday lending that could charge customers up to 204 percent annual interest.
Shame on those in the Legislature who voted for the measure.
Concerned about the prospect of federal regulation of its other products, the small loan industry is pushing hard for the new form of lending, installment loans of up to $1,500 at up to 17 percent interest a month.
Such predatory lending targets the poorest members of society and perpetuates a cycle of debt and poverty.
House Bill 1913 — written by Rep. Chris Kannady, R-Oklahoma City, and Sen. James Leewright, R-Bristow — would have put the state in the position of enforcing loans at outrageous interest rates to the most financially tenuous members of society.
“The citizens of Oklahoma already have access to a variety of high interest small loan (payday) lenders and use those lenders at record levels,” Fallin said in her veto message. “House Bill 1913 adds yet another level of high interest borrowing … without terminating or restricting access to existing payday loan products. In fact, I believe that some of the loans created by this bill would be more expensive than the current loan options.”
Some of the most influential lobbyists in Oklahoma City were working for the bill. It was opposed by a coalition of liberal and conservative forces, including the Oklahoma Policy Institute and state Rep. Kevin Calvey, R-Oklahoma City.
In the end, it was bad policy, and Fallin was right in vetoing it.
We hope Kannady, and the measure’s other backers, will leave this disgrace where it stands and not attempt to pass this shameful legislation over Fallin’s veto.