Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Who Do We Value More?

By Senator Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant

Hello again, everybody! A troubling theme running through the 2008 session of the Oklahoma Legislature is for some to propose easy answers to complex problems.

One of these “easy answers” is as unfair a tax scheme as anyone could have imagined, and it seems like it just will not die. A few years ago, a plan was floated that would have created the so-called “Come Home to Oklahoma Act.”

The idea was to encourage people to move into rural areas that have lost population in the last several decades. The goal was noble; this way to reach the goal was as patently unfair as anything I have ever seen introduced in the Oklahoma Legislature. Here is why.

The bill would have provided a five-year income tax exemption to anyone moving from out of state who either purchases or builds a single-family home in one of 48 counties or 43 towns within the other 29 counties that have lost population since the 1940 or the 1990 Census. Some of the counties are in my district.

The problem with the idea is two-fold. First, it creates an unfair tax system in which someone who has lived their entire life in Oklahoma would end up paying more state income tax than someone who just moved into these areas.

I do not know how any leader can look his or her constituents in the eye and tell them they should pay more tax than someone who just arrived. It is unfair, and potentially unconstitutional.

The second problem is that it does not make sense from an economic development standpoint. While we need an adequate workforce to attract business and industry, jobs rarely follow people; people follow jobs. If we attract residents to these areas before there are jobs for them, then the problem this idea attempts to solve is made even worse.

The bill died a merciful death a few years ago in the Finance Committee when I was chair. Now, it has arisen from the dead and passed the House of Representatives on an unbelievable 69-28 vote.

This bill was assigned to the Senate Rules Committee, where it will likely die again. While the bill is dead, we might see the idea again. In fact, variant of it is still alive.

A similar idea would give certain engineers who move into Oklahoma a tax credit that could be used against their income tax. This is nothing more than a different way to do the same thing as the “Come Home to Oklahoma Act,” except the focused is on jobs already are among the highest paid.

Easy answers to complex problems rarely produce the desired results. We should look at problems and come up with solutions that treat every Oklahoman fairly. Certainly, that is more difficult, but the end result will be better and more fair for every Oklahoma family.

Thanks again for reading the “Senate Minute,” have a great week and may God bless you all.

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