DALLAS — Leaders of the Democratic minority in the Oklahoma Senate said Monday they would oppose any of several state bond proposals while Republican-sponsored cuts in the state income tax rate remain on the table.
GOP legislators had proposed cutting the top individual income tax rate of 5.25% to 2.25% or lower, but recent negotiations have trimmed the potential reduction in fiscal 2013 and beyond.
Senate Democratic leader Sean Burrage said the personal income tax brings in a third of Oklahoma’s general fund revenue. Reducing the top rate would cost the state millions of dollars a year, he said.
“That’s like taking a pay cut at work and then immediately running up all your credit cards,” Burrage said. “There is nothing fiscally conservative about this discussion. It is dangerously irresponsible.”
Lawmakers are considering a bond issue of up to $160 million to repair and update the state capitol building, and Gov. Mary Fallin supports a $40 million issue to complete the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City.
Tulsa-area legislators said if the Oklahoma City facility receives bond funding, they would seek a one-time, $42.5 million bond issue for a music and popular culture museum in the city’s Brady Arts District.
Burrage said Democratic lawmakers do not question the need or value of any of the proposed bond projects.
“The question is how can we even think about accumulating hundreds of millions more in bond debt while talking about cutting hundreds of millions of dollars from state revenue?” Burrage said.
“If this Legislature caves to irrational political pressure to cut revenues this year in spite of all of the financial obligations and uncertainties we’re facing, we will absolutely end up with the worst schools, roads and health rates in the nation,” he added
Republicans are firmly in control of the Oklahoma Legislature and can pass legislation without any Democratic votes. Democrats hold 16 seats in the 48-member Senate and 31 in the 98-member House that has three vacant seats.
Lawmakers are set to adjourn May 25.
Sen. Tom Ivester, head of the Senate Democratic Caucus, said low natural gas prices could reduce the revenue available for the fiscal 2013 budget.
“We’re looking at trying to finish writing a budget based on $3.64 natural gas prices, but lately they’ve been hovering around $2 and it could end up much lower,” Ivester said.
“If you strictly want to confine the discussion to the immediate needs in education, public safety, transportation and health, we don’t have enough money as it is,” he said.
A spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, said budget and bond negotiations are continuing with Fallin and House Republicans.
“Senate Republicans continue working toward conservative income-tax reform while considering the effect of changing economic conditions such as the collapse in the price of natural gas,” Nathan Atkins said.