Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt renewed his pitch on Thursday for lawmakers to reduce the state's individual income tax rate, but not all of his Republican colleagues in the Legislature are sold on the idea.
On the first day of a special session to consider Stitt's call for a tax cut, the Senate voted to adjourn with no plan to return after Stitt declined an invitation to explain his proposal to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Stitt's absence underscores a growing tension between the second-term governor and the Republican-controlled Legislature that has largely centered on Stitt's deteriorating relationship with the tribal nations based in Oklahoma.
“It's not like he was out of the country. It's not like he was out of the state. He was downstairs,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat. “I saw his plan: cut spending, cut taxes. I have yet to see him present a budget that does the first part of that.”
While the Senate Appropriations Committee was preparing to meet to discuss the implications of a tax cut on state revenues, Stitt held a press conference with House Speaker Charles McCall and longtime anti-tax activist Grover Norquist in which the governor advocated for a 0.25% reduction to the state's top individual income tax rate of 4.75%.
“I've asked for tax cuts. I've asked for tax fairness,” Stitt said. “Getting these things over the finish line are going to be wonderful for all 4 million Oklahomans, to slow the growth of government.”
McCall said House Republicans are prepared to support an income tax cut, but the Senate has been much more cautious in its approach to tax cuts.
Oklahoma's revenue collections in recent years have reached all-time highs, fueled in large part by increased revenue from oil and gas production taxes and an infusion of federal COVID relief and other funds. But there are signs revenue collections are beginning to slow down, and some Republicans are concerned that cutting taxes could put the state on precarious financial footing if that trend continues.
The state’s individual income tax collections made up about one-third of the state’s $13.3 billion tax collections last year, and a 0.25% reduction is estimated to cost the state about $240 million annually.
Several GOP-led states have pushed for aggressive tax reductions that swept across states last year and have continued into 2023 — even as some warn that it might be wise for states to hold on to record large surpluses amid economic uncertainty.
Oklahoma also has an unusual provision added to its state constitution by voters in 1992 that any tax increase must be approved by a three-fourth's vote of both legislative chambers, a feature that makes it extremely difficult to raise taxes during times of economic hardship.
With a hole in its budget of more than $1 billion in 2018 and a looming walkout of public school teachers, the Republican-led Legislature narrowly approved an increase in taxes on motor fuel, tobacco and energy production that has also played a role in the state's growing revenue.