- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Stillwater News Press. Aug. 6, 2017.

We had fun last year, didn’t we? All kinds of people from across the state, and even those from outside of it, flooded into Stillwater to board the Polar Express. It had a high price tag, but received rave reviews from those who took the ride.

Many people planned to return, others were going to try it for the first time. It’s not going to happen. And maybe, bear with us, that’s not the worst thing in the world.

It’s puzzling how it went down, and as some vendors expressed, it can be a convoluted mess trying to deal with so many interconnected companies. It’s tough to understand because the rail business gets a little complicated. It’s like a real-life version of the Monopoly game. Watco Companies owns Stillwater Central Line railroad, which operates the rail line. It was Watco who pulled out of the deal. Premier Rail Collection, owned by Iowa Pacific Holdings, held the license agreement to use the Polar Express trademark. Some vendors don’t even know whom to invoice.

What we don’t know, is if Watco is in the same boat as our local vendors and are just too polite to say anything about it. A vast conspiracy? Maybe not. Maybe just a lot of seemingly bad things converging in the same place.

We’re hugely disappointed for the children whose feelings were hurt by this news. We’re empathetic to the parents who are going to miss seeing the smiling faces on those happy children. We’re sympathetic to the companies that got stuck with the tab for goods/services. But, maybe we got out when the getting was good.

Many of the vendors we spoke with, until they were asked, weren’t going to complain about not being paid. Had Polar Express come back, they likely would have bitten their collective tongue just so the people here could enjoy the recreation again. We have good people doing business here in our neck of the woods.

We also have good people trying to keep the Christmas spirit alive in Stillwater. We think everyone will enjoy the Christmas village and ice rink that Visit Stillwater, the Stillwater Chamber of Commerce and City of Stillwater are bringing to downtown. We also have to give big kudos to Visit Stillwater for giving rink sponsorships to the vendors that were left at the station when the train pulled out of town.

Lastly, one bad experience doesn’t have to mean the last train ride in Stillwater. We, as community, did our part. We bought 40,000 tickets, we provided the seasonal workers, a lot of the marketing and publicity was provided at no cost. We could absolutely support an independent company if they wanted to do a Christmas train in Stillwater. We would hope Watco and Stillwater Central Line railroad would entertain that idea as well, because our little line here can’t be interrupting that much freight.

You won’t find a more hospitable city in Oklahoma. C’mon down.


The Oklahoman. Aug. 8, 2017.

This year the Republican-controlled Legislature voted to impose a 1.25 percent sales tax on new car sales. It passed without the three-fourths support in both chambers that’s constitutionally required to impose new taxes.

The outcome of a legal challenge filed against that measure, House Bill 2433, could have repercussions far beyond your next automobile purchase. As the arguments put forth make clear, if the car tax is upheld, it will open the door for lawmakers to enact billions more in new taxes without supermajority support.

Prior to this year, car purchases were exempted from the state’s 4.5 percent sales tax. Instead, a 3.25 percent excise tax was imposed. The new sales tax was added on top.

In legal filings, the state defends the car tax, claiming it is not a new tax under the Oklahoma Constitution. The state’s filing argues that tax bills are primarily designed to generate revenue and must “levy taxes in the strict sense of the word,” declaring “this Court has held that bills that eliminate tax exemptions do not meet this second element, even if they have the object of raising revenue.”

The state’s filing argues “elimination or reduction of a tax exemption does not ‘levy’ a tax due to the fact that tax exemptions, like tax credits, are a form of government spending known as a ‘tax expenditure.’”

The state further argues that elimination of a tax break “does not operate to levy a new tax because it functions as a tax equalization or tax equity measure” by “making existing taxes more equally applicable.”

In their response, the Oklahoma Automobile Dealers Association points out the obvious: There is “an enormous difference” between “taking additional money out of the pockets of Oklahomans” and reducing “the amount of already collected funds subsequently expended.” (Emphasis in original.)

The dealers also note the Oklahoma Tax Commission’s most recent “Tax Expenditures Report” identifies more than $10 billion in various tax breaks. Under the state’s argument, lawmakers could eliminate all those exemptions, increasing taxes $10 billion annually, yet claim they didn’t technically raise taxes.

Among the tax expenditures in that report are the standard deduction and itemization allowed on Oklahomans’ income tax returns today. Under the state’s argument, those “breaks” could be repealed and families’ income tax payments could surge over $900 million annually, yet it would not be a tax increase.

The dealers association also points out that the sales tax exemption for cars isn’t included in the Tax Commission’s report.

Oklahoma imposes a 13.5 percent gross receipts tax on alcoholic beverages, but not on most food and drink. Under the state’s “tax equity” theory, the dealers associations warns, “a bare majority of the Legislature could increase the statewide sales tax up to 17.75 percent - and raise millions or even billions of dollars in revenue - simply by imposing a ‘gross-receipts tax’ on other items, and then portraying it as a ‘tax equalization or tax equity measure.’”

Set aside the legal hair-splitting, and the real-world impact of such tax increases remains the same, even if politicians pretend otherwise. If the court agrees with lawmakers’ contention that a car tax increase is not a tax increase, grab your wallet. It could be the first of many such tax increases to come.


Tulsa World. Aug. 8, 2017.

A fast-developing thunderstorm dropped an EF2 tornado on midtown Tulsa early Sunday, Aug. 6, injuring at least 30 people and damaging an important retail area.

Like all Tulsans, we’re thankful that there was not any loss of life and that the damages and injuries were not greater.

Tulsans immediately started pulling together to help one another. While the storm won’t quickly be forgotten, we can all recognize that we live in a good community, where people respond to emergencies by reaching out.

The tornado came without warning from storm sirens in Tulsa. Emergency management officials said that is because of the fast-developing nature of the weather.

By the time a tornado warning was issued, the storm already had moved to Broken Arrow, where the sirens were sounded.

Oklahomans know how fast a tornado can spin up, and it could just be bad luck that it happened so rapidly in a part of town with a lot of people and commerce, but we’d like to see the explanation validated. An authoritative third party should be asked to review Sunday’s events and see that everything happened as it should.

The storm teaches us the continuing importance of the storm sirens. Oklahomans are sometimes nonchalant about tornadoes, and we’ve all heard the joke about folks who run outside to see the funnel when they hear the sirens.

This time, the sirens didn’t sound; they were certainly missed.

The people of Broken Arrow - many of whom had the storm, sirens and power outages strike almost simultaneously - can testify the siren system is still important. The blackout denied them access to television meteorologists with the details of what was happening where, but they knew what they were hearing, and that it was time to take cover.

Mayor G.T. Bynum has said Tulsa will review technology and protocols for sounding warning sirens as a result of the storm, which seems warranted. We’d love for our community to learn something from Sunday’s events that helps save lives next time.

And we all know there will be a next time.

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