- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Tulsa World. Nov. 11, 2017.

We’ve grown sadly accustomed to Rep. John Bennett’s outrageous rants. But his latest outrage must be condemned as off-base and embarrassing.

We know the Sallisaw Republican’s position on Islam. He believes that it is a “cancer” on the country that should be cut out. He can’t be bothered to show Muslim Oklahomans common courtesies, greeting their visits to his office with a provocative, insulting “questionnaire.”

And now we know how he feels about state agencies that are pleading to have enough money to take care of the state’s most vulnerable. He considers that “terrorism.” And Bennett insists that we ought not negotiate with terrorists.

“These agencies are using our citizens as pawns. It’s not right, and somebody ought to stop them,” he said in a speech on the House floor. He said that the desperate scenarios coming from state agencies that have suffered years of funding cuts is nothing but “extortion.”

Those were bold words for a man who couldn’t even be bothered to show up for the critical vote on the state funding issue a few days later.

Gov. Mary Fallin called Bennett’s words “unacceptable behavior” and called for an apology to state employees. None has been offered.

Aggressive legislative oversight over state agencies is appropriate. Questioning authority is a mark of independence. But excessive, hateful, false rhetoric is too much. It coarsens public discourse, distracts from the real issues and prevents solutions. It also seems to be Rep. Bennett’s specialty.

The state’s $215 million budget hole is not fictitious. Nor is the reality of what will happen if lawmakers like Bennett fail to do their job. Real problems for real people, not illusory “terrorism.”

Bennett’s continued disrespect for his fellow Oklahomans, state employees and the basics of civility is unacceptable.

___

Stillwater News Press. Nov. 12, 1017.

We have seen town halls get testy, agitated and boil over with anger. The Block 34 Citizen Task Force public input meeting was just the opposite, filled with a lot of people who really care about their community and Stillwater.

Sure, there were gripes about parking, worries about high-density, but mostly it was concerned citizens asking questions and being satisfied with the answers. There seemed to be one on which people universally agreed, they really hate calling that vacant lot, “Block 34.” It bugs them, maybe they’re not even sure why, but they don’t like it.

We don’t have a suggestion for a new name, some others might, but we may want to wait to see if it gets approval before it has a name. Although, at this point, that doesn’t seem like a problem, either. Whatever you call it, it’s a concept with a full head of steam making a direct line for the City Council.

The News Press has long been in favor of something in the space that could generate revenue, and essentially pay for itself. During Wednesday’s meeting, task force member Russ Teubner said they didn’t envision the space as being a dense hive of economic development, but more of an area that could foster economic development around it. That may be possible, but financing is still the biggest issue awaiting Block 34, and even for savvy investor’s, it’s scary betting on the future economy.

It was encouraging to hear that the task force and architects did make plans to roll sales tax dollars into the area. They left space for restaurants/eateries or even pop-up vendors that could possibly serve as incubators for business startups. That’s an idea we can appreciate. If we are betting on an uncertain future economy, it would be wise to have people who are betting their livelihoods on this project being a success. As far as motivation goes, it doesn’t get much stronger than that.

___

The Oklahoman. Nov. 13, 2017.

AS the Legislature grapples with budget issues, one argument often heard at the Capitol is that business leaders care less about tax rates than quality government services. Just tax and spend enough on government, and economic growth will follow. Or so goes the theory.

But William Freeland, a former member of the research faculty at the George Mason University Law and Economics Center, notes Illinois lawmakers have put that theory to the test. The results aren’t impressive.

In a recent article, Freeland notes Illinois has embraced “high taxes and high spending” yet remains “an economic basket case.” He cites much data to back up that assessment.

A study by the American Legislative Exchange Council ranked Illinois 48th out of 50 states in per capita pension debt. An Illinois Policy Institute analysis of Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) data found Illinois’ income growth ranked 40th among the states for the most recent year of available data and 49th since late 2007. BEA data regarding cumulative GDP growth from 2007 to 2016 shows Illinois ranks 39th nationally.

The Tax Foundation’s calculation of state and local tax burdens ranked Illinois the fifth-highest taxing state. Government consumes 11 percent of state income there.

“And this is before recent tax increases, which are forecasted to raise personal and corporate income tax by roughly $5 billion annually, according to the Illinois Policy Institute,” Freeland writes.

The previous round of major tax increases in Illinois didn’t live up to the promises made by proponents, which is one reason another round of tax increases was approved this year. In the prior round, Freeland notes, state politicians increased taxes by $18 billion, “yet the state’s fiscal scenario worsened - debt increased, the tally of unpaid bills grew, the state’s credit rating was downgraded numerous times, and interest payments on debt grew.”

And despite the latest round of $5 billion in new taxes, Freeland writes that Illinois’ “fiscal position remains so poor that two of the three bond rating agencies (Fitch and Moody’s) are warning the state of an imminent downgrade to ‘junk bond’ status even after the recent tax increase.”

Those outcomes haven’t caused people to flock to Illinois. Since 1985, Illinois has lost nearly 750,000 citizens on net who took $45.34 billion in income with them.

It’s commonly asserted young professionals, unlike prior generations, are more likely to live in areas that invest heavily in government spending. That hasn’t proven true in Illinois.

“The Illinois Policy Institute notes that millennials in particular have been fleeing the state: more than 80,000 on net have left Illinois since 2011 alone,” Freeland writes.

Taken as a whole, the data paints a stark portrait.

“Illinois has embraced a policy regime of big government, spending generously, and taxing with little concerns for economic consequences,” Freeland writes. “And the Illinois fiscal experiment has been an unambiguous failure.”

We’ve advocated for addressing Oklahoma’s fiscal challenges with a balance of tax increases (for example, on tobacco and fuel) and strategic budget cuts. And Illinois is an extreme example of the taxes-only approach. But Oklahoma lawmakers of late have leaned more toward the Illinois model than not. Outcomes in the Land of Lincoln provide reason to reassess that approach.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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