January 2016 Editorial Winner

Tough times, hard answers

Brian Blansett, Tri-County Herald

We hear talk from the state Capitol about finding ways to supplement the state budget, which, as we all know, is in free fall.
One of the things under discussion is elimination of state sales tax exemptions, which some estimates say could add S1.5 billion to the state budget.
On the face of it, that sounds like a common sense approach and you might even wonder why the Legislature hasn't thought of it before. S1.5 billion could do wanders for the state budget.
But peek under the covers and you see that some of those sales tax exemptions are for tickets to athletic events, for advertising and for purchases made by state agencies, including the Oklahoma House of Representatives and Senate.
So, if we eliminate all exemptions, you'll pay a sales tax if you buy admission to watch the North Rock Creek girls softball team play the Meeker eighth-graders, or to watch Dale and McLoud play basketball. Presumably, you'll also pay sales tax if you buy if you buy popcorn and a drink at the game. And you'll pay sales tax if your business buys an ad in the high school yearbook. Or if you list a garage sale in the Tri-County Herald.
And. lastly, the government itself would start paying sales taxes on the things it buys.
None of these make much sense. Hardly any, really. They're examples of the governor and legislators trying to avoid the bard work of reforming state government and the way we fund it
And it's worth remembering that we're talking estimates - not the reality of what would actually happen. Remember how the state lottery was supposed to be a financial godsend?
Instead of trying to fix the state-budget by nickel-and-diming us on softball tickets and garage sale ads, we need our leaders to show some courage and fix the real problem.
Eliminating some sales tax exemptions might be part of the solution, but its not the whole answer.
The plain truth is that government costs a lot. Repairing roads, educating children, enforcing laws, building bridges, keeping criminals off the street – they're expensive, but necessary.
The problem is that we're doing it with a modal that worked in 1907, when Oklahoma became a state, but grew obsolete decades ago.
There are real, workable answers out there to our problems, but our leaders have to be courageous enough to look for them in the right places.
Can we govern more efficiently and effectively through consolidation? Undoubtedly, but that would mean combining and merging school districts and municipalities, which would come with high political risk.
Do we really need all the government services that we re getting? 1 Probably not, but eliminating some of them would mean going mano-a-mano with special interest groups and lobbies.
Those are daunting challenges, but our leaders owe it to the state - to us - to tackle them.

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