By Jill Bleed
Gov. Mary Fallin brought an ambitious plan to the 2012 legislative session — deeply slash Oklahoma’s income tax from 5.25 percent to 3.5 percent and eventually do away with the tax if certain revenue levels are met.
The proposal was met by skepticism by Republican lawmakers who were unwilling to eliminate tax exemptions to make up the difference. A compromise in the waning days of the session fell apart and Fallin ended up with the same tax rate as when the session began.
The failure of the income tax cut plan was voted the top story in Oklahoma by Associated Press members. The complete list of top stories:
1. The governor’s failure to win an income tax cut.
2. Drought and wildfires ravage nearly all of the state.
3. The Oklahoma City Thunder reach the NBA Finals.
4. Courts reject a pair of laws restricting access to abortion.
5. Oklahoma rejects participating in a health insurance exchange.
6. The state adopts an open-carry law.
7. A tornado at Woodward kills six.
8. Three people are killed at Tulsa in a series of shootings early on Good Friday.
9. President Obama visits Cushing amid flap over extension of the Keystone XL pipeline.
10. Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby vows to fight provisions of the new federal health care law.
No. 1: INCOME TAX CUT FAILURE
Fallin began her second year in office by laying out a plan that would drastically cut the income tax for Oklahomans. But skepticism emerged when the governor proposed eliminating tax deductions and exemptions that cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars each year. With just a week remaining in the session, Fallin and GOP leaders agreed to eliminate just some of the deductions and drop the top rate from 5.25 percent to 4.8 percent, but even that proposal fell apart as Republicans in the House took a closer look at how many taxpayers would actually see their tax liability increase under the plan.
“I can’t tell you how many hours I met with House and Senate leadership. I bought them lunch. I bought them breakfast,” Fallin told reporters after the session ended. “It is what it is, and I’m not going to give up.”
Fallin pledged to bring back an income-tax cut in the 2013 session.
No. 2: DROUGHT AND WILDFIRES
Bone-dry conditions persisted throughout Oklahoma last summer and turned the state into a tinderbox. Farmers and ranchers struggled to save their crops and animals, while wildfires scorched more than 175 square miles in the state. Authorities say a wildfire that destroyed 50 homes and buildings in Luther was caused by arson.
No. 3: THUNDER FINALS
The Oklahoma City Thunder continues its rise from struggling franchise to competing for the NBA championship. Although Oklahoma City lost 4-1 in the finals against the Miami Heat, fans in the Sooner State were crazy for their hometown team.
Kevin Durant won his third straight league scoring title and James Harden won Sixth Man of the Year. Harden’s popularity soared in Oklahoma — prompting scores of fake beards throughout the state. He was later traded to the Houston Rockets in the off season.
No. 4: ABORTION
New Oklahoma laws that place restrictions on abortion are on hold after the state Supreme Court said they were unconstitutional. In December, the state’s highest court struck down the laws — one requiring women seeking abortions to have an ultrasound image placed in front of them while they hear a description of the fetus and another banning off-label use of certain abortion-inducing drugs.
No. 5: HEALTH CARE
Thanks, but no thanks.
That’s Gov. Mary Fallin’s answer to a federal requirement that Oklahoma set up a health insurance exchange under the health care law. Fallin also turned down an expansion of Medicaid to provide coverage to thousands of low-income, uninsured citizens.
Fallin’s decision means the federal government will establish the insurance exchange in the state.
No. 6: OPEN CARRY
Oklahoma’s new open-carry law went into effect Nov. 1 with few problems. The hotly debated law, passed by the Legislature during the 2012 session, allows the estimated 141,000 Oklahomans with a license to carry a concealed firearm to also carry their weapons openly in a holster or belt.
The law only allows handguns less than 16 inches long and .45 caliber or smaller to be carried openly.
No. 7: TORNADOES
An EF-3 tornado raked Woodward in April, killing six people and damaging several homes and businesses.
The National Weather Service said the twister traveled about 31 miles and had winds of 136 to 165 mph at its peak. The storm killed six people — all of whom were in mobile homes.
No. 8: GOOD FRIDAY KILLINGS
A shooting spree over Easter weekend terrorized a Tulsa neighborhood after three people were killed and two were wounded. Prosecutors filed murder and hate crime charges against Jake England and Alvin Watts, alleging that the men targeted black people in the rampage.
Prosecutors claim that England was exacting revenge after his father was killed by a black man — an allegation that England’s attorney has denied.
No. 9: KEYSTONE PIPELINE
President Barack Obama visits Cushing, the hub of Oklahoma’s oil activity, as arguments over the cross-country Keystone XL pipeline continue. The northern segment of the pipeline remains on hold because of environmental concerns, while construction has begun on southern stretch from Cushing to Texas.
No. 10: HOBBY LOBBY-BIRTH CONTROL
Citing religious concerns, Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. filed a federal lawsuit over a mandate that requires companies to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives, including the morning-after pill.
The arts and crafts chain said providing such coverage violates their deeply held religious beliefs. But a federal judge rejected Hobby Lobby’s request for an injunction stopping enforcement of the provision, finding that Hobby Lobby is a business, not a religious institution.