OKLAHOMA CITY — The majority of candidates vying to become the state’s next governor say they would consider raising taxes if absolutely necessary.
But three of the apparent Republican frontrunners who are currently polling toward the top of a crowded primary field — Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, Kevin Stitt and Gary Richardson — say that they would not consider raising taxes.
“I do not see a need to raise taxes,” said Lamb, 46, of Oklahoma City, who is seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination. “State government is too wasteful. Some of the waste occurs in the more than $8 billion Oklahoma gives away annually in tax exemptions and tax credits.”
He said there is no need to ask taxpayers to pay more.
The controversial topic of tax increases has vaulted into the headlines recently after the cash-strapped Republican-controlled Legislature passed nearly $500 million in new taxes on oil and gas drillers, cigarettes and fuel in order to give classroom teachers long-promised raises and to bolster classroom spending.
But those tax hikes have provoked the ire of some Oklahomans, including the anti-tax group Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite!. Critics of the tax increases hope to see them overturned at the November ballot box.
So ahead of the June 26 primary election, CNHI Oklahoma sent surveys to all 15 gubernatorial hopefuls — 10 Republicans, two Democrats and three Libertarians — asking whether they’d ever consider raising taxes to fund state government and why.
The ultimate winner will replace Gov. Mary Fallin. The Republican is ineligible to run for re-election due to term limits.
In addition to Lamb, Richardson and Stitt, Christopher Barnett, 34, a Republican hopeful from Tulsa and Rex Lawhorn, 46, a Libertarian from Broken Arrow, also pledged not to raise taxes.
Both Democratic candidates — Drew Edmondson and Connie Johnson — said they’d consider new taxes. Four Republican hopefuls — Gary Jones, Barry Gowdy, 51 of Elk City, Eric Foutch and Blake Stephens — as well as Libertarian candidate Chris Powell, 46, of Bethany, said they wouldn’t rule out tax increases if necessary.
Republican candidates Mick Cornett, 59, of Oklahoma City, and Dan Fisher, 58, of El Reno, as well as Libertarian hopeful Joe Exotic, 55, of Wynnewood, refused to respond.
Stitt, 45, of Tulsa, said officials need to continually review business tax credits rather than letting such decisions “be ruled by the politics of the day and campaign donations.”
“Unfortunately, we have a history of favoring tax breaks for certain industries over others, and we’ve let these credits run past their prime to the point it has cost our state,” he said.
There are plenty of ways the state can generate new revenue without raising taxes, said Richardson, 77, of Tulsa.
His ideas include saving about $465 million by preventing illegal immigrants from accessing state funds, cutting $47 million in funding to turnpikes, overhauling credits offered to wind developers and reforming the state’s tobacco settlement endowment.
Still, many other candidates said they’d support some tax increases — if all other options were exhausted or if the state had audited all its agencies and examined current spending closely.
“(I’d raise taxes) under a crisis situation where no other reasonable options were available to solve the problem,” said Jones, 63, of Cache, who currently serves as state auditor.
Democrat Edmondson, 71, of Oklahoma City, said he’d raise taxes when the state has slashed revenue repeatedly at the expense of Oklahoma’s core state agencies.
His opponent Johnson, 66, of Forest Park, said her administration would want any revenue generated by tax increases dedicated to “vital core governmental services” like education and health.
Others, like Foutch, 44, of McLoud, said they’d support new taxes, but only after exhausting all other options like examining the current budget for fraud, waste and abuse.
“Until every individual, corporation and energy group is paying their fair share, I would not raise taxes,” said Stephens, 57, of Tahlequah. “I may be more inclined to propose a 1 cent sales tax instead of increasing income taxes.”
Stecklein is state reporter for Oklahoma CNHI News Service publication newspapers. Contact her at email@example.com.