Some Oklahoma legislators seem to have fantasies of the Wild West.
On Wednesday, Dec. 17, Rep. Eric Proctor, D-Tulsa, and Sen. Kenneth Corn, D-Poteau, announced they would be introducing legislation in the upcoming session that would repeal state taxes on the sale of guns and ammunition. We were told that people should not have to pay taxes if they need to protect their families.
It's unclear to me what problem this legislation is intended to solve. Do we have a rash of crime against poor families that we know could be prevented by eliminating a sales tax? With all the crime-related stories on the local news, I can't recall any where a victim complained that sales tax was to blame for their victimization. Are we to imagine families being terrorized by home invaders, the whole time thinking, "If it weren't for that sales tax, we'd be OK right now"?
This just doesn't seem to be a serious problem to me. Sales tax is not an effort by the state to block people's access to guns or to prevent them from carrying out their Second Amendment rights. Are motivating factors for the repeal simply fantasies of the Wild West where everyone is packing heat? Or are the functions of a civil society not important, therefore all taxes should be eliminated? Those two fantasies pose a greater threat to families than this sales tax.
But as long as we are talking families and sales tax, let's discuss a genuine problem " the state sales tax on food. According to the Oklahoma Policy Institute, Oklahoma is one of only 16 states that taxes groceries. This tax does significantly impact the poor. Poor families spend more than 17 percent of their income to buy groceries, contrasted by only 7.8 percent for most middle-class families, according to the institute. This year, food prices increased by 6.3 percent, making it even more difficult for families in this time of economic instability. Area food banks report huge increases in new clients seeking their services.
What does the state do to address this threat to the safety of families? We allow a $40 per person annual tax credit for families making under $50,000 who have dependent children, are elderly, or have a physical disability. This credit has remained unchanged since 1990, despite an 83 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index since the credit was enacted.
An effort is underway to address the sales tax on food. To his credit, Proctor is calling for a repeal of the grocery sales tax, as well. A straightforward repeal would seriously damage revenues for our rural areas, so the Oklahoma Policy Institute is seeking an increase in the tax credit of $20 per person. This would cost the state at least $19 million.
We need to reform our revenue system seriously so grocery taxes are not essential parts of the revenue stream and can be eliminated. This is a serious problem, one that is affecting the safety and well-being of Oklahoma families. I hope our legislators spend the time in this session to address this problem, instead of wasting time on Wild West fantasies that do not address serious issues threatening our families.
Jones, who holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Oklahoma, is pastor of the Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ in Oklahoma City.