OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma Republicans began to publicly turn their backs Thursday on Gov. Mary Fallin’s proposed plan to tax 164 services.
Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb announced he was resigning from Fallin’s Cabinet, saying he could not support her plan. The move drew support from a group of conservative legislators, including a half dozen from the Tulsa area.
Earlier this month, Fallin proposed revenue-raising measures that include applying the sales tax to services, ranging from cable television to legal and lawn services. She also has proposed increasing the tax on gasoline and diesel as well as cigarettes.
Officials expect to have $868 million less in crafting a fiscal year 2018 budget, and the proposed extension of sales taxes to services was made in an effort to close that gap.
“Gov. Fallin deserves to have someone in her Cabinet who can be a strong advocate for her agenda, and that is something I am unwilling to do,” Lamb said in a statement. “While I respect the determination with which Gov. Fallin met her obligation to present a balanced budget to the Legislature, I cannot support her proposed tax increases.
“This proposal will adversely harm Oklahoma’s small businesses and families, especially those in our service industry. While Gov. Fallin and I have disagreed on issues from time to time, our differences on this important topic are so significant they preclude me from continuing to serve on her Cabinet.”
The decision to resign as the state’s small business advocate does not affect Lamb’s role as lieutenant governor.
Lamb, a former Republican state senator, is considering a run for governor in 2018.
Additionally, 14 legislators issued a statement pledging to do what they can to stop the tax increase from becoming law.
Saying that by the governor’s estimate her proposals would result in a massive tax hike, Rep. George Faught, R-Muskogee, said in that statement: “Those of us in the Legislature who are small business owners understand the devastating impact this would have on small businesses, the backbone of the Oklahoma economy, and on consumers. We need to fight for those we represent and stop this tax increase dead in its tracks.”
Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, said in the statement that “putting a massive, 1.7 billion dollar tax increase on Oklahomans will serve to hurt our economy just as it is beginning to recover. This approach is fundamentally flawed.”
Mike Ford, chairman of the Republican Party of Tulsa County, also issued a statement criticizing Fallin’s proposal.
“This plan not only defies one of the foundational pillars of Republicanism, but it also defies the basic fundamentals of economics,” Ford said. “Oklahomans are already burdened with some of the highest taxes in our region; and yes, fees, permits, licensing, tolls, and other regulatory burdens on our businesses and families are indeed taxes.”
Fallin said she was disappointed and surprised to learn the news of Lamb’s resignation from a press release.
The governor said she values Lamb’s viewpoint and is not afraid to have dissenting opinions at the table.
“There will always be a seat at the table for his independent voice,” she said.
“Leading a state is never easy, especially when there are so many challenges and we are faced with a prolonged economic downturn. But through ideas, hard work, long hours and making tough decisions, we can find solutions to those challenges our state faces. We have to.
“As governor, I have provided a reality check of doing the same thing over and over with the structural deficits of our budget and expecting a different outcome,” Fallin said. “If we want to educate our children, (provide) a teacher pay raise and ensure the health and public safety of our citizens as well as improve our roads and bridges, we must fix the structure of our budget so we don’t keep having budget shortfalls and uncertainty.”
Some, including House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, have tried to tie Fallin’s tax increase proposal to Lamb.
Inman is also considering running for governor.
“Today, we learned that the Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb has decided to completely abandon the governor’s plan to balance the budget,” Inman said. “He has left her Cabinet and abandoned plans to try to work together to try to solve the crisis that he and she and the rest of the Republican majority helped create.”
Lamb was not involved in crafting Fallin’s proposed budget, said Keith Beall, Lamb’s chief of staff.
“His decision to resign was made after yesterday’s Cabinet meeting in which Gov. Fallin maintained her support for taxing 164 services affecting every Oklahoma small business and family,” Beall said.
Beall said he met with Fallin’s chief of staff, Chris Benge, on Thursday morning to discuss the resignation.