Oklahoma lawmakers and Gov. Mary Fallin are committed to reducing the state income tax, but they have different ideas on how to reach that goal, Speaker-designate T.W. Shannon said Thursday.
“We weren’t able to come to an agreement about what that policy should look like,” Shannon said following a coffee-and-conversation meeting at East Central University. “I have no question that we will come to an agreement about how we do that and how we pay for it. I think that’s where the issue is, is how we pay for it.”
Lawmakers failed to pass a plan this year for cutting the state’s top personal income tax rate, which was one of Fallin’s top legislative priorities. The governor has said that she will continue pushing lawmakers to approve a tax reform plan next year.
Shannon said lawmakers will likely take up tax reform again in 2013, but reducing the size of government should be their main goal.
“That’s a commitment that I have,” he said. “Certainly, I’ve heard the governor talk about it and I know that the President Pro Tem of the Senate has. So I’m pretty confident that there will be a commitment to reducing it, for sure.”
When asked if he had specific ideas for downsizing government, Shannon said he is currently focusing on the political aspect of his job. That includes helping his fellow Republicans win re-election and growing the GOP caucus in the Legislature.
“Once our members are re-elected and our new Republican caucus is established, then we’ll start talking about priorities,” he said. “But until then, I know that we’re going to be focused on the political side.”
But income taxes and downsizing government weren’t the only topics on Shannon’s mind. He touched on a variety of other issues, including higher education and school consolidation.
• Higher education: Shannon said lawmakers should discuss ways to create an environment rich in economic opportunities. He said he’s heard several ideas for making Oklahomans more prosperous, but one key element is investing in higher education.
“If you look at the number, historically around the country, about one in four Americans have a college degree,” he said. “And you look at Oklahoma ... in Oklahoma, that number drops to about 19 percent, 19 and a half percent. In my quadrant of the state, southwest Oklahoma, it drops even lower to about 16.7 percent.”
• School consolidation: The governor wants to encourage school districts to consolidate or share administrative services, which would free up more dollars for the classroom, The Oklahoman reported earlier this month. Fallin has said she hopes voluntary consolidation and shared services would be part of a broader discussion of public education.
Shannon said he has seen several consolidation efforts since he took office, but they did not always make schools more efficient.
“I don’t think that the words ‘consolidation’ and ‘efficiency’ are always synonymous,” he said. “And sometimes, we make the assumption that they are. So I don’t know that we need to be focused so much on quote, consolidation, as we do efficiency.”
A Lawton Republican, Shannon is in line to become the first African-American speaker if Republicans maintain control of the House after this year’s elections. He will replace outgoing Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, who is stepping down because he is term-limited.