State representatives Joe Dorman, Emily Virgin and Scott Martin paneled Wednesday’s state budget forum at OETA in Oklahoma City.

Joe Wertz / NPR StateImpact

An Economist in OKC: ‘It’s about enhancing the quality of life’

  • Joe Wertz

Joe Wertz / NPR StateImpact

State representatives Joe Dorman, Emily Virgin and Scott Martin paneled Wednesday's state budget forum at OETA in Oklahoma City.

Our state budget roadshow continued last night in Oklahoma City.

The legislative panelists answered questions about tribal tax compacts, water rights and the ongoing issues at the Department of Health Services.

And like it was at Monday’s inaugural event in Tulsa, much of the talk centered on the debate about Oklahoma’s income tax.

Our legislative panelists — state Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs; Rep. Scott Martin, R-Norman and Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman — also talked about higher education, which legislative leaders have said will be scrutinized in the upcoming session.

Martin, vice-chair of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, said — when compared to other state agencies — lawmakers don’t have as much say in how and where the State Regents for Higher Education spend their appropriation.

While lawmakers might have have laid out ideas and “concepts” during a session on where higher education money should go, the state regents often “have a different idea,” Martin said.

“That’s where some of the rub comes,” he said.

Joe Wertz / NPR StateImpact

Economist Mickey Hepner talks with an audience member after the StateImpact town hall forum.

Our fourth panelist, Mickey Hepner, an economist and Dean of the University of Central Oklahoma’s College of Business Administration, reaffirmed his long-standing opposition to abolishing the state’s individual income tax, and talked about what economic policies offer the most return-on-investment when it comes to economic growth.

Improving a state’s image — even if it means raising taxes like Oklahoma City did to renovate and expand an arena for its NBA team — is usually worth raising taxes, Hepner said.

“It’s not usually about cutting taxes, it’s about enhancing the quality of life,” he said. “That should be the metric.”

StateImpact Oklahoma’s roadshow continues Tuesday, Jan. 31 in Stillwater.