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Dozens of clergy, non-profits, and foundation leaders speak out to defend broad-based tax credits

May 11th, 2016

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Oklahoma City — More than 140 religious leaders and over two dozen non-profit organizations and foundations are speaking out against state budget plans that threaten tax credits for hundreds of thousands of working families and seniors. Clergy from across Oklahoma have signed a letter (available at http://bit.ly/1Omql2a) urging lawmakers not to reduce Oklahoma’s Earned Income Tax Credit, Sales Tax Relief Credit, or Child Tax Credit/Child Care Tax Credit. These tax credits together help support more than 400,000 low- to moderate-income families and seniors in Oklahoma.

According to the clergy letter, the three broad-based credits “are all programs that have enjoyed long term bi-partisan support and represent an important means of protection for those living in poverty. Ending these credits, or reducing their economic benefit, would mean a tax increase or an income reduction for many middle and lower-income citizens, hitting hardest the elderly on fixed incomes and families in poverty with children.”

The clergy letter states, “Every budget decision has human and moral implications” and cites Proverbs 31:8-9: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

In addition to the clergy, over two dozen organizations and foundations joined in calling on lawmakers to fully preserve the broad-based tax credits in this year’s budget. Those joining the call included groups representing children (Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, Child Care Resource Center, Emergency Infant Services), seniors (Oklahoma Alliance on Aging, Silver-Haired Legislature Alumni Council), religious groups (Oklahoma Conference of Churches, VOICE, Tulsa Interfaith Alliance, Tulsa Metropolitan Ministry), major foundations (Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation, Hille Foundation, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, George Kaiser Family Foundation), food banks (Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma), Oklahoma Policy Institute, and others.

“In Oklahoma many families struggle to meet their children’s most basic needs,” said Terry Smith, President and CEO of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy. “Cutting Oklahoma’s Earned Income Tax Credit, Sales Tax Relief Credit, the Child Tax Credit/Child Care Tax Credit will hurt thousands of Oklahoma families. Oklahoma currently ranks 39th in country for overall child well-being. Taking resources from Oklahoma families will result in continued bad outcomes for children.”

The plan being circulated by state legislators would end the Child Tax Credit and significantly reduce the Earned Income Tax Credit and Sales Tax Relief Credit, for a combined cut of about $76 million. These credits provide crucial supports for hard-pressed families that are already struggling to make ends meet.  A couple with two children earning $35,000 a year could pay $180 more per year under this proposal, while elderly couples on fixed incomes could lose most or all of their $80 Sales Tax Relief Credit.  The tax increase on low- and moderate-income families would take effect at the same time as lawmakers are allowing a tax cut for top incomes that costs more than twice as much ($147 million) and provides minimal or no benefits to most families that could now lose these broad-based credits.

A recent poll by Global Strategy Group found that 59 percent of registered Oklahoma voters oppose ending the broad-based tax credits to reduce Oklahoma’s $1.3 billion budget shortfall, compared to just 29 percent who support doing so. Voters instead preferred solutions like accepting federal dollars for health care, improving collection of online sales taxes, and rolling back some of Oklahoma’s cuts to the income tax rate paid by the wealthiest households.

The clergy letter also urged lawmakers to “consider all options for protecting the important health care needed by the most vulnerable among us, including decisions that support rural hospitals and nursing homes.”

The letter concludes, “Our churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and other worshiping communities do not have the capacity to close whatever gap the state’s budget decisions open. To succeed in reducing and even eliminating poverty everyone must be involved – the private and governmental sectors, along with religious and community agencies, and each one of us as individuals. As people of faith, we urge you to attend to the poor and vulnerable as you make budget decisions.”