Coalition being formed to safeguard state services’ funding (Tulsa World)

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By BARBARA HOBEROCK, Tulsa World Capitol Bureau 

OKLAHOMA CITY – A coalition is forming to support adequate funding of public services in light of talks at the Capitol about cutting taxes used to fund government.

The Oklahoma Policy Institute is leading the effort.

A legislative task force last week released a report that, among other things, called for a gradual 0.5 percent reduction in the state’s top individual income tax level. It recommends the elimination of a host of other tax credits and exemptions.

Restructuring the state’s tax code is expected to be a heated topic of discussion when lawmakers return in February to the Capitol.

“We are beginning to work with other organizations about how to develop some kind of common messages and strategies to try to make the case for fair and adequate funding of public services,” David Blatt, director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, said Tuesday.

Some of the recommendations would hurt low and moderate-income residents, Blatt said.

“Some of the proposals seem to create a greater risk of cutting government revenues and further endangering the funding of services while others just look to put more of the tax load on the poor and middle-class households,” he said.

The Oklahoma Policy Institute wants to hire an outreach coordinator to lead efforts to educate Oklahomans about the issue.

Blatt said no formal coalition is in place yet.

Trish Frazier, the policy and communications director for the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, said: “We are concerned about preserving the tax base for core services and we have been through a period of budget shortfalls. We have a lot to make up for. State employees are 20 percent below market. There has been no pay adjustment since 2006. We have crumbling infrastructure.”

The state needs to preserve an adequate amount of funding for critical services, Frazier said.

The association is having preliminary discussions about working with other groups on the issue, she said.

Lynne White, government relations director for the Oklahoma Hospital Association, said it is possible that her group could be a member of the coalition, but no decisions have been made.

The Oklahoma State School Boards Association will work with the coalition, said Jeff Mills, its executive director.

Schools have lost more than $300 million in revenue since 2008, Mills said.

“Schools have cut programs,” he said. “They have cut staff. They have cut administration. There is nowhere left to cut.”

The Oklahoma Education Association has an interest in joining the coalition, said Linda Hampton, the OEA’s president.

The Oklahoma income tax is the largest source of revenue, Hampton said.

Public schools get more than a third of it, she said.

“Our primary concern right now is to get the organization formed and to see what common interests and concerns we have and then to be able to work together,” Hampton said.

The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy is also concerned about some of the tax proposals, said Linda Terrill, its executive director.

“We are certainly going to watch the tax debate closely in the upcoming session,” Terrill said.

“We are going to make sure politicians aren’t giving cuts the wealthiest at the expense of the safety of Oklahoma children.” 


Oklahoma Policy Insititute (OK Policy) advances equitable and fiscally responsible policies that expand opportunity for all Oklahomans through non-partisan research, analysis, and advocacy.

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