The letter and full list of signers can be found here. Those who wish to add their organizations to the sign-on letter can go to bit.ly/okletter. You can click here to contact your legislators as an individual.
Leaders from over ninety businesses, organizations, religious institutions, and philanthropic foundations from across Oklahoma today released a letter urging Governor Mary Fallin and legislative leaders to halt the income tax cut scheduled to take effect next January.
“Poor state fiscal policy choices are undoing much of the hard work of our philanthropic sector, businesses, Native nations, non-profit organizations, and faith community to support and improve education, health care, social services, and other critical areas,” the letter states. “We believe in investing in these goals, but we cannot be expected to fund the core responsibilities of state government.”
The scheduled cut the top income tax rate is adding tens of millions of dollars to the state’s $611 million budget shortfall. Budgets for schools, health care, public safety, and other core areas of government that have already been slashed in recent years now face even deeper cuts.
“Private philanthropy invests millions in our state each year to improve the lives of the disadvantaged, but there is no way philanthropy can take the place of our tax dollars to meet the challenges we face,” said Judy Kishner, President of the Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation, a major funder of social services.
[pullquote]Private philanthropy invests millions in our state each year to improve the lives of the disadvantaged, but there is no way philanthropy can take the place of our tax dollars to meet the challenges we face.”[/pullquote]Some three dozen private sector business owners and executives signed the letter, including bank presidents, real estate developers, oil and gas company executives, insurance agents, ranchers, child care operators, venture capitalists, and others.
“I don’t like paying taxes any more than you do, but I want to live in a state that takes care of its people,” said Ken Fergeson, Chairman of NBC Oklahoma, a state-chartered bank headquartered in Altus with nine locations across Oklahoma. “We continue to cut our taxes while year after year of decreases in funding mean that our schools, roads, public safety and agencies that contribute to the quality of life are suffering.”
Several statewide and local education groups signed the letter out of concern that cuts to common education could lead to the loss of hundreds more teaching positions, even as school districts wrestle with severe teacher shortages, overcrowded classrooms, and reduced course offerings.
“Those in the Capitol should focus on restoring funding to public education and making an effort to retain Oklahoma teachers who are entrusted with our most precious commodity, our children,” said Amy Vargus, facilitator of Jenks Parent Legislative Advocacy Committee, a group of public education supporters who strive to increase awareness of legislative issues.
Heads of numerous private and non-profit health care providers are among the letter’s signatories and expressed concern about the prospects of additional cuts to health care funding.
“Many of our provider agencies are already hanging on by the skin of their teeth,” said Judith Goodwin, director of Oklahoma Community-based Providers, an association that represents sixty private agencies that serve over 5,000 Oklahomans with intellectual disabilities across the state. “If our rates are cut further, our smaller agencies could well go out of business, not only costing jobs but leaving our most vulnerable residents without the care that they need.”
“I simply can’t fathom how we can be looking at another tax cut right now when the health care safety net system is already imploding from years of funding cuts to indigent care, “ said John Silva, director of Tulsa’s Morton Comprehensive Health Services and President of the Oklahoma Primary Care Association, a statewide network of community health centers.
[pullquote]I simply can’t fathom how we can be looking at another tax cut right now when the health care safety net system is already imploding from years of funding cuts to indigent care.”[/pullquote]Among the faith-based groups urging that the tax cut be halted was the Oklahoma Conference of Churches, an association of Christian denominations comprising almost 2,000 local congregations and Interfaith and community partners. “Giving a tax cut simply because it was promised before the current budget crisis occurred is not keeping faith with the people of Oklahoma if it results in a drastic reduction of much-needed funding for education, health, and social services,” said the Rev. Dr. William Tabbernee, the Conference’s Executive Directors.
Several groups representing seniors also signed the letter, including The State Council on Aging, a 30-member group representing both the public and private sectors as well as independent, aging consumers. “The Council speaks on behalf of older Oklahomans in calling for the repeal of the state personal upper income tax reduction. If the tax reduction becomes a reality, older Oklahomans will experience additional, unnecessary burdens and hardships,” said Trish Emig, the Council’s Chairwoman.
Along with organizations and businesses, over 100 individuals Oklahomans, including business executives, university presidents, teachers, retirees, social workers, and others signed on to the letter. In addition, over 1,000 people have contacted their legislators through the TogetherOk.org website calling on them to halt the tax cut.
“It’s very clear that proceeding with a tax cut approved under very different economic and financial circumstances is not in the best interests of the state and is not what Oklahomans want,” said David Blatt, Executive Director of Oklahoma Policy Institute, which organized the sign-on letter. “Let’s hope our leaders get the message and opt instead for a responsible approach to fund Oklahoma’s critical public services.”