At a time when the state has nearly $1 billion in surplus revenue, the legislature needs to address the needs of vital state services that have been ignored during lean financial years instead of giving tax cuts to the wealthiest Oklahomans. Our schools are under funded, our teachers are under paid, our roads and bridges need repair, and our prisons are over crowded. Cutting the tax base which funds these services is not the way to move our state forward.
Senate Bill 2022, one of the tax cut proposals still alive, would reduce the income tax rate from 6.25 percent to 4.9 percent. This piece of legislation alone will reduce revenue by $489 million. Various other proposals still being considered by the legislators would likely increase the amount of tax cuts to a level that will cripple state provided services.
According to a report released by the Alliance for Oklahoma’s Future, the top 1 percent of taxpayers in Oklahoma makes over $300,000 a year. Those taxpayers would receive over $7,000 in income tax breaks while those in the lowest 20 percent income group would receive only one dollar.
The income tax has already been reduced from 6.65 percent to 6.25 percent by the 2005 legislature. Once that measure is fully implemented, the income tax cut will result in a $300 million loss in state revenue.
According to a study conducted by Richard Sims, former director of the Institute on Tax and Economic Policy, a 2 percent increase in education funding increases economic growth by providing 1,427 more jobs and an increase in personal income statewide of $54 million. Reducing the income tax rate this session will not grow the economy – rather it will give the candidates running for office a good sound bite to use in their election campaigns.
In addition to providing economic growth, investing in education ensures that we have a society that can prosper and contribute to the growth of Oklahoma. The social costs of an inadequate education are detrimental to the state and the nation as a whole.
The Teachers College at Columbia University held a two-day symposium titled "The Social Costs of Inadequate Education." The research revealed that a high school dropout today will earn a projected $260,000 less over a lifetime than a young student who graduates. Additionally, dropouts cost American society an estimated $84 billion a year in lost income tax revenue, not to mention the social implications of an uneducated society.
It’s time to stop the political rhetoric. It’s time to invest in education and invest in Oklahoma.
(Roy Bishop is President of the
Oklahoma Education Association.)