As leaders of businesses, organizations, and foundations that are deeply committed to the future of Oklahoma, we are writing you out of an urgent sense of concern about our state’s budget situation.
Many years of repeated cuts and flat funding have left essential public services in critical condition. We already have too many teacher vacancies and overcrowded classrooms; too many severely understaffed prisons and juvenile facilities; too many individuals waiting for mental health and substance abuse services and for home- and community-based waivers. We firmly believe that deeper cuts will cause lasting damage to our state’s health, security, and prosperity.
We understand that the large budget shortfall creates especially difficult choices. In these circumstances, moving ahead with the cut to the income tax that was decided last year simply cannot be justified. The Legislature passed the tax cut bill on the understanding that it would be triggered only if revenues were growing; now we are looking at the tax cut moving ahead in the midst of declining revenues and massive shortfalls.
If allowed to proceed, the tax cut adds $50 million to this year’s deficit and $150 million next year, when the budget situation is unlikely to be any less challenging. We are convinced that most Oklahomans would much rather teachers get a pay raise, health care providers avert a rate cut, and state parks and museums remain open than receive a minimal tax cut.
In addition to at least postponing the tax cut until our budget situation improves, other revenue options that would help avert immediate cuts and improve the state’s longer-term budget outlook should be considered.
Poor state fiscal policy choices are undoing much of the hard work of the philanthropic sector, businesses, Native nations, non-profits, and the faith community to support and improve education, health care, social services and other critical areas. We believe in investing in these goals, but we cannot be expected to take the place of tax dollars when the state fails to maintain its share of the bargain.
We call on you to take the responsible course by halting the scheduled tax cut and developing a sustainable plan to fund Oklahoma’s critical public services.