MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

May 1, 2013

Voters oppose cuts to education, more

Support for tax cuts wane when they would affect key services

Most Oklahoma voters oppose a proposed cut for state income taxes if it comes at the expense of funding for education, public safety and health care.

That finding was the result of a survey commissioned by the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a Tulsa-based think tank for public policy. The results of the survey, which has a 4 percent margin of error, were released a day before the measure is expected to be presented for a vote in the House of Representatives.

When asked only about cutting the personal income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 5 percent beginning January 2015, 52 percent of those polled said they favored the proposal. That support waned significantly when respondents learned more about the proposed cuts, who would benefit, and the impact on core services.

Oklahoma Policy Institute Director David Blatt said the findings of the survey released Tuesday were not surprising. He cited similar results from polling conducted in 2012.

“We’ve been certain all along that tax cuts are not the top priority of Oklahoma voters, and this poll confirms what we’ve been hearing and what legislators have told us,” Blatt said. “Voters are much more concerned with funding for schools, public safety and health care than they are about tax cuts.”

The survey, conducted by Global Strategy Group, found 60 percent of Oklahoma voters opposed tax cuts after learning more than 40 percent of Oklahomans would realize no tax relief. An analysis of the proposal shows middle-income households would see a tax cut of about $50 a year, and the largest tax cuts would go to the state’s wealthiest 5 percent.

Support for the tax cut fell even more when the 601 registered voters were asked about sacrificing funding for public safety, education and public health services. Opposition to the measure grew to 80 percent, 77 percent and 77 percent respectively.

Blatt equated the survey’s findings to offering someone a steak dinner. He said it sounds good at first, but after learning “they will have to pay for it and all they will get is the gristle, it is likely they will change their mind.”

Two local state representatives — one Democrat and one Republican — said they will oppose the measure when it comes up for a vote. Each gave varying reasons.

District 13 Rep. Jerry McPeak, D-Warner, said there is no way — other than political gain — to justify voting today for something that can be put off two years. He compared it with tearing down half a barn because only half is needed this year to store hay but it is unknown how much space will be needed in the future.

District 14 Rep. Arthur Hulbert, R-Fort Gibson, said while he favors “tax cuts, now is not the right time.” Hulbert, citing his pledge to not “cut taxes at the expense of education,” said there are “too many unknown variables” with federal sequestration and other funding cuts.

Hulbert said the state tax burden overall is relatively small compared with other states. McPeak cited reports that show Oklahoma’s economy is performing better than six of the nine states where there is no personal income tax.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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