(“This is a tax cut. Let’s be very clear. Oklahoma will have less money to operate if this goes into effect.”-State Sen. Clark Jolley in the Tulsa World.)
On the clarkjolley.com site, state Sen. Clark Jolley, an Edmond Republican, is described as “a long standing supporter of UCO and for increased funding for the state’s third largest university.”
UCO, which stands for the University of Central Oklahoma, is in Jolley’s district so it only makes sense that its state funding would be an issue for him and for most Edmond residents. The university is a major contributor to the local economy.
That’s why it’s difficult to understand why he’s now sponsoring a proposal that would drastically eliminate the state income tax and almost certainly lead to cuts in higher education and thus at UCO. (Disclaimer: I’m a longtime UCO professor.) Under Jolley’s plan, which passed the senate Monday on a 30-17 vote, the income tax rate would fall from 5.25 percent to 2.5 percent in 2013, and then decline in small increments until the entire tax was eliminated in 2022.
There are other state income tax cut proposals making their way through the legislature, and in her state of the state address, Gov. Mary Fallin said she supported an income tax cut. A tax cut of some sort is almost certain this year.
According to a Tulsa World article, Jolley, pictured right, said, “This is a tax cut. Let’s be very clear. Oklahoma will have less money to operate if this goes into effect.” Let me be very clear. He may well have said, “UCO will have less money to operate” or “Edmond schools will have less money to operate.”
By 2016, the cut will lower revenues by $1.4 billion, according to the Oklahoma Tax Commission, though Jolley apparently disagrees with the numbers because he clings to the idea-I would call it a GOP myth-that the income tax will create economic development. Of course, the cut could also gut important state institutions like UCO and public schools and stop infrastructure improvements, which could make the state a waste land no company would consider for relocation. Which is closer to the truth?
Jolley is also representing an overall wealthier constituency than in most other places in Oklahoma, and the tax cut proposals now under consideration are designed to benefit the wealthy. Jolley’s plan, then, on one level exposes the disparity between the varying interests of many rich, local Edmond residents and their local university and schools.
But here’s something to consider: UCO employs more than 1,000 people; Edmond Public Schools employs more than 2,500, according to Wikipedia. They are the two largest employers in the city and any significant cuts in education will lead to layoffs, limited hiring, fewer programs and larger class sizes. It will also lead to decreased city tax revenues as well since less money will be spent in the local economy.
Overall, the tax cut is not only bad for education but bad for the city of Edmond as well.
UCO and other state universities are probably more at risk for major cuts because they can raise tuition to help offset lower state appropriations, but they can’t raise it to a point in which students are simply priced out of an education.
The Oklahoma Policy Institute, a state think tank, has continued to make a compelling case against eliminating or cutting the income tax rate. When it comes to education and the tax cut, OK Policy argues,
Economic developers and businesses continually rank a well-educated workforce as the number one factor they look at for recruiting new businesses or expanding. How are we going to equip our children with the skills and education they need, if we continue to cut education funding and push Oklahoma to 50th in the nation in per pupil investments?
This applies to higher education as well. UCO, the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University provide much of the college-degreed workforce in Oklahoma City’s metropolitan area. What will happen to the size and quality of the workforce if they face major cuts?
Here’s another question: Why does Jolley want to gamble with the viability of his local university when he’s on record supporting increased funding for it? Has he changed his mind?
Maybe it’s time to move the entire university to Bricktown.