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Poverty in Oklahoma is at a 10-year high, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. In Durant and Bryan County, poverty affects 8,523 persons, or 18 percent of the population. Statewide, 652,460 people live in poverty, 16.2 percent of the population.
At least part of what is driving poverty and economic stagnation in Oklahoma is tax policy put forth by Republican lawmakers over the past decade. In Oklahoma, the poorest 20 percent of households pay 13.4 percent of their incomes to taxes. That is the fifth highest rate in the country.
A Washington, D.C., based think tank, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), recently concluded that poor- and middle-income Oklahomans are actually paying a greater share of their income in taxes than the national average, while Oklahoma households with incomes of $194,500 or more are taxed below the national average.
ITEP said taxation on the poorest Oklahoma households takes 2.1 times as much of their gross earnings as does taxation on the wealthiest families.
The ITEP study evaluates state and local taxes, including personal and corporate income taxes, property taxes, sales and other excise taxes. The ITEP study ranks Oklahoma among the 10 worst states for tax inequality.
Republican lawmakers have cut the tax rate on wealthy Oklahomans by almost 25 percent, while median-income households have realized $200 in annual income-tax reductions. Median income in Durant and Bryan County is $37,883 for a family of four. Federal poverty income is $25,100 for a family of four.
The rise in poverty rates and the condition of tax inequality can both be directly attributed to Republican tax cuts for the wealthiest Oklahomans, which strip state coffers of more than $ 1 billion annually. Under the Republican regime, public school systems are in dire straits; roads, highways, bridges and other elements of infrastructure, including sewer and water systems, are facing huge deficits in maintenance funding.
Rural health clinics are dropping like flies.
This imposed condition of austerity on state government has a dampening effect on new small-business startups, too. Small businesses are the economic engine that drives creation of entry-level jobs with potential for increased wages.
In order to make up some of the squandered income-tax revenue, Republican lawmakers have steadily increased fees and excise taxes on all kinds of services provided by state government. These fees and taxes are the same regardless of the payer’s income, and that fact contributes to some of the tax inequality in the state.
When Oklahoma Republican lawmakers were moving to eliminate or drastically cut Oklahoma income taxes, the story line was that the result would be a more prosperous Oklahoma with industry flocking to this low-tax environment, bringing lots of good-paying jobs. It would be a boost to the overall economy, they said.
These statistics compiled a decade after the fact paint quite a different picture. Wealthy Oklahomans and corporations are doing very well, and even better with the deep federal tax cuts handed them this year by Republicans in Washington.
Yes, thanks to Republican policies, the wealthy are better off by far. The rest of us, not so much.
Paul Cartledge is chairman of the Democratic Party of Bryan County.