OKLAHOMA CITY — House Democrats held a press conference last week to warn of the impending disaster that would ensue for the public health if Republican income tax cut proposals are passed into law this session.
Speaking at the press conference were House Democratic Leader Scott Inman, Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, Rep. William Fourkiller and Dan Straughan, Executive Director of the Homeless Alliance in Oklahoma City .
“Through this series of press conferences we are trying to put a stop to a trainwreck of fiscal irresponsibility,” said Leader Inman. “We will not be able to invest in proper care for those people who desperately need it, if these proposals are enacted.”
The income tax yields approximately one-third of all state tax revenue. Nearly $500 million in income tax dollars support health care programs for low-income children, seniors, and persons with disabilities and mental illnesses.
“Without the income tax, funding for these programs would be devastated,” said Leader Inman. “ Oklahoma is currently ranked 48th in the nation in health. I do not see how we can eliminate the income tax without falling further behind.”
“We need to put the brakes on any income tax cuts until we are on a more solid fiscal footing. There are pieces of legislation with triggers, and many are claiming that they do not eliminate the income tax. Well they do: it’s a mathematical certainty that revenue, with inflation, will eventually rise to the level to trigger cuts that will be very difficult to roll back.”
State programs would face reductions on top of already-reduced budgets in recent years. Since 2009, State Department of Health has received funding cuts amounting to 19.6 percemnt; the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services received 9.8 percent funding cuts; and the Department of Veterans Affairs 13.9 percent.
Fourkiller, a registered nurse, said that the tax cuts “will have a big impact on the health and safety of Oklahomans, due to reductions in funding from levels that are already insufficient.”
Oklahoma ranks near the bottom in multiple key health status indicators measured at the state and national levels. The state has consistently ranked above the national average in infant mortality since 1992.
“What does it say about our state that a baby’s chances of survival are higher in so many other states?” said Fourkiller.
“This will hurt us economically as well,” Fourkiller continued, “because companies look at overall health when deciding whether to locate in a state. This is common sense, but too often common sense is ignored in this building for the sake of politics.”
Poor health outcomes also significantly contribute to homelessness. As much as 25 percent of homeless people in Oklahoma City report that being uninsured or underinsured resulted in health care costs that were directly attributable to their homelessness, according to Dan Straughan.
Straughan, a former banker, said, “When you’re in banking, there are a couple of ways to make money. One of them is just to avoid costs on the front end, and that’s what investing in public health care does. It’s a cost avoidant strategy that ultimately makes the state better off financially.”
Factors such as poverty, education, and access to health services, housing, and transportation all affect whether individuals stay healthy or become ill.
McDaniel said that one of the reasons she ran for office was the number of uninsured people in her district.
“Sick children can’t learn, sick people can’t earn,” said McDaniel. “People delay in taking preventative measures because they cannot afford it. I cannot face the families who struggle with rising costs of health care and at the same time support tax cuts in any way.”