Local groups launches campaign to educate voters 

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Oklahoma Policy Institute recently launched a public education campaign using humorous videos and polling data collected from state voters to educate and urge residents to contact lawmakers about their concerns regarding Oklahoma’s budget crisis.

“We are addressing the message both to legislators — here are the things that you can do — but also to citizens to do something to put some pressure on their legislators,” said David Blatt, Oklahoma Policy Institute (OK Policy) executive director.

OK Policy is an independent, nonpartisan nonprofit that studies state policy issues.

The Tulsa-based think tank considers recent income tax cuts to be a key component of the state’s recent budget failure.

“The main message is that we need to do something to address this budget crisis and there are things that we can do,” Blatt said.

Its Do Something OK campaign at dosomethingok.org features a video series produced by filmmaker David Bizarro, a former Oklahoman now living in New York. The first short, available now on the site, uses simple cardboard puppets to characterize the current Legislature as tone-deaf to the impact of the state’s budget crisis. Additional shorts will post to the site throughout the campaign.

Blatt said the website represents “the advocacy arm of what we do,” presenting research, community education and outreach.

OK Policy launched the project in response to over $1.3 billion in state budget shortfalls that have led to dramatic funding cuts for public education, health care, corrections and other state services. The current Republican-dominated Legislature is considering even deeper cuts for next year.

In January, the Oklahoma Tax Commission projected revenue reductions would be $57 million this year, $147 million in fiscal year 2017 and $199 million in 2018.

A controversial tax cut passed in 2014 also went into effect in January. It heavily benefited Oklahoma taxpayers in the uppermost tax brackets with minimal benefit to those in lower brackets, Blatt said.

OK Policy commissioned a recent survey of 500 registered Oklahoma voters by research firm Global Strategy Group. The results showed a majority of Republican and Democrat voters surveyed favor reversing the tax cut.

Respondents also heavily favored restoring the previous 6.65 percent top income tax rate for Oklahoma’s wealthiest to relieve at least some of the problems caused by state budget failures.

Report findings

“A large majority of Democrats want to cancel (47 percent) or delay (22 percent) the cut, and few want to keep it (16 percent). This includes most conservative Democrats (34 percent cancel/25 delay/26 keep).”

 “The number of Republicans (28 percent cancel/29 percent delay) and Independents (35 percent cancel/20 percent delay) who favor a delay in the cut outpaces those who want to keep it this year (only 30 percent of GOP and 12 percent of Independents).”

Poll results

The poll results challenge the latest legislative proposals to cut services and tax credits that largely benefit lower income Oklahoma residents. A part of the poll report said:

 “Kicking people off SoonerCare is opposed by most Democrats (81 percent), Independents (89 percent) and Republicans (69 percent). Even a large majority of self-described very conservatives (67 percent) are against the idea.”

 “There is also bipartisan opposition to eliminating the tax credits that help many Oklahoma families, with nearly as many Republicans (54 percent) against the idea as Democrats (59 percent). Independents are even less in favor of the proposal (75 percent oppose).”

SoonerCare provides health care benefits for 100,000 non-disabled, low-income adults in Oklahoma.

Print headline: Do something, Oklahoma Policy Institute spurs the community and lawmakers to action with its unique education campaign.

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Brett Dickerson

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