BY MARK Y.A. DAVIES
Here is the Oklahoma game: Oil and gas companies and other large corporations in Oklahoma have successfully lobbied the politicians they have financially supported to get into office to give them massive tax breaks that each year amount to hundreds of millions of dollars of lost revenue for the state. They also influence these same politicians to cut income taxes for the wealthiest Oklahomans. Over time this lost revenue is measured in billions of dollars.
These same oil and gas companies and other large corporations give back a tiny fraction of what they should be paying in taxes in the form of donations to charitable organizations for social services, the arts, and education. Many of the social service organizations to which they contribute exist to try to fill the many gaps and holes in our social fabric that are worsened by the lost revenue from taxes the oil and gas companies and other large corporations should be paying. If one of the charitable organizations to which they give money does something that they don’t like, pressure will be applied and funding for that organization may even cease.
The oil and gas companies and other large corporations make sure they get a lot of really good publicity for their wonderful charitable giving. They serve as presidents of charitable organizations and play other leading roles on their boards and in their fundraising efforts. They and their corporations are constantly recognized at galas, special events, and performances. Their personal names and corporation names are displayed prominently on our arts and education events and venues, and they are lauded as being model personal and corporate citizens in our state.
All of this giving is, of course, tax deductible, and they use the giving as a way to provide positive PR for their corporations. In essence, they are getting relatively inexpensive tax deductible commercials at a miniscule rate compared to the taxes they are no longer paying because of their hold on our economic, political, and cultural processes.
As the oil and gas companies and other large corporations continue to be lauded for all they do for our city and state, Oklahoma experiences massive budget shortfalls, nation-leading cuts in public education, the highest female incarceration rate in the country, poor access to healthcare, above average child poverty rates, and oil and gas industry induced earthquakes with individual citizens left with the bill for the damage.
In addition to the ongoing positive tax deductible PR campaign pursued by these corporations, they operate in an environment of little regulation owing to the fact that they provide financial support for politicians in the Oklahoma Corporation Commission – the very commission tasked with the responsibility of regulating their corporate practices.
This is the Oklahoma game, and the vast majority of people in Oklahoma are not winning it. The oil and gas corporations are left saying, “Is this a great state or what?” Other Oklahomans … Not so much.
– Mark Y.A. Davies is the Wimberly Professor of Social and Ecological Ethics and director of the World House Institute for Social and Ecological Responsibility at Oklahoma City University. Click here for more of his essays.