Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

A Not So Retiring Group

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

A Not So Retiring Group

Article excerpt

They are 3,000 strong and growing. They have no paid staff, no paid lobbyist, and are supported by voluntary contributions. Who are they? They are employees, or self- employed persons who have retired from private business, and make up the membership of the Oklahoma Tax Action Group (OTAG).

State chairperson for the group is V. Midge Sullivan, a feisty, and well-informed Southwestern Bell Telephone retiree living in Edmond. She is outspoken and dedicated when it comes to tax issues affecting private sector retirees. Unafraid to challenge legislators about these issues, she often nettles those who are determined to keep and spend every tax dollar available.

In addition to three officers, OTAG has a 15-member advisory board composed of retirees from around the state. The group, which was organized in 1989, has members and working volunteers in 70 of Oklahoma's 77 counties. Its mailing address is P.O. Box 7191, Edmond, 73083.

They contend Oklahoma should be "retiree friendly" because the state needs the resources, knowledge and wisdom of those who retire, stay here and contribute to its culture, character and economy. According to OTAG there are about 280,000 retirees living in Oklahoma, a majority of whom are from the private sector, who put more than $4 billion annually in the state's economy. They believe more should be done to encourage these retirees to stay in Oklahoma.

Other states, such as Alabama and Mississippi are cited as examples where incentives are offered to encourage their own citizens to stay, and attract retirees from other states. While their primary goal is to gain the same tax treatment for all private sector retirees as with retired public or government employees, there are other tax issues on OTAG's agenda. These include exempting food from the state sales tax, property tax questions, and raising the inheritance tax exemption. There is even talk of an initiative petition to exempt unearned income, including dividends, interest and pension income from the state income tax for retirees age 65 and older.

Progress made

Topping their agenda currently is to get the same $5,500 individual deduction from pension or other retirement plans income that is granted to public sector retirees, which includes federal, state, county, city, teachers, legislators and the military. They were given this individual deduction in 1989, by who else, legislators and then Gov. Henry Bellmon.

According to Midge Sullivan legislators took the attitude that there was enough money to give themselves and other government retirees the exemption, but not enough for private sector retirees. How surprising!

Some progress has been made, largely perhaps through the effort of OTAG. In 1996, the Legislature, in its typically class divisive manner passed a law extending a portion of the deduction to some private sector retirees, but not others. …

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