A law that mandates an automatic job loss for state employees behind on their taxes isn’t a good way to collect funds, help employees or stabilize a workforce.
An Oklahoma Watch story found that nearly 5,600 state employees — 26% more than last year — have received a final notice to pay back taxes. By law, employees will be fired if a payment cannot be established.
Employees are told they must file taxes, pay their balance or set up a payment plan. But, there are sometimes bureaucratic hiccups.
Everyone should pay their taxes. But we’re confident state employees aren’t trying to get away with anything. They are likely facing obstacles such as medical debt or a household job loss. Also, mistakes happen, whether at the Tax Commission or in having a wrong address for notification.
It’s not fair nor right that state employees are being held to a higher standard than any other Oklahomans. As the Oklahoma Public Employees Association Executive Director Sterling Zearley noted, the state pursues people who haven’t paid their taxes only with wage garnishments unless they work for the state.
Garnishment makes more sense. Firing a person who hasn’t paid their taxes only increases their financial problems and makes it less likely that the taxes ever get paid.
Oklahoma Watch reported that workers facing disciplinary action come largely from the state departments of human services, corrections, veterans affairs, mental health and substance abuse and transportation.
At least two of those agencies — corrections and human services — struggle in recruitment and retention of workers. Firing workers who have tax problems only makes the state’s retention problems more difficult to solve.
For every state agency, firing employees for failure to pay taxes increases recruitment and training costs and reduces experience on the job.
We urge legislators to change the law to reflect a more realistic way to collect back taxes from state workers. Punitive firing is counterproductive and mean-spirited.