Culture & the Family

Ray Carter | March 15, 2021

Paycom CEO verbally sparred with Coburn over tax increases

Ray Carter

In a Nov. 27, 2017 letter, Paycom CEO Chad Richison verbally attacked former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn and former Gov. Frank Keating, characterizing them as working “against our future with constant negative rhetoric and no workable solutions” because the two state leaders publicly urged lawmakers not to raise taxes at a time when Oklahoma’s working families had already experienced a massive loss of income and jobs.

In that same letter, Richison described the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs’ work, which includes opposition to tax increases and support for reducing waste in government, as part of a “reckless, outdated and out-of-step political machine.”

In his letter, Richison directly referenced a 2017 public missive signed by Coburn, Keating, and Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs board chairman Larry Parman, who previously served as Oklahoma Secretary of State and Secretary of Commerce. Richison said the “true intent” of the letter was “to undermine any attempt to govern.”

In their letter, Coburn, Keating, and Parman noted that recent state legislative sessions had been dominated by calls to increase Oklahomans’ taxes year after year with “lobbyists for special interests and numerous government executives” working to “focus the discussion on how to take more money from Oklahoma’s most vulnerable citizens, from working Oklahoma families, and from small businesses and job creators.”

“The reality, though, is that Oklahomans are hurting—due in large part to the significant price declines in oil and to the failures of the Obama administration’s economic policies and regulations,” wrote Coburn, Keating, and Parman. “The Oklahoma Tax Commission reports that from 2014 to 2015 Oklahomans lost more than $13 billion in taxable income. Further, from FY-2015 to FY-2016, Oklahomans cut their purchases subject to state sales and use tax by $4.1 billion just to survive. From September 2015 to September 2016, fully 21,800 oil and gas and manufacturing jobs were cut.”

The Coburn/Keating/Parman letter noted that state lawmakers had already approved legislation hiking various taxes and fees by a combined $500 million in the prior three legislative sessions. Rather than again raise taxes on families experiencing financial hardship, the three men called on legislators to “steel themselves and get about the tough work of reforming Oklahoma’s government.”

“It is time to dig in to eradicate crony capitalism,” wrote Coburn, Keating, and Parman. “It is time to rein in unreformed spending. It is time for real, market-driven Medicaid reforms and innovative health care spending. It is time to be honest about non-instructional growth in common and higher education. It is time to implement government-wide business process improvements and reform outdated government structures.

“Policymakers must make the same difficult choices being made by the most vulnerable, by working Oklahoma families, and by small businesses and other job creators in Oklahoma,” the three state leaders continued.

In his letter, Richison decried that advice. Richison wrote that Paycom employees and potential employees were “concerned about sending their children to our schools, colleges and universities,” and cited issues such as “four day school weeks.” The letter indicated that tax increases were required to address those challenges.

In his letter, Richison called on Keating to resign as a regent for the University of Oklahoma.

Rather than bring government spending in line with state revenue collections, lawmakers went on to enact some of the largest tax increases in Oklahoma history in 2018, substantially falling in line with Richison’s demand.

However, the problems those tax increases were supposed to solve, according to proponents, have persisted with little or no improvement associated with the tax increases.

The four-day school weeks cited by Richison in his 2017 letter remain routine, and officials with the State Board of Education recently had to approve continued use of short school weeks at districts across Oklahoma, even though board members noted Oklahoma also requires roughly 15 fewer days of school per year than most other states.

In addition, state lawmakers recently acknowledged that Oklahoma’s teacher shortage is worse today than before the tax increases and associated massive teacher pay raises—and is only expected to get worse.

In a subsequent Jan. 25, 2018 email exchange between Richison and Keating, which became public through a Paycom filing in its recent unsuccessful lawsuit against the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, Richison continued his attack on Keating.

“No one person has done more to hurt Oklahoma’s innovation and ability to climb than you and your cronies at the OCPA,” Richison wrote. “From a talent development perspective, you are one of Paycoms (stet) top road blocks to growing in Oklahoma. Because of this, we will be relentless in our efforts to unseed (stet) you from any position of influence on young people’s education. I am absolutely shocked that someone put you on the board of regents. It’s embarrassing for our state and for the University of Oklahoma.”

Officials ignored Richison’s calls for Keating’s resignation. Instead, at the end of former OU President David Boren’s tenure at OU, questions arose about fiscal management at the university that echoed issues raised by Keating in his 2017 letter, including concern about significant growth of non-instructional spending. The OU Board of Regents ultimately hired retired businessman James Gallogly to replace Boren. Gallogly formally took the leadership position on July 1, 2018, and went on to find nearly $50 million in annual savings, while simultaneously increasing faculty salaries and financial aid for low and middle income students, before stepping down in 2019.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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