Oil billionaires help fund state, local governments in Oklahoma

Oklahoma's budget has been struggling for years, something that has prompted several billionaires in the state to step in and help fill in the holes.

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According to a U.S. News & World report, Tulsa billionaires George Kaiser, the Schusterman and Zarrow families, whose massive wealth mainly derives from the oil industry, have been donating hundreds of millions of dollars to help the state provide basic services.

According to the latest data from U.S. Census Bureau, the city has been battling high poverty levels for years, with more than 15 percent of its population impacted by it.

The donation amounts have been so massive in areas such as education, health care and public parks that in some cases it's outpacing spending by the state and also by city governments, the report says.

Since 1990, Oklahoma's state budget has been diminishing. For example, the state's general fund for public services, including health care and education, has fallen 35 percent since 2006. And while the state's general fund has increased to $5.85 billion in 2018, it still remains lower than its funding levels in 2007.

David Blatt, executive director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, told the outlet that some could say that state has become the "most significant disinvestment from public institutions in the nation" and that philanthropy "was called in" to plug holes in the budget that have devastated the state's public schools and health care systems.

Tusla's Mayor G.T. Bynum admitted that they rely heavily on philanthropy to do things that other cities can do on their own but warns that not everything should come from wealthy donors.


"You need a sense of public ownership," Bynum said.

The biggest problem, adds Blatt, is that many philanthropists come with political ties.

"On one side you have Tulsa billionaires who are basically Democrats, and the Oklahoma City billionaires who are deeply tied to the Republican Party," Blatt said.