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Watch out for wasteful tax giveaways disguised as help for ‘small business’

by | October 3rd, 2016 | Posted in Economy, Taxes | Comments (0)

Last week a press release from Governor Fallin advertised that she was participating in the “Bring Small Businesses Back Bus Tour” when it came to Oklahoma City. This tour is sponsored by the “Job Creators Network”, an association of corporate leaders started by the former presidential candidate Herman Cain and one of the founders of Home Depot. Governor Fallin’s press release especially focused on promoting H.R. 5374, a proposal by Illinois Republican Congressman Randy Hultgren that he calls the “Bring Small Business Back Tax Reform Act.”

Rep. Hultgren’s legislation would enact a large tax cut for “pass-through income” — the term for business income that is reported on the personal tax returns of the business owners. Business owners typically choose to pass through this income so they can pay a lower personal income tax rate than they would if it was taxed as normal business income. It’s already a lucrative tax break that is estimated to reduce federal tax revenues by more than $100 billion per year.

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State-tribal deal could end long dispute over water rights (Capitol Updates)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol. You can find past Capitol Updates archived  on his website.

When the federal lawsuit was filed by the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations in 2011 to stop an agreement between the State of Oklahoma and the City of Oklahoma City to allow OKC to receive water from Sardis Lake in Southeast Oklahoma, predictions were that it would tie up water policy in Oklahoma for many years. At stake was the tribes’ claimed ownership interest in public waters, including Sardis, located in their treaty areas. Many of these types of complex cases have taken decades to resolve, either by trial and appeal or by agreement.

But recently an announcement was made by the tribes, the state and OKC that a settlement had been reached. News coverage has not included the complex details, but generally the agreement retains the state’s primary authority to make agreements regarding the water, but it gives a role to the tribes in the management of the waters, largely dealing with conservation measures such as lake levels. The tribes will not be entitled to payment for water sold by the state.

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Upcoming Event: Sleeping Giant author on how the ‘new working class’ is transforming America

by | August 11th, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Economy, OK Policy, Upcoming Events | Comments (0)

sleeping giant2There was a time when America’s working class was seen as the backbone of the economy with considerable political, economic, and moral authority. In recent decades, the working class has transformed as far more female and racially diverse workers have been employed by the restaurant, retail, health care, and other service industries. At the same time, this new working class has been marginalized, if not ignored, by politicians and pundits.

As Tamara Draut makes clear in an important and timely new book, Sleeping Giant: How the New Working Class Will Transform America, this is changing, swiftly and dramatically. As the November election draws near, Tamara Draut will be visiting Oklahoma to discuss her book at a pair of public events in Tulsa and Oklahoma City:

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Confront the ‘parasite economy’ by raising the minimum wage

by | July 21st, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Economy, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (1)

Every three months, the ADP Research Institute releases its Workforce Vitality Index, a measure of private sector job and wage growth.  For the past two quarters, Washington state has led the nation in growing jobs and boosting wages, far outpacing the national average and such states as Texas, Florida, and California.

Why does this matter?   Because Washington state has one of the highest minimum wages in the nation at $9.47 an hour. And since April 2015, the city of Seattle has been moving towards a $15 minimum wage, with the current minimum ranging from $10.50 to $13 depending on employer size.  As the Workforce Vitality Index shows, businesses in Seattle and Washington state are thriving and generating more employment. Seattle’s restaurant industry — which fought the wage laws fiercely — is continuing to add jobs.

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Income inequality in Oklahoma has declined but there’s more work to be done

by | July 20th, 2016 | Posted in Economy, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

Income inequality between people conceptKylie Thomas is an OK Policy intern and a Master’s student in economics at American University. She previously earned her Bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Tulsa.

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) recently released an updated report on income inequality in the U.S. by state, and the data shows improvements in Oklahoma. In 2012, income inequality in Oklahoma reached a historic high. The bottom 99 percent of Oklahomans were earning an average income of $41,995, while the top 1 percent were earning $1,105,521, which was 26 times greater. Overall, in 2012, Oklahoma ranked 12th highest in the nation for income inequality.  

However, Oklahoma’s income inequality gap narrowed in 2013 (the year of most recent data). To be considered part of the top 1 percent in 2013 in Oklahoma, an individual needed to make an income of at least $324,935. The average income of the bottom 99 percent rose nearly $3,000 to $44,849 and fell for the top 1 percent to $903,201, which is still 20.7 times greater than the bottom 99 percent. That’s a little more equal than overall in the U.S., where the average income of the top 1 percent was 25.3 times greater than the bottom 99 percent. Consequently, Oklahoma’s national rank improved from 12th to 15th most unequal.

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The decade Oklahoma’s ag jobs vanished (Guest Post: Brian Ted Jones)

by | July 14th, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Economy, State Questions | Comments (0)

Corporate-FarmingBrian Ted Jones is director of education for Kirkpatrick Foundation. Data on farm employment is from census records accessed through the Oklahoma Department of Libraries.

Since 1990, the number of agricultural jobs in Oklahoma has declined by 77 percent, according to figures from the U.S. Census. This period of employment decline in the farming and ranching industry—once a pillar of the state’s job market—coincides with the expansion of corporate-industrial agriculture that began with the legalization of corporate agriculture in 1969 and accelerated with the arrival of concentrated swine and poultry production in the early 1990s.

Oklahoma is currently engaged in a heated debate over agriculture policy, as voters consider State Question 777, a controversial amendment to the state’s constitution that would provide members of the agriculture industry with a private right of action to challenge laws that restrict their technology and production practices. As director of education for Kirkpatrick Foundation, I’ve spent the last few months exploring the potential impact of SQ 777 on Oklahoma, which has led me to a deep study of Oklahoma’s agricultural economy going back to the territorial period.

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This part of the budget deal may be the greatest threat to Oklahoma’s economy

by | May 25th, 2016 | Posted in Economy, Education | Comments (6)

Overwhelmingly, the states where residents earn the highest wages also have the best-educated workforce. Both productivity and median wages in a state are strongly correlated with the percentage of residents with a college degree. At the same time, overall state tax levels show no significant correlation with median wages. Plenty of states — including Oklahoma — have relatively low state and local taxes and relatively low wages, but there are no states with a well-educated workforce and low wages.

The link between education levels and state prosperity is clear. That’s why it is especially troubling that the long-awaited budget proposal from the Oklahoma Legislature and Governor Fallin would decimate funding for higher education. The budget proposes cuts of $153 million to higher education, a nearly 16 percent drop from initial 2016 funding levels. In total dollars, the cut to higher education is by far the largest cut to any agency.

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Cuts to education spending hurt more than just our children (Guest post: Christiaan Mitchell)

by | April 21st, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Economy, Education | Comments (1)

Christiaan Mitchell is a lawyer who holds masters degrees in philosophy and education. He lives and works in Bartlesville.

stack of books and apple stabbed by knife to represent education cuts

A couple of weeks ago Williams announced that it was cutting approximately 100 jobs in Tulsa. This announcement was front-page news and sent ripples of anxiety through the entire community.

Can you imagine the uproar from the business community if these jobs had been lost due to a policy decision at the state Legislature? If the folks down in Oklahoma City had passed a bill that would, on its own, destroy 100 decent middle-class jobs in Tulsa, we could expect a full court press attack by the Chamber of Commerce. And any legislator who had his or her fingerprints on the measure would not be long for the statehouse.

Ten days after the Williams cuts hit the news, the Oklahoma City Public School System announced that it would be cutting 208 teaching positions due to state funding shortfalls. Over 200 decent middle-class jobs have been lost in Oklahoma City alone as a direct result of the Legislature’s unwillingness to pay its bills. More districts are now following suit in announcing layoffs of administrative staff and teachers. Yet the response from the business community has been muted, at best.

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Worker benefit denials are keeping Oklahoma’s unemployment rate artificially low (Guest post: Jimmy Curry)

by | April 19th, 2016 | Posted in Economy, Financial Security | Comments (2)

Jimmy Curry is President of the Oklahoma AFL-CIO (

Denied Concept with Word on Folder.Believe it or not, sometimes the State of Oklahoma gets it right.  The Oklahoma Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund is one of the healthiest funds in the Country with over $1 billion in it. This didn’t happen by accident. Many years ago the Oklahoma Legislature developed a formula that would raise employers’ unemployment insurance rate and lower the unemployed workers’ weekly benefit if the Trust Fund’s monies were low.  The opposite is true when the trust fund monies were high — employers’ unemployment insurance rate would drop and unemployed workers’ weekly benefit would increase.

This formula has worked so well that Oklahoma was one of only a handful of states that did not have to borrow money from the federal government to shore up their Unemployment Insurance Trust Funds during the years after the Great Recession. This is great news since the Oklahoma economy has been taking it on the chin with the falling oil prices, layoffs in the energy sector, state hiring freezes, and severe budget cuts.

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Why tax increases would be less harmful to Oklahoma’s economy than budget cuts

by | March 7th, 2016 | Posted in Budget, Economy, Taxes | Comments (2)

Budget Crisis US Currency Gold Coins in Vise ClampWith the oil and gas industry in freefall and a state budget hole that has grown to $1.3 billion, Oklahoma lawmakers’ best budget scenario this year is to find the least bad among many terrible options. While the federal government can simultaneously cut taxes and increase spending to provide a short-term economic boost, Oklahoma and most other states are required by law to maintain a single-year balanced budget.

That leaves us with a difficult trade-off. Do we close the budget hole with deep cuts to core services like schools, public safety, infrastructure, and health care? Do we make what is an unpopular choice even in good economic times by raising taxes? While almost no one wants to cut core services or raise taxes if it can be avoided, the budget won’t be balanced without one, the other, or both. But we can ask: between these bad options, what is likely to do the least harm?

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