In The Know: House approves tax cut down party lines; Senate remains cautious | Low wages make housing unaffordable in Oklahoma | Civil Rights Movement provided blueprint for early childhood education | Big changes in SoonerCare Medicaid

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Some stories included here are behind paywall or require subscription. OK Policy encourages the support of Oklahoma’s state and local media, which are vital to an informed citizenry. Subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

New from OK Policy

A job isn’t enough to afford housing for most Oklahomans: State leaders often say the answer to housing instability is a job – but jobs don’t help if they don’t pay enough. Wages have risen at less than half the rate of rent for the last two decades, putting working Oklahomans at risk of housing instability and homelessness. In Oklahoma, 2 out of 5 wage earners do not make enough to afford a two-bedroom rental working a single, full-time job. [Sabine Brown / OK Policy]

Policy Matters: Civil rights movement a model for early childhood education: To honor the start of Black History Month today, I’d like to take a look back at a program that started life during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, but still delivers opportunity for young people today. Called to action by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his “Poor People’s Campaign,” President Lyndon B. Johnson kicked off his “War on Poverty” in 1965 with Head Start, an early childhood education initiative designed to help break the cycle of poverty starting with pre-school children of low-income families. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]

Oklahoma News

Oklahoma high court to decide fate of minimum wage increase petition: The Oklahoma Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a challenge to State Question 832, which asks voters to gradually increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour in 2029 from the current rate of $7.25. Future increases would be tied to the Consumer Price Index. [Oklahoma Voice]

Oklahoma Supreme Court Hears Case to Determine if Tribal Members Will Pay State Taxes: This week, the Oklahoma Supreme Court heard opening arguments in a case that will determine whether or not tribal members are required to pay state income taxes.  Three Oklahoma tribes—Cherokee Nation, Chickasaw Nation, and Choctaw Nation— filed a joint brief contending that collecting income taxes from tribal members employed by their tribe amounts to a sovereignty issue that contradicts established law. [Native News Online]

State Government News

House approves Oklahoma income tax cut despite Senate inaction: The Oklahoma House on Wednesday approved a personal income tax cut in a special legislative session despite uncertainty about whether the state Senate will vote on the issue. The House passed on a party-line vote of 71-20 a bill to implement a 0.25% cut to all state income tax brackets. The bill now goes to the Senate where it is not expected to be voted on soon. [Oklahoma Voice]

  • Oklahoma House endorses income tax cut during special session, while Senate remains adjourned [The Oklahoman]
  • Oklahoma House passes tax cut, wrapped in ‘pretty little bow’ [Journal Record]

Oklahoma’s labor commissioner comes out against Gov. Stitt’s tax cut proposal: During a town hall with Democratic state Rep. Suzanne Schreiber on Tuesday night in Tulsa, Labor Commissioner Leslie Osborn said Oklahoma is already a minimally-taxed state. Osborn — who was the state legislature’s house budget chair during a shortfall — said one bad year in Oklahoma would significantly impact the surplus. [KOSU]

Tax cuts, tribal relations issues could dominate upcoming 2024 legislative session: With the second session of the 59th Oklahoma Legislature set to begin on Monday, lawmakers will be asked to cut taxes in Oklahoma. In addition, the Legislature will have to address issues related to tribal relations, possible changes to the criminal justice system and review the idea of creating a new economic development agency before the session ends in May. [The Oklahoman]

Senate Republicans lay out legislative education goals for upcoming regular session: Republican members of the Senate Education Committee say they’ll push incentivizing teachers to end an ongoing shortage and stimulating the economy when session begins Feb. 5. There are at least 28 education bills proposed in the Senate this legislative session. They include teacher pay raises, higher reading standards, and efforts to keep students in the classroom. [KOSU]

  • These are the Senate Republicans’ top education goals for the legislative session [The Oklahoman]

Opinion: Oklahoma Rep. continues long-discredited ‘furries use litter boxes’: Every few years a new, imaginary “menace” comes along to purportedly endanger children. In the past it was comic books, rock music or video games; today it’s furry, supposedly encouraging kids to “identify as” animals and use litterboxes in place of toilets. In reality, the furry community is home to many gay, transgender or autistic children and adults who experience the support, validation and acceptance denied them elsewhere. [Joe Strike / The Oklahoman]

Opinion: ‘Libs of Tik Tok’ founder is literally the last person who should be on a library board: Oklahoma State Superintendent Ryan Walters’ decision to appoint “Libs of TikTok” creator Chaya Raichik to the Oklahoma State Department of Education Library Media Advisory Committee is a particularly egregious example of elected officials trying to divert the public’s attention away from real issues to stoke division and gain national notoriety. [Rep. Mickey Dollens / MSNBC]

Federal Government News

Hern wants separate bill for Israeli aid: First District Congressman Kevin Hern called Wednesday for aid to Israel to be presented as a stand alone bill instead of part of the border and national security package being negotiated by Oklahoma U.S. Sen. James Lankford. [Tulsa World]

Editorial: Lankford leadership in border efforts deserves applause, not censure: Martin Luther King Jr. cautioned about the silence of good people ― “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” So it has been refreshing, if not surprising, to see Sen. James Lankford stand firm ― despite right-wing censures and demagoguery ― as he works with Democrats to negotiate a solution to the mass migration crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. [Clytie Bunyan / The Oklahoman]

Tribal Nations News

Advance Appropriations, Forensic Nursing Contract Among IHS 2024 Accomplishments So Far: The Indian Health Service (IHS) has released its latest achievements report during the first quarter of fiscal year 2024, which includes a culmination of accomplishments and progress around Indian Country so far this year. Some of the achievements include IHS receiving its first-ever advance appropriations, significant progress in efforts to modernize healthcare technology and systems, and breakthroughs in partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. [Native News Online]

Voting and Election News

Tax cuts, teacher pay and Ryan Walters draw different answers in HD 39 debate: Republican Erick Harris, Democrat Regan Raff, and Libertarian Richard Prawdzienski disagreed on tax policy and education funding in a House District 39 debate Wednesday night. The three candidates are wooing voters ahead of a Feb. 13 special election to succeed former Rep. Ryan Martinez, who resigned in September. [NonDoc]

Health News

Enrolled in SoonerCare? Expect changes: Starting Thursday, most Oklahomans participating in SoonerCare, the state’s Medicaid program, will be asked to enroll in a health care plan administered by one of three companies,  Aetna Better Health of Oklahoma, Humana Healthy Horizons and Oklahoma Complete Health. [The Oklahoman]

 What $23 million in opioid settlement funds could mean for Oklahomans: Lawsuits against opioid distributors, manufacturers and retailers have materialized into nearly $1 billion in settlement funds. An initial payout of $23 million is available to Oklahoma schools, municipalities and counties for treatment and prevention through the Oklahoma Opioid Abatement Revolving Fund. 250 have applied. [KOSU]

Economy & Business News

Opinion: Minority Founder Accelerator catapults small businesses: A group of entrepreneurs and business founders presented their business plans and strategies for growth, to a group of potential investors, partners and supporters earlier this month. Pitch Night is the culmination of the Oklahoma City Minority Founder Accelerator program where business founders receive support to grow their businesses. [Kenton Tsoodle / Journal Record]

Education News

Oklahoma teachers may not have to return errant bonuses, Walters says: In a press conference State Superintendent Ryan Walters called Wednesday to accuse reporters of lying, Walters said the Oklahoma State Department of Education is coordinating with the teachers who wrongly received signing bonuses to find another solution. He said that could include longer contractual commitments in exchange for keeping the money.  [Oklahoma Voice]

  • Our Response to Ryan Walters’ Accusations [Oklahoma Watch]
  • Ryan Walters says Oklahoma journalists are lying about handling of teachers’ bonus program [The Oklahoman]

State Superintendent Ryan Walters visits TPS site, district shows improvements : A semester after threatening to terminate the district’s accreditation, State Superintendent Ryan Walters visited three Tulsa Public Schools campuses Wednesday afternoon. Examples of the district’s progress were the district’s improved attendance rates compared to the 2022-23 school year and  16 schools  have been removed from the U.S. Department of Education’s Comprehensive Support and Improvement list since mid-December. [Tulsa World]

Why Oklahoma is again suing ClassWallet over education funds spent during the pandemic: The state of Oklahoma has once again filed a lawsuit against ClassWallet, the company picked to disburse pandemic-era education funds that now stands accused of breaching its contract. A federal audit found about $1.7 million was spent on noneducational purchases, including smartwatches, doorbells, furniture and air conditioners. [The Oklahoman]

Opinion: Public higher-ed gains in meeting workforce needs: The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education’s FY25 budget request is specifically designed to produce more college graduates to meet employer demand. The State Regents request an increased investment of 12.2% in our state system of higher education to continue our work to meet labor force needs in high-demand fields. [Allison D. Garrett / Journal Record]

Opinion: There has always been a reason to feel urgency around public education. Is it more so now?: As we enter the last few days of January, it’s a reminder how quickly time passes. There are 11 months left in the year, and there is a lot to do. There always has been a reason to feel urgency around public education, but maybe never so much as right now. [Mary Mélon-Tully / The Oklahoman]

General News

Massive Oklahoma Panhandle gas fire under investigation: Officials said the gas pipeline explosion that spurt flames hundreds of feet in the air in Oklahoma’s panhandle is extinguished, caused no injuries and is being investigated. [KOSU]

From teachers to politicians, here are 6 influential Black Oklahomans to learn about this month: For nearly a century, February has been a time for Americans to look back on and celebrate Black history. Here are some of the most notable and influential Black Oklahomans you should know about (and if you don’t already, Black History Month is the perfect time to learn). [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma Local News

  • West OKC residents worry $100 million amphitheater will ruin their neighborhoods [The Oklahoman]
  • Tulsa lays out plans for water quality testing in Zink Lake [Tulsa World]

Quote of the Day

“When I ask the people at my events how many know they got a tax cut two years ago, the only ones to raise their hands are CPAs.”
-Rep. Andy Fugate, D-Oklahoma City, speaking in floor debate about a proposed .25% cut to the state’s personal income tax. The state lowered its personal income tax rate by .25% effective Jan. 1, 2022, but Fugate argued most Oklahomans didn’t notice any fiscal benefit as promised by its supporters. [Tulsa World]

Number of the Day


Number of hours per week that a minimum wage earner in Oklahoma has to work in order to afford a modest one-bedroom rental at fair market rent. [National Low Income Housing Coalition

Policy Note

Measurable income inequality has skyrocketed in recent decades: In recent years, researchers have debated the simple question of whether inequality has risen a lot or a little in the United States over the past half-century. Lots of arguments in this debate surround highly technical issues like, “Should the income of owners of ‘pass-through businesses’ be reported as wages or business profits?” or “Is income that is not reported on tax returns mostly earned by rich or middle-class households, and how do you know?” But we’ve identified available data that sidesteps nearly all these complexities and demonstrates that inequality has indeed risen enormously: what individual Americans earn in the labor market. [Economic Policy Institute via CNN]

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Kandis West is a communications professional with more than 15 years of experience. Most recently, she served as the Communications Director for the Oklahoma House Democratic Caucus. She spent nine years in the Olympia/Tacoma area of Washington organizing compensation campaigns for teachers for the Washington Education Association. Kandis has a proven track record of increasing community engagement, public awareness and media exposure around the most pressing issues that impact citizens. She is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism.