In The Know: Oklahoma is part of a damaging tax-cutting trend | Gov. says AI could replace state workers | State clawing back errant teacher bonuses | Senate to immediately gavel out of Monday’s special session

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

National experts say Oklahoma is part of a damaging tax-cutting trend: Attempts by Oklahoma elected officials to reduce or eliminate the state’s personal income tax are part of a national tax-cutting trend that could undermine funding for the shared services that can move our state out of the bottom 10 states for quality of life and overall well-being for all Oklahomans. [OK Policy]

Policy Matters: Legislature shouldn’t be ‘Fear Factor’: Looking through bills filed for next month’s regular session, I remembered the television game show “Fear Factor” that featured contestants challenged to do unsavory — and often disgusting — feats until someone was declared the “winner.” I felt the same way reading a handful of proposed bills that could most charitably be described as deeply unserious.  Instead of getting swept up in the political theater, here’s what informed Oklahomans should watch for this session. [Shiloh Kantz/ Journal Record]

Oklahoma News

Policy advisers warn against Oklahoma tax cut: Ahead of Oklahoma legislators returning to the Capitol next week to consider an income tax cut, national experts assert that the state is taking part in a damaging trend. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities hosted a virtual press conference Wednesday to express concern that a nationwide tax-cutting trend could undermine funding for shared services, impacting Oklahoma’s ability to move out of the bottom 10 states for quality-of-life and overall well-being. [Journal Record]

State Government News

Oklahoma Senate leader says he’ll immediately cancel special legislative session: The special legislative session called by Gov. Kevin Stitt to consider an income tax cut next Monday won’t get far. Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City announced late Wednesday his legislative branch will begin the special session and then immediately adjourn, taking no action. [The Oklahoman]

  • Oklahoma’s special tax cut session will end moments after it starts [KOSU]
  • Oklahoma Senate won’t cut taxes in special session, top lawmaker says [Oklahoma Voice]

Could AI replace some government jobs in Oklahoma? Oklahoma’s state government has begun considering the use of “digital” employees powered by artificial intelligence to accomplish some of the tasks now performed by humans. An AI task force created by Gov. Kevin Stitt released its findings Tuesday. Along with recommendations that could attract AI-focused industry to Oklahoma and keep the use of AI ethical, the task force noted that AI could “automate repetitive state-related tasks.” [The Oklahoman]

  • Stitt embraces AI as means to shift state workers to private sector [Tulsa World]

Catholic charter school supporter named to governor’s Cabinet as education secretary: Nellie Tayloe Sanders, a former member of the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, was nominated Wednesday by Gov. Kevin Stitt as Oklahoma’s new education secretary. In June, she was in the majority as the board voted 3-2 to approve the creation of what would be the nation’s first public religious charter school, St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School. [The Oklahoman]

  • Stitt’s new education secretary helped advance controversial Catholic charter school proposal [Tulsa World]
  • Stitt picks next education adviser from board that OK’d Catholic charter school [Oklahoma Voice]

Proposed law would require Oklahoma governor to reach out to tribes during compact talks: An Oklahoma lawmaker wants to ensure the governor attempts to negotiate with tribal leaders by legally requiring it. The proposal, introduced by Rep. Danny Williams, would direct the governor to offer to meet with tribal officials at least once a month during compact negotiations. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma bill would end incompatibility as grounds for divorce: A bill that would abolish no-fault divorce is drawing the ire of some attorneys and domestic violence victims’ advocates. Sen. Dusty Deevers, R-Elgin, filed Senate Bill 1958 that would no longer allow Oklahomans to file for divorce on the grounds of incompatibility, also known as no-fault divorce. [Oklahoma Voice]

Oklahoma state lawmaker apologizes for bill labeling ‘Hispanic’ gang members terrorists. Fellow lawmakers say it’s not enough: An Oklahoma state lawmaker says he will now change the language of a bill he proposed that designates anyone “of Hispanic descent” that is “a member of a criminal street gang” and convicted of a “gang-related offense” a terrorist. [CNN] (Note: This story was shared in yesterday’s newsletter, but with an incorrect link.) 

Opinion: How the Caring for Caregivers Act tax credit will help offset some of families’ expenses: Family caregivers have long been the unpaid backbone of Oklahoma’s broken long-term care system. This year, these unsung heroes will receive financial relief through a tax credit through the Caring for Caregivers Act, House Bill 1029XX. Passed by Oklahoma legislators in 2023, the Caring for Caregivers Act is the first comprehensive family caregiver tax credit in the United States. [Rep. Tammy West and Sean Voskhul / The Oklahoman]

Federal Government News

‘I am very fortunate.’ US Rep. Frank Lucas gets all clear six months after bull attack: Nearly six months after being run over by a bull on his western Oklahoma ranch, U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas was released Wednesday from a doctor’s care for the injuries he suffered in the incident. [The Oklahoman]

Voting and Election News

Closed primaries shut out millions of voters, divide Americans into ‘warring camps’: Millions of voters in states like Oklahoma with primaries that are at least partially closed are shut out from voting in contested races because of their independent status or party affiliation, denying participation in elections their tax dollars fund. [Tulsa World]

A record number of Oklahomans registered to vote ahead of 2024 elections: A record number of Oklahomans are registered to vote. The figures come from an Oklahoma State Election Board census released last week. There were 2.3 million Oklahomans registered to vote as of Jan. 15, according to a press release by the election board. That’s an increase of over 200,000 potential voters compared to the last presidential election year. [KOSU]

Health News

Most rural Oklahoma hospitals lack maternity care, others that do risk losing it: Oklahoma is among 10 states in the U.S. where more than two-thirds of rural hospitals lack labor and delivery services, according to a report from the Center for Healthcare Quality & Payment Reform. The state is home to 78 rural hospitals, and 68% operate without obstetrics services. [KOSU]

Economy & Business News

US economy grew at a surprisingly strong 3.3% pace last quarter, pointing to continued resilience: The nation’s economy grew at an unexpectedly brisk 3.3% annual pace from October through December as Americans showed a continued willingness to spend freely despite high interest rates and price levels that have frustrated many households. [AP via Tulsa World]

The economy is looking a bit better, but what about the cost of groceries: Nationally, grocery inflation has plummeted from a year-over-year peak of 13.5% in August 2022 to just 1.3%. Yet a typical basket of groceries still costs 20% more than it did in February 2021, just before inflation began to accelerate. On average, chicken prices are up 25%. So, too, is bread. Milk is 18% more expensive than it was before the pandemic. [AP / Tulsa World]

Under $3? Why gas prices have dropped in Oklahoma — and how long it’ll last: Rylie Fletcher, public and government affairs manager for AAA Oklahoma, attributed the low gas prices to the winter season, adding that colder weather means less travel, meaning the supply is higher than the demand. On Tuesday, the average price per gallon in Oklahoma was about $2.57 for regular-grade gas, according to the American Automobile Association. Compared to a year ago, that’s 52 cents from about $3.09 per gallon. [The Oklahoman]

Education News

State Seeks Repayment of Errant Teacher Bonuses: The Department of Education overpaid at least $290,000 in teacher bonuses and is working to claw back the money mere months after it was distributed. Nine teachers have been issued demands for repayment. The overpayments occurred because the department did not verify teachers’ information before disbursement. [Oklahoma Watch]

‘Libs of TikTok’ creator isn’t Ryan Walters’ first out-of-state appointee: What we know: After Ryan Walters, Oklahoma’s state schools superintendent, named Chaya Raichik of “Libs of TikTok” fame to an Oklahoma committee this week, critics were quick to point out that she’s not an Oklahoma resident. This isn’t the first time he’s tapped an out-of-state person to perform Oklahoma-specific duties. [The Oklahoman]

Education Watch: Five Education Bills to Watch: Negotiations over boosting teacher pay and education funding as well as implementing a tax credit to reimburse parents who pay private school tuition dominated last year’s legislative session. Some of those major initiatives could see revisions this year. [Oklahoma Watch]

On track for fall launch, OU Polytechnic seeks more student applicants, industry partners: Community and business partnerships will be essential to creating the kinds of graduates a new polytechnic school located at OU-Tulsa will be committed to turning out, the school’s new director said. The institute will be geared toward helping meet the workforce needs of Tulsa and northeastern Oklahoma, especially in critical STEM fields. [Tulsa World]

Tulsa Public Schools confirms investigation into explicit video: Officials with Tulsa Public Schools confirmed Wednesday morning that the district’s Police Department is investigating whether a sexually graphic video was filmed at Eisenhower International School. [Tulsa World]

Artemis II astronaut shares experience with space workshop at OSU-Tulsa: Navy Capt. Victor Glover is one of the few humans who can speak from experience about the effects of long-term space habitation on the human body and mind. Glover, one of the speakers at the Human Research Program for Civilians in Spaceflight and Space Habitation workshop held Tuesday and Wednesday on the Oklahoma State University-Tulsa campus, spent nearly six months aboard the International Space Station. [Tulsa World]

General News

Tulsa’s last Holocaust survivor cautions that words matter: Eva Unterman was going into first grade in Lodz, Poland, when the Germans invaded her country. She was an only child, and her father owned a wholesale office machines business. Germans entered her home and sent her family to the Lodz Ghetto. It is estimated that at least 1.5 million Jewish children were murdered in the Holocaust along with tens of thousands of Romani children, German children with physical and developmental disabilities, Polish children and children living in the German-occupied Soviet Union. [Tulsa World]

‘Focus: Black Oklahoma’: DEI funding cut, Tulsa hip-hop legacy, self-acceptance with gapped teeth: Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt’s recent executive order aims to cut state funding for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) personnel, sparking debate about the future of these programs. Shonda Little speaks with Oklahoma Democratic Chair Alicia Andrews and Oklahoma Democratic Rep. Jacob Rosecrants. Some believe part of the solution is ensuring more white men are speaking about the value of such programs, though a consensus is far from unanimous. [KOSU]

Oklahoma Local News

  • A funding tool for OKC development is near its end. Why were some projects chosen over others? [The Oklahoman]
  • Is the hunt for a new jail in Oklahoma County costing taxpayers money? Architects say it is [The Oklahoman]
  • Strawberry Fields developer offers refunds to investors, but with a caveat [The Oklahoman]

Quote of the Day

“Tax cutting always requires trade offs. It might be smaller teacher pay raises, it might be less frequent road maintenance, it might be a weaker safety net for folks facing hard times. Whatever it is, you’re giving something up and will likely be talking about cutting services that the public really needs and wants.”

-Aidan Davis, state policy director at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, discussing how income tax cuts would affect the state’s ability to provide essential services. [Journal Record]

Number of the Day


Number of Oklahoma counties (Beaver, Caddo, Cimarron, and Texas) in which the SNAP benefit per meal was equal to or more than the average meal cost in that county. In all other Oklahoma counties, the average meal cost was up to 15% higher than the SNAP benefit. [Interactive Map / Urban Institute]

Policy Note

SNAP Is Linked With Improved Health Outcomes and Lower Health Care Costs: A substantial body of research links the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the nation’s most important anti-hunger program, with lower health care costs and improved health outcomes. Those include better self-reported health, lower risk of heart disease and obesity among adults who had access to SNAP as children, and greater medication adherence among older participants, who may also be better positioned to live on their own in their community. This research has emerged in the last 15 years (and not much of it yet reflecting the COVID-19 pandemic, during which SNAP expansions played a key part in averting increased hunger), adding to previous work showing SNAP’s powerful capacity to help families buy adequate food, reduce poverty, and help stabilize the economy during recessions. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]

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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.