In The Know: Report: Oklahoma’s tax system worsens inequality | Tribes opt out of governor’s McGirt task force | House Speaker says Oklahoma can afford more tax cuts

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

New national study shows Oklahoma’s tax system worsens inequality, among the nation’s most unfair: Oklahoma’s tax system is upside-down, with everyday Oklahomans paying a far greater share of their income in taxes than wealthy residents. Proposals to eliminate the state’s income tax would widen this disparity, according to the latest edition of the  Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy’s Who Pays report, the only distributional analysis of tax systems in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. [OK Policy]

Oklahoma News

From drag queen bingo to tampons in men’s rooms, we fact-checked Oklahoma’s DEI scare: Oklahoma lawmakers are taking aim at higher education spending on diversity equity and inclusion programs. But the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education’s 2023 report on DEI spending also includes programs for students with autism and veterans as well as staff who oversee compliance with Title IX,  the federal mandate that prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires DEI practices, as well as some accreditation programs, according to the State Regents. [The Frontier]

State Government News

Tribes keep opting out of Oklahoma governor’s reservation task force, calling it flawed: The boycott of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s new task force to fix “broken” criminal justice systems on tribal reservations expanded Monday after two more prominent tribal leaders announced they wanted no part in the group. [The Oklahoman]

  • Cherokee, Muscogee leaders reject Stitt task force, say it deteriorates public safety [Tulsa World]

Speaker McCall says state can afford tax cut: House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, remains confident that the state can afford an income tax cut and still withstand a future economic downturn. Last month, McCall filed legislation that reduces the personal income tax and the corporate income tax ahead of the next legislative session, which begins in February. [Journal Record]

Oklahoma lawmaker aims to stop practice of blocking car registrations over unpaid tolls: Rep. Annie Menz, D-Norman, filed House Bill 2968 to undo state law that allows Service Oklahoma, working in conjunction with the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, to block a person from renewing their vehicle registration until they pay all toll road charges. [Oklahoma Voice]

Oklahoma transportation board votes to give director $60,000 pay raise: The Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s governing board on Monday unanimously voted to recommend a $60,000 raise for its leader. Tim Gatz would see his salary increase to $245,000 a year. [Oklahoma Voice]

  • Compensation conversation: Gatz, ODOT employees raised, Thompson talks statewide [NonDoc]

Top Oklahoma lawmaker proposes 9% pay raises for state employees: Nearly all state employees could see a 9% pay hike under legislation from a GOP lawmaker who plays a key role in writing the state budget. Senate Appropriations Chairman Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, filed legislation in December to give the state’s roughly 31,000 part-time and full-time employees a 9% pay bump. [KGOU]

Federal Government News

White House unveils $1 billion for electric and low-emission school buses: The Biden administration announced Monday $1 billion in funding for more than 2,700 electric and low-emission school buses across 37 states. Oklahoma has received multiple awards for clean energy school buses. [Oklahoma Voice]

Tribal Nations News

Justice served for Oklahoma native family, sheds light on alarming MMIW issue: Oklahoma is one of the top states with the highest number of missing and murdered Indigenous people cases, and on Tuesday, one Native American family received justice but there are still many unsolved cases. [KOKH]

Native Americans Have Second Highest Skin Cancer Rate, New Study Says: A new study published by the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) Dermatology shows that Alaska Natives and American Indians (AI/AN) have the second-highest rates of skin cancer behind  white Americans. The study corrects the underreporting of melanoma in Native communities, driven by frequent misclassification of race in data collection. [Native News Online]

Opinion: Cross deputization an indispensable tool of tribal sovereignty: In the early ‘90s, long before anyone ever heard of McGirt, Cherokee Nation signed its first cross-deputization agreement. That powerful act of tribal sovereignty has served us, and all of our friends and neighbors, well ever since. Cross-deputization is often misunderstood, particularly as we grapple with the complexities of the post-McGirt era. The landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, which led to the reaffirmation of the Cherokee Nation Reservation, makes understanding cross-deputization more important than ever. [Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. / Native News Online]

Opinion: We need greater focus on health equity for Native people: I have spent decades in Oklahoma working with Native communities, and, as a dentist, I know we must raise awareness of the incredible unmet need for oral health care I continue to witness. [Dr. Jandra Korb / The Oklahoman]

Opinion: As Choctaw Nation delegation traveled to France, it was a time of reflection for chief: The Choctaw Nation is proud of the way our people have served the U.S. military. I was recently invited to France, where I had a chance to honor some of our most outstanding heroes. [Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton / The Oklahoman]

Voting and Election News

Rep. Regina Goodwin launches run for Oklahoma Senate seat: After eight years fighting for her community in the state House, Oklahoma State Rep. Regina Goodwin (D-Tulsa) seeks to represent Historic Greenwood District in the Oklahoma state Senate. [Black Wall Street Times]

What’s on the ballot for the January 9th election in Oklahoma: Voters in 18 Oklahoma counties will head to the polls Tuesday to decide the fate of technology center expansions, police and fire department budgets and more. [KOSU]

Health News

Flu season far from over: ‘It’s never too late to get vaccinated,’ chief medical officer says: Seasonal influenza and COVID-19 activity is elevated and continues to increase in most parts of the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Oklahoma State Department of Health has reported eight flu deaths statewide since Sept. 1. OSDH reported 67 deaths during the 2022-23 flu season. [Journal Record]

Oklahoma among states urging feds to reconsider nursing home staffing rules: Last month, a group of Republican governors including those in Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma and Indiana sent a letter to the Biden administration urging it to reconsider the staffing requirement. The new staffing proposal includes having at least one registered nurse on-site at all times and requiring employees to spend a minimum amount of time with each resident daily. These new measures would require more than 75% of nursing homes to hire additional staff. The requirement would be phased in. [KOSU]

Criminal Justice News

Body-worn cameras coming to Oklahoma prisons: The Oklahoma Department of Corrections is launching a pilot program for body-worn cameras on corrections officers, with plans to implement the cameras across the prison system at the end of the year. [Tulsa World]

  • Oklahoma correctional officers wear body cameras following an investigation into alleged escalating violence in state prisons [KTUL]
  • Oklahoma lawmaker calls out DOC for alleged violence and potential lawsuits during budget hearing [KOKH]

Lawmaker questions if Department of Corrections had authority to move headquarters: The Oklahoma Department of Corrections moved its headquarters without the proper authority to do so, a state lawmaker said Monday. State Rep. Justin Humphrey, R-Lane, said it was his belief the state Corrections Department moved its headquarters from its present location on Martin Luther King Avenue to a new location at 4345 Lincoln Boulevard without proper legislative approval. [The Oklahoman]

In Their Own Words: Oklahomans on Proposed Commutation Eligibility Changes: The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board will vote next month on proposed rule changes that would add eligibility requirements for prisoners seeking to argue their sentence is excessive or unjust. More than two dozen speakers, all opposed to the proposed rule changes, addressed the board during a public comment period on Monday. Here’s a sampling of what commenters had to say. [Oklahoma Watch]

Economy & Business News

Gas prices drifting lower but could rise again next month: The U.S. average for gasoline prices may fall below $3 per gallon for the first time since 2021, but prices could begin to rise again next month, a national analyst said. On Monday, GasBuddy  said Oklahoma’s average price was $2.51 per gallon, the lowest in the nation. [Tulsa World]

Education News

12 Tulsa Public Schools sites removed from federal improvement list: A dozen Tulsa Public Schools sites are no longer on a federal watch list for low-performing schools. At Monday night’s school board meeting, Superintendent Ebony Johnson announced that the district was notified by the Oklahoma State Department of Education that 12 schools are no longer federally designated as Comprehensive Support and Improvement sites. [Tulsa World]

Citing growth, Oklahoma CareerTech head asks for 26 percent funding increase for 2025: The director of Oklahoma’s CareerTech system asked the state Senate Education Committee on Monday for a 26 percent funding increase for the upcoming fiscal year, citing an increased demand for the system’s services as state leaders push to produce more workforce-ready citizens. [The Oklahoman]

OKCPS board approves STEAM academy, rejects 2 other NEOKC charter proposals: Members of the Oklahoma City Public Schools board voted Monday night to approve a new “STEAM Academy” charter school serving OKC’s historically Black northeast side, but the board disapproved two others that would educate in similar areas. The votes came six weeks after the OKCPS board had disapproved all three eastside proposals while authorizing a Montessori-style school in northwest Oklahoma City. [NonDoc]

Superintendent Walters cites success of teacher incentives: Several hundred educators, many from out of state, have accepted bonuses in exchange for commitments to take classroom teaching jobs in Oklahoma, State Superintendent Ryan Walters announced in touting success of the teacher signing bonus initiative. [Journal Record]

Opinion: Current public school accountability systems always leaving kids behind: Superintendent Ryan Walters is proposing modifications to Oklahoma’s accreditation rules by tying a district’s accreditation to the academic performance of its students. Like much of the rhetoric surrounding school accountability, this one starts with the assumption that teachers and administrators aren’t being sufficiently pressured and browbeaten to improve test scores. That we are just falling back on excuses about student poverty, adverse childhood experiences, lack of language abilities, teacher shortages and unstable families. [Rob Miller / Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Lack of water meter readers leads to utility bill delays, city of Tulsa officials say [Tulsa World]
  • Two new sites in Oklahoma City suggested as potential locations for Oklahoma County jail [The Oklahoman]

Quote of the Day

“Decades of poorly targeted tax cuts have made our tax system unfair, while core state responsibilities remain underfunded and too many Oklahoma families don’t get the help they need to thrive. Instead, our lawmakers should turn to timely, targeted ways to put money back in the pockets of the everyday Oklahomans who need it most.”

– OK Policy Executive Director Shiloh Kantz, responding to a new report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy that shows Oklahoma’s tax system is upside-down, with everyday Oklahomans paying a far greater share of their income in taxes than wealthy residents. [Press Release from OK Policy]

Number of the Day


Oklahoma has the nation’s 16th most regressive tax system, which means lower- and moderate-income Oklahomans pay a much higher share of their income towards taxes than wealthy residents. [Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy]

Policy Note

Who Pays? 7th Edition: This study provides important context for those interested in state and local tax policies and the role they play in funding vital programs and services and providing economic security for all families and communities. It examines whether state tax systems are regressive or progressive by providing a thorough analysis of how state and local tax policies affect taxpayers across the income spectrum and discusses ways in which certain tax policies deepen racial disparities in income and wealth. The headline conclusion of this research is that most states require low- and middle-income families to pay higher effective tax rates than the wealthy. This, of course, has broad implications, not only for taxpayers’ after-tax income but also for the revenue states collect to fund basic programs and services. [Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy]

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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.