OK Policy reflects on 2021’s biggest stories

As 2021 comes to an end, our OK Policy staff looked back at the largest issues from the past year. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to loom large in the lives of all Oklahomans, with outsized impacts for low-income Oklahomans and our communities of color. This year also marked the beginning of Oklahoma expanding Medicaid coverage to low-income residents that provided health care access to more than 230,000 Oklahomans, many of whom did not previously have coverage. During the past year, we also looked at how decisions made by lawmakers and policymakers impacted the state and its residents. And we also released a comprehensive report on the state’s budget and tax system, which also included a number of solutions that could stabilize state revenue while creating more equity within the state’s tax systems. Below is a compilation of 2021’s top stories and topics from OK Policy: 


Eliminating the corporate income tax damages our economy, disadvantages Oklahoma businesses and communities

As lawmakers considered major tax reduction measures, OK Policy raised the alarm about millions of dollars that would be lost if Oklahoma eliminated the corporate income tax. Our policy team put forth robust, evidence-based analysis that demonstrates how tax cuts aren’t free – they’re paid for in reduced government services and chronically underfunded state programs. OK Policy will continue to share data-driven analysis to best serve the needs of all Oklahomans and to ensure the public has a say in revenue decisions. To read more of OK Policy’s analysis on corporate income tax cuts, see below: 


HHS Secretary visits Oklahoma to celebrate Medicaid expansion 

More than 230,000 Oklahomans have received life-changing healthcare coverage, thanks to Medicaid expansion that went into effect on July 1, 2021. Along with statewide partners, OK Policy has been at the forefront of working to expand coverage that helps thousands of Oklahomans build thriving families, an effort that was celebrated with the visit of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. OK Policy analysis shows ensuring access to Medicaid expansion will improve quality of life for Oklahoma families and communities as well as spark economic growth


Managed Care for Oklahoma’s Medicaid Program 

While Medicaid expansion has given thousands of Oklahomans access to affordable health coverage and paved the way for economic growth, Gov. Stitt and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority have proposed privatizing management of the state’s health care program, which Oklahoma has unsuccessfully tried before. Privatized management was a hot topic during 2021, and we anticipate it will also be heavily discussed during the coming year. To better understand the issue, OK Policy developed a series of resources to better understand the issue


A Better Path Forward 

This year, OK Policy released A Better Path Forward, a comprehensive tax and budget report, detailing decades of shrinking the state budget’s capacity and offering a roadmap of options for curating a fair tax structure and growing vital state revenue. OK Policy hosted a discussion with Labor Commissioner Leslie Osborn, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., Sen. John Michael Montgomery (R-Lawton), Dr. Cynthia Rogers, Professor of Economics at the University of Oklahoma, and Emma Morris, OK Policy Healthcare and Revenue Analyst and report co-author, using A Better Path Forward as a starting point for conversations on making meaningful investments in our future success



Oklahoma Justice system court fines and fees

New law limits driver’s license suspensions for court fines & fees, better serving justice-involved Oklahomans 

Oklahoma lawmakers this spring passed HB 1795, a new law that limits driver’s license suspensions for non-driving violations, which will provide more opportunities for all Oklahomans to lead productive lives. It also will reduce racial disparities in policing and incarceration. OK Policy analysis also tracked the effects of justice reform and demonstrated the hard-won success in reducing the prison population. Though much remains to be done, our analysis and successful advocacy shows a steady move to better serving justice-involved Oklahomans and communities statewide. 


Proposed bills again seek to undo will of the voters (Capitol Update)

In working to reduce Oklahoma’s historically high incarceration rate, OK Policy shared fact-based research on two 2016 state questions: SQ 780 (that reclassified simple drug possession and many low-level property crimes as misdemeanors rather than felonies) and SQ 781 (directed the Legislature to invest the money saved from the resulting incarceration decrease into treatment and rehabilitation), as legislators sought to roll back provisions in those voter-approved measures. In recent years, the state question process has been a crucial route for Oklahomans to advance meaningful policy change, and OK Policy has embraced our role providing voters with non-partisan information about the choices they are being asked to determine. OK Policy’s evidence-based work showed the positive impact of major steps to address root causes of crime instead of relying on incarceration. SQ 781 requires the Legislature to deposit those savings into the County Community Safety Investment Fund to help fund local substance abuse and mental health treatment. However, in the four state budgets passed since SQ 780 was enacted, the Legislature has failed to make any deposit at all to that fund. OK Policy’s Research Director Ryan Gentzler worked with the Oklahoma’s Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) and the Oklahoma Department of Corrections to refine the state’s calculation of annual savings ($10.6 million last year) from decreased incarcerations resulting from State Question 780


KIDS COUNT 2021: Smart policy decisions can help improve Oklahoma’s dismal child well-being outcomes

Essentials like housing, food, health care, educational opportunities, and stable, nurturing environments to succeed are out of reach for many of Oklahoma’s kids. Oklahoma ranked 42nd in the 2021 KIDS COUNT data survey, the comprehensive annual report on child well-being in the U.S. As the KIDS COUNT affiliate for Oklahoma, OK Policy shared data on how Oklahoma’s kids are falling behind and provided analysis on ways to invest in their future.


Rural Oklahomans frequently carry larger burden for court fines, fees 

An analysis of state court data by our Open Justice Oklahoma program data suggests that rural Oklahomans are asked to pay just as much, and often more, in court fines and fees than residents in urban areas. Building on our research about the exploding problem of excessive court fines and fees in recent years, OK Policy highlighted the disparate impacts of fines and fees on Oklahoma’s rural residents – countering the belief that it is a uniquely urban issue – and demonstrated the need for statewide solutions for a statewide problem


Our new benefits simulator helps families understand assistance programs and helps support better policies 

Because public benefits are so complex and interconnected, OK Policy introduced a benefits simulator that provides detailed analysis for families to understand how the essential federal and state assistance programs can help them. Our analysis also showed the adverse impact on families of the cliff effects, where families may lose benefits when wages grow, even by as little as $1. The tool can be invaluable for Oklahomans to decide the best options for them and advocate for a stronger, more robust social safety net. 


Countdown to Care

OK Policy celebrated the historic milestone of Medicaid expansion by hosting an event to reflect on the journey to this point and how it will positively impact our state moving forward. With thousands of Oklahomans already receiving life-changing coverage since July 1 this year, OK Policy will continue work to ensure coverage remains accessible and affordable for all who qualify. 


Kristin Wells served as the Communications and Operations Fellow for OK Policy from October 2021 to July 2022. She previously worked as a digital content producer for News On 6. A native Kansas Citian, Kristin graduated with a B.A. in Media Studies and a B.A. in Spanish from the University of Tulsa in 2020. While there, she was accepted into the Global Scholars program, spurring her interests in policy, social movements, global identities, and the importance of education and advocacy. She hopes to use her skills to continue to learn and create a more equitable future for Oklahomans. An avid sports fan, Kristin lives in Tulsa with her rescue dog and is passionate about college basketball, documentaries, and coffee.

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