In pointing Oklahomans towards his vision of Oklahoma as a Top 10 state, Gov. Stitt during his State of the State address shared a quote he attributed to Will Rogers: “Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today.” However, if Gov. Stitt and our elected officials focus too intently on a far off horizon without recognizing the path that got us here, they are destined to repeat past mistakes.
Oklahoma’s leaders this session face unprecedented challenges to address the enormous damage inflicted upon Oklahomans by the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout. To date, their public dialogue has not recognized that the brunt of this pandemic has been shouldered by our communities of color and low-income Oklahomans. These current hardships only magnify decades of underfunding – and disinvestment – Oklahoma has made to core public services that help struggling Oklahomans become self-sufficient.
Our current reality should serve as a clarion call for those Oklahomans who want to see our state as a place where *everyone* can be healthy, feel safe in their communities, and raise thriving families. The Oklahoma Policy Institute and its Together Oklahoma grassroots organization will continue to work with advocates and community change-makers to help move us closer to that vision.
Additional insights for the upcoming session:
- The week before session started, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority — at Gov. Stitt’s behest — ramrodded through the privatization of the state’s health care management. This major policy change occurred without significant public input and also ignores the fact that a similar initiative in Oklahoma has been tried and failed. Re-introducing managed health care as an option in Oklahoma is expected to increase overhead costs while reducing the effectiveness of care. It’s simply a bad investment for Oklahoma that could be especially harmful for patients, providers, and Indigenous communities. OHCA and Gov. Stitt’s decision to barrel ahead with this bad policy, despite pleas to slow down, suggests that some officials are prioritizing political expediency over delivering the best health care possible for Oklahomans who desperately need it.
- Gov. Stitt’s proposed budget for the coming year should focus on building the current economy and investing in core programs and services. Most notably, we can make investments that can spur immediate and long-term economic growth, such as fully and quickly implementing Medicaid expansion. We also can put more money in the hands of low-income Oklahomans by restoring refundability of the Earned Income Tax Credit and increasing the Sales Tax Relief Credit. Any budget discussion should also include re-evaluation of tax incentives that only benefit a handful of Oklahomans.
- Lawmakers this session will decide how to fund Medicaid expansion this session, and too many lawmakers have said it will come down to a false choice between Medicaid expansion and some other core service, such as education or transportation. Many funding options exist that will fully fund Medicaid expansion without taking from other public services or harming low-income Oklahomans.
- Our criminal justice system relies on an increasingly complex web of fines and fees for crucial funding which traps many Oklahomans in a vicious cycle of financial hardships. Additionally, increased investments in treatment and resources can help Oklahomans get the help they need rather than be funneled into Oklahoma’s prisons and jails.
- Our state continues to lack resources and programs that can help Oklahoma families thrive, including revisiting the state’s minimum wage and providing programs that allow paid family and medical leave for all workers and the self-employed.