[Weekly Wonk] Cutting taxes this year would be short-sighted | COVID-19, two years later | Diverse voices make better policy

What’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk shares our most recent publications and other resources to help you stay informed about Oklahoma. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The Know. Click here to subscribe to In The Know.

This Week from OK Policy

Cutting taxes this year would be short-sighted and harmful: With high state revenues this year, Oklahoma lawmakers have important choices that will undoubtedly impact the state for years — if not decades — to come. State leaders face an important choice: the choice between making a down payment on Oklahoma’s future by investing in needed services, or cutting taxes and, in the process, gambling on the state’s ability to even provide core services in the future. [Emma Morris / OK Policy]

(Oklahoma and COVID-19: Two Years Later) Medicaid expansion has helped Oklahomans weather the pandemic: Since the start of the global pandemic, more than 14,500 Oklahomans have died of COVID-19. The enormity of this loss is unimaginable and unnecessary. While the state’s top leadership and policymakers did little to slow the virus’ spread in Oklahoma, voters recognized the difference they could make from the beginning. Voters decided on June 30, 2020 to expand Medicaid to low-income adults, indicating their understanding that access to health care is vital, particularly during a deadly pandemic.  [Emma Morris / OK Policy

(Oklahoma and COVID-19: Two Years Later) Evictions are returning to pre-pandemic levels. That’s not a good thing: Evictions in Oklahoma have been a problem for many years, but job loss and lost income during the COVID-19 pandemic made it even harder for Oklahomans to stay in their homes. At the height of the pandemic, a national moratorium on evictions helped people stay safely housed and safely distanced to protect against COVID-19. However, that moratorium has now ended and evictions are on the rise again. Unless action is taken, Oklahoma evictions will return to problematically high levels. [Sabine Brown / OK Policy

Policy Matters: Diverse voices make better policy: As a woman working in public policy (a field predominantly populated by men), I often look around the room without seeing anyone seated at the decision-making table who either looks like me or shares my life experiences. While it may be something that I’m accustomed to, I believe our state laws and policies would be better served if we had more diversity – by gender, demographics, and life experiences – among those who serve in public office or in policymaking positions. [Ahniwake Rose / Journal Record]

Upcoming Opportunities

Two New Paid Fellowships Announced for Fall 2022-2023: We are currently hiring for two paid Fellow positions: a Policy Fellow and Communications & Operations Fellow. These one-year fellowship opportunities are for Fall 2022-Fall 2023 and applications are open now. The deadline to apply for a Fellowship is Wednesday, March 30 at 5:00 PM (CST). [Learn more and apply]

Weekly What’s That

Minimum Wage

The minimum wage is the lowest wage per hour that may be paid by law to most employees in most jobs. The U.S. federal government first adopted a national minimum wage in 1938 as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and it has been raised by Congress over twenty times since then. 

The federal minimum wage was set as $7.25 per hour effective July 2009. The federal minimum wage has remained unchanged for over 12 years, the longest period ever without an increase. During this period, the minimum wage has lost over 20 percent of its value when adjusted for inflation, and some 40 percent of its value compared to its peak in 1968.

As of 2021, Oklahoma is one of 20 states that has a minimum wage set at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Meanwhile, 30 states and D.C. have set a higher minimum, of which 20, including four of Oklahoma’s neighbors, are higher than $10 per hour. In addition, 45 cities have set a local minimum wage higher than their state minimum. However, the Oklahoma Legislature in 2014 passed a preemption law prohibiting municipalities from setting their own minimum wage.

Some employees may be paid less than the minimum wage, also known as the subminimum wage. For example, an employer may pay a tipped employee as little as $2.13 an hour in direct wages if that amount plus the tips received equal at least the federal minimum wage, the employee retains all tips, and the employee customarily and regularly receives more than $30 a month in tips. Employers may also gain authorization to pay subminimum wages to workers who have disabilities for the work being performed. Certain young workers and full-time student workers may also be paid less than the standard minimum wage.

Look up more key terms to understand Oklahoma politics and government here.

Quote of the Week

“I definitely believe someone who is convicted of breaking the law should be held accountable, but the current system of funding courts through fees can actually prevent individuals from turning their lives around.”

– Senate Appropriations Chair Roger Thompson (R-Okemah), speaking about SB 1458, which would reduce court fines and fees that trap Oklahomans in cycles of poverty and inadequately fund our courts [KFOR]

Editorial of the Week

Legislature should work harder on its own transparency

As we wrap up our editorials about Sunshine Week, it’s important to point out that a long-time goal of getting the Oklahoma Legislature to abide by the state’s open meetings and open records law has met another failure.

House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, who is term-limited after this year, introduced a bill that would have ended Oklahoma’s status as one of a handful of states that allows the Legislature to exempt itself from the laws. Currently, the Legislature can ignore the laws that city councils, county commissions, school boards and other state governing bodies have to follow.

In addition to opening the records to public scrutiny, the bill would have required legislative committees to publish meeting agendas, would have blocked lawmakers from voting on measures while in closed caucus sessions, and it would have opened a more formal way for the public to comment on bills.

To be honest, we never expected this bill would get a hearing. What is “good for thee but not for me” has been the mantra in the Legislature regarding open meetings and open records.

Lawmakers will tell you that with a short time to get the state’s business done — February through May — not having to abide by the law expedites the state’s business getting done in the time required. They believe it will make their job more difficult to have to be open to the same public scrutiny as other government agencies are.

Also, lawmakers are fond of making behind-the-scenes deals and negotiations, which can change on an hourly basis. It’s called “how the sausage is made,” and as anyone in agriculture knows, making sausage can get pretty gritty.

Still, a 2012 SoonerPoll survey found that Oklahoma voters mostly support legislation to remove the open records and meeting exemptions from the Legislature. Also, a recent paper in the Journal of Civic Information found that many states are updating their open records and meetings laws to provide more public access.

There is an opportunity for transparency advocates to work with state lawmakers to come up with some type of compromise legislation that will allow more public access to the legislative process. Also, there is the opportunity for a citizen-led initiative petition process to try to get the laws changed in regard to the legislative exemption.

As we’ve said in this space this week, government records are the property of the public, not the government. It’s time for Oklahoma to join the majority of states that hold legislatures accountable to open meetings and open records laws.

[Enid News & Eagle]

Numbers of the Day

  • >15,000 – The number of Oklahomans who have died of COVID-19 since the start of the global pandemic, as of Mach 9, 2022 [CDC and Oklahoma Health Department]
  • <10% – Oklahoma’s current estimated uninsured rate after implementing Medicaid expansion, which brought down the state’s uninsured rate from 14.5 percent in 2020 [OK Policy
  • 81,000 – The number of Oklahoma households behind on rent, as of February 7, 2022 [National Equity Atlas]
  • 3,171 – Evictions filed in Oklahoma courts during January 2022. The trend of eviction filings in Oklahoma is rising more sharply during the past six months than it has during the previous 15 months [Open Justice Oklahoma via Oklahoma Watch]
  • $13,302 – The difference between the median earnings for women and men in Oklahoma, the 9th highest gender wage gap in the U.S. [U.S. Census Bureau] Note: March 15, 2022 was Equal Pay Day. This date symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year.

What We’re Reading

  • Women Represent Majority of Workers in Several Essential Occupations [U.S. Census Bureau]
  • The catastrophic cost of uninsurance: COVID-19 cases and deaths closely tied to America’s health coverage gaps [Families USA]
  • The Risk of Coverage Loss for Medicaid Beneficiaries as the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Ends [Commonwealth Fund]
  • Millions Still Months Behind on Rent After Eviction Moratorium Ends [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]
  • Eviction Diversion: Preventing Eviction Before Going to Court [Eviction Lab]


David Hamby has more than 25 years of experience as an award-winning communicator, including overseeing communication programs for Oklahoma higher education institutions and other organizations. Before joining OK Policy, he was director of public relations for Rogers State University where he managed the school’s external communication programs and served as a member of the president’s leadership team. He served in a similar communications role for five years at the University of Tulsa. He also has worked in communications roles at Oklahoma State University and the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce in Arkansas. He joined OK Policy in October 2019.

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