Weekly Wonk: Finding hope in college students, new professionals | Competing budget transparency efforts may have process more confusing than ever | More

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

Policy Matters: Finding hope in college students, new professionals: Public discourse, especially around contentious legislation, continues to divide us rather than bring us together. It’s disheartening for those of us working towards a more inclusive Oklahoma that supports all our neighbors — regardless of the color of their skin, the size of their bank accounts or the circumstances of their birth. It’s not often I’ll turn to the Zen masters for solace, but I’ve been reflecting on a quote from Thích Nhất Hạnh: “Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.” [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]

Competing budget transparency efforts may have process more confusing than everThe House last week revealed its position on the Fiscal Year 2025 budget that begins on July 1 and upstaged the Senate’s transparency gambit with a new “transparency portal” that can be accessed on the House of Representatives website. Even with the talk of — and effort toward — transparency, the budget process this year seems more confusing than ever. [Steve Lewis / OK Policy]

Weekly What’s That

Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget (JCAB)

The Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget (JCAB) is a committee governed by separate rules from most legislative committees. It is typically used as a way for House and Senate leadership to introduce and approve new bills in the final weeks of the legislative session.

The committee, which is co-chaired by the Chairs of the House and Senate Appropriations committees, is not subject to regular legislative deadlines. Only bills authored by the Appropriations Chairs or by the House Speaker and Senate President Pro Tem can be referred to JCAB. House and Senate JCAB can meet together, but most often meet separately. Most appropriation bills are assigned to JCAB, but substantive bills can also be heard. Bills are required to have a fiscal impact statement to pass out of JCAB. Bills that pass out of JCAB are placed on a separate Joint Calendar to be heard by their full chambers for Third and Final Reading.

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

Quote of the Week

“I think it’s some part of our human psychology to not want to believe that this can happen to people that we know in our community… Unfortunately, we deny I think some of the struggles that our friends and family and neighbors are experiencing. I think it is also a way of trying to maybe release culpability that we have as a community to do something about it.”

-Mark Smith, CEO of Housing Solutions in Tulsa, speaking about the myth that homelessness is increasing because individuals are coming here from elsewhere, drawn by word of the city’s range and quality of services. [Tulsa World]

Editorial of the Week

Editorial: Oklahoma GOP’s ‘path to zero’ personal income tax could put state into dire straits

Oklahoma lawmakers have finally reached a good place in revenue with the help of federal pandemic funds and robust oil prices. That won’t last. It never does.

Even the recent monthly revenue reports show lower income than in the previous year, indicating a post-pandemic leveling off. Some of that may be attributed to lower oil prices and tax cuts enacted two years ago.

Yet House Speaker Charles McCall said recently that House members are setting Oklahoma on a “path to zero” personal income taxes. Gov. Kevin Stitt remained firm on demands to lower the income tax, saying he will veto any budget without one.

Both cite a robust economy and billions of dollars in state savings accounts, arguing that Oklahoma workers deserve a break.

Oklahomans also deserve much better state services than what we’ve been getting.

It does no good to have zero income tax if state buildings are crumbling, parks are deteriorating, public schools can’t find teachers, CareerTech has thousands on job-training waiting lists and employers struggle to find a skilled workforce. It’s still difficult to obtain a driver’s license or file for unemployment.

Lawmakers reached bipartisan agreement earlier to eliminate the state’s 4.5% sales tax on groceries, which is expected to take about $370 million out of state revenue.

A grocery sales tax is a regressive tax with a greater affect on low- to moderate-income Oklahomans. It’s a tax burden that residents deserved to have lifted.

The state’s graduated income tax tops out at 4.75%. Stitt has called on a 0.25 percentage point across the board tax cut, which would eliminate between $235 million and $293 million annually. The median household savings would be about $92 a year. The lowest wage earners would save about $19, and the top 1% of wealthy Oklahomans would get about $2,634.

Oklahoma lawmakers cannot raise taxes easily. State Question 640, which was pushed in 1992 by Republican leaders, mandates that any revenue-raising bill reach three-fourths approval in both legislative chambers and receive the governor’s support. Lowering taxes takes only a simple majority vote.

Since then, lawmakers have met that tax-increase mandate only once. In the past 20 years, the personal income tax has been reduced nine times. Since 2002, it has come down from 7%.

Cutting taxes always plays well as a political issue. However, Oklahoma learned the hard way that cutting too far can lead to economic crisis. By 2008, revenue was plummeting, setting off years of revenue failures and mandated state service budget cuts.

Prisons became overcrowded, colleges and parks deferred maintenance on facilities, disability services wait lists soared and teachers held a walkout at the Capitol. The walkout led to House Bill 1010xx, which provided money for education by raising taxes on cigarettes, gasoline and gross production.

Any loss of state income requires a balance — either replace it with another source or cut services. No lawmaker has explained how this “path to zero” will avoid history’s mistakes.

We’re encouraged by the conservative approach taken by Senate Republican leaders. Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat noted that an income tax cut now would put too much strain on state finances.

Rather than take that risk, we urge lawmakers to focus less on eliminating income and, instead, put energy into using taxes better to fix existing problems.

[Editorial / Tulsa World]

Numbers of the Day

  • 61% – Percentage of unhoused individuals in Tulsa’s emergency shelters, safe havens, transitional housing, and street outreach who were experiencing homelessness for the first time. [Housing Solutions

  • $34.4 million – Taxes paid by Oklahomans with DACA status in 2021. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a federal program that protects certain undocumented immigrants from deportation and allows them to work legally in the United States. The program is no longer processing new requests pending review by the courts. [New American Economy]
  • 41,352 – Number of U.S. citizen children in Oklahoma who live with at least one undocumented parent. [American Immigration Council]

  • 3 – The number of groups in Oklahoma — Hispanics, American Indian/Alaska Natives (AI/AN), and Blacks — who had significant health care inequities when comparing how well the health care system in Oklahoma works for various racial and ethnic groups. On of a scale of 100, Oklahoma’s health care system for Hispanics delivered outcomes and quality in 4th percentile, which was the lowest among any group in the state and among the lowest for any group nationwide. For Black Oklahomans, the health care system scored at the 10th percentile, while the health care system was in the 11th percentile for AI/AN residents of Oklahoma. For white Oklahomans, health care quality and outcomes in the 47th percentile, which was the highest of any group in the state but third lowest nationally. [The Commonwealth Fund] | [Fact Sheet for Oklahoma / Commonwealth Fund]     

What We’re Reading

  • Criminalizing Homelessness Won’t Make It Go Away (video): Amid an affordable housing crisis, where 70 percent of all extremely low-income families today pay more than half their income on rent, becoming homeless is easier than we’d like to think. Every homeless person’s path is complicated, and in this video, we haven’t remotely captured anyone’s whole story. Yes, some are addicts, some are mentally ill, some have made unwise choices, and some are simply unlucky. Some are many of those things. But all of them argue that in the hardest moment of their lives, they have been largely abandoned, and even punished, by the rest of us. So we hope you’ll do more than dismiss, or judge, the people in this video, and instead listen to them. [New York Times Opinion]
  • Why Don’t Immigrants Apply for Citizenship?: Many people wonder why all immigrants do not just come to the United States legally or simply apply for citizenship while living here without authorization. These suggestions miss the point: There is no line available for current undocumented immigrants and the “regular channels” are largely not available to prospective immigrants who end up entering the country through unauthorized channels. [American Immigration Council]
  • Remembering Ellis Island’s Busiest Day: How Has Immigration Changed Since 1907?: Then, as now, immigration was a highly controversial topic. Aspiring Americans didn’t need much in 1907—there were no visas or papers. Opponents of immigration raised pointed questions about how new immigrants would fit into America, claimed they would take jobs away from Americans, and fanned the flames of xenophobia. Today, we know these fears about non-assimilation were entirely unfounded. The descendants of those 1907 arrivals are unquestionably American. Yet, the same myths and fears persist. [New American Economy]
  • Advancing Racial Equity in U.S. Health Care: For nearly two decades, the Commonwealth Fund has tracked health and health care in each state, seeking both to understand how the policy choices we make affect people’s health outcomes and to motivate the change needed to improve the health of all communities across the United States. But assessing how well a state performs on average can mask the profound inequities that many people experience. This report evaluates disparities in health and health care across racial and ethnic groups, both within states and between U.S. states. [The Commonwealth Fund]


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.