[Weekly Wonk] Good times don’t last forever | Fiscally responsible tax relief | Long COVID and Paid Family Medical Leave

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: Good times don’t last forever: Buoyed by anticipated record high state revenue, Oklahoma lawmakers are talking a lot about cutting taxes. This session, there are more than 10 significant tax-cutting bills that – if they were all enacted – together would cut more than $1 billion annually from the state budget in future years. [Ahniwake Rose / The Journal Record

The fiscally responsible way to reduce taxes on groceries: Leaders of both political parties have discussed the possibility of eliminating the state sales tax on groceries this legislative session. While the sales tax on groceries is regressive and should ultimately be addressed through comprehensive tax reform in Oklahoma, the state is not in a position to implement this change this year.  These cuts would harm the ability of both our state and local governments to deliver the shared public services all Oklahomans use. To avoid this, lawmakers should consider significantly expanding the Sales Tax Relief Credit that would provide targeted tax relief to Oklahomans who need it, cost less revenue, and give lawmakers more flexibility to raise revenue in the future. [Emma Morris / OK Policy

“Long COVID” increases the urgency for a state paid family and medical leave program: “Long COVID”— that is, the persistence of COVID-related symptoms for months after being sick — is likely to cause many Oklahomans to experience long-term health conditions that could impact their ability to work, including brain fog, fatigue, and mobility loss.  Given the reasonably anticipated increase in need for employment accommodations due to COVID-related symptoms, Oklahoma’s Legislature should act now to create and implement a state paid family and medical leave program that will support job and paycheck stability to workers caring for their own or their families’ long COVID-related conditions. [Josie Phillips / OK Policy

A look at criminal justice sentencing reclassification efforts this session (Capitol Update): It looks like the criminal justice reform effort to reorganize the Oklahoma Criminal Code by arranging various crimes into classes with an appropriate range of punishment for each class has begun to fall on hard times already. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update

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

Supplemental Poverty Measure

The Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) is an alternative measure of poverty, developed and reported by the U.S. Census Bureau, that is intended to provide a more thorough and accurate assessment of how much income a household needs to get by. The SPM differs from the official poverty measure in two ways:

(1) Poverty Threshold: Whereas the official poverty measure was set in 1965 at three times the subsistence food budget and has only been adjusted for inflation since then, the SPM is set at the 33rd percentile of expenditures on food, clothing, shelter, and utilities (FCSU) of consumer units with exactly two children multiplied by 1.2.  The thresholds are adjusted based on both family size and differences in regions’ housing costs.

(2) Income Measurement: The income measure for the SPM, like the official measure’s, includes all cash income from whatever source, but also non-cash benefits like food stamps, subsidized school lunches, housing assistance, and so forth. It then takes taxes (including both payroll taxes and refundable credits) into account, and subtracts out necessary expenses like work-related costs, child care, child support, and out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Comparing the poverty rates under the official poverty measures and the SPM reveals the effect that government transfer programs and taxes have on keeping households above or below the poverty level.

The US Census Bureau releases an annual report on poverty based on the SPM. The SPM rate for 2020 was 9.1 percent, which was 2.3 percentage points lower than the official poverty rate of 11.4 percent. This is the lowest poverty rate under the SPM since the measure was first calculated in 2009 and the first time that poverty was lower using the SPM than the official poverty rate.

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

Quote of the Week

“We’ve criminalized all sorts of conduct but do absolutely nothing to rehabilitate and change the behavioral patterns of males who are doing this”

– Bob Ravitz, Chief Public Defender for Oklahoma County [The Frontier]

Editorial of the Week

Let petition process be

Passing a citizen-led ballot initiative into law in Oklahoma is not easy.

Some in the Legislature would be OK if it were more difficult.

Their stated reasoning, as mentioned in a recent CNHI Oklahoma story, is that the current process leaves rural Oklahomans without as much say.

That’s not inaccurate.

It’s a very fair point to believe that rural voters should be represented at the Capitol. It’s a good point to bring up when discussing the redistribution of public school funds, but in this case, it also means killing an initiative would take convincing a much, much smaller group of people.

Take for example, Medicaid expansion, State Question 802 that was on the same ballot as the June 2020 primary. Relative to Oklahoma’s conservative politics, we would call that a progressive measure. In Beaver County, up at the start of the panhandle, they voted No by 72 percent, in Bryan County in southeastern Oklahoma they voted no by 57 percent and in Delaware County, they voted No by 60 percent. As we know, the vote passed. These are all places in Oklahoma at least an hour a way from any urban or suburban centers. Those combined total votes from those three counties – 13,976. Payne County, which voted Yes by 57 percent, had 13,187 vote on that state question.

Are Payne County votes worth any less?

One proposal is that amendments to the state constitution have to receive support from 75 percent of counties, and if it the drive falls short of that threshold, the amendment would only take effect in counties that approved it.

Is that even logistically possible?

Orlando Rep. John Pfeiffer is proposing HJR 1027, which would require an equal number of signatures from voters in each of the five congressional districts.

“Right now, you could get all of your signature requirements from one day at the State Fair or a couple of weeks outside of Quail Springs Mall (in Oklahoma City),” Pfeiffer said.

Anecdotally, we know it’s much more difficult than that. We’ve seen plenty of failed petition drives. It takes more than just gathering a bunch of signatures to get something on the ballot.

[Editorial / Stillwater News Press]

Numbers of the Day

  • 70% – Percentage of small business owners who support paid family and medical leave programs. [Small Business Majority]
  • $1.3 billion – Amount of one-time carryover funds and special cash from previous sessions included in the $10.5 billion available for state appropriations for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2022. [State Board of Equalization]
  • $306 million – Estimated revenue that will be lost if Oklahoma repeals the state sales tax on groceries. [Oklahoma Tax Commission]
  • 13 – The number of historic All-Black towns still incorporated in Oklahoma today. Between 1856 and 1920, more than 50 All-Black towns were established in Oklahoma. [Oklahoma Historical Society]

What We’re Reading

  • The New Trend: Short-Sighted Tax Cuts for the Rich Will Not Grow State Economies [ITEP]
  • States Are Seeing Steep Income Tax Revenue Growth. Will It Last? [Forbes]
  • How Small Companies Can Offer Great Paid-Leave Programs [Harvard Business Review]
  • Deep Divisions in Americans’ Views of Nation’s Racial History – and How To Address It [Pew Research Center]

NOTE: February is National Black History Month, a time to honor the contributions and sacrifices of African Americans who have helped shape the nation, and celebrate the rich cultural heritage, triumphs and adversities that are an indelible part of our country’s history.


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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