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
Economic Projections for Asylum Seekers and New Immigrants in Oklahoma: Immigration is hardly a new social trend in the state of Oklahoma. Of the four million people living in the state, 243,000 are immigrants, or six percent of the total population, according to the 2022 American Community Survey. Over the past two years, however, a new trend in immigration has generated a different kind of attention. The number of people seeking asylum and other protection in the United States has risen sharply. How can we expect these new immigrants to fare in the economy? To model this question, Immigration Research Initiative and Oklahoma Policy Institute looked at how immigrants with similar characteristics currently make ends meet in the state. [Immigrant Research Initiative / OK Policy]
2024 Oklahoma Legislative Primer: How does a bill become a law? Who chairs key legislative committees? When are the legislative deadlines this session? Our newly updated 2024 Legislative Primer will answer these questions and more. Whether you are a veteran advocate, a complete novice to Oklahoma politics, or anyone in between, the Oklahoma Policy Institute’s Legislative Primer provides invaluable information in a concise, user-friendly format. [OK Policy] | [PDF]
Special session went according to script, but tax cuts still major topic during next few months (Capitol Update): The special session last week went pretty much according to script. The House, following Speaker Charles McCall’s lead, passed the governor’s .25-percent income tax cut along strict party lines. The Senate made good on President Pro Tempore Greg Treat’s announced intention to adjourn the session with no action. Both chambers adjourned to the call of the chair so they could take up a tax bill later in either the regular session that started Monday or in the special session. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]
Policy Matters: Oklahomans get what we pay for: Oklahomans pay among the least in taxes when compared to folks from other states. And we get what we pay for — or in this case don’t pay for. While our taxes are low, so is our quality of life when stacked up against other states. Oklahoma has one of the nation’s highest poverty rates, with 1 in 5 Oklahoma children living in poverty — unsure where their next meal may come from. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]
Weekly What’s That
The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, known as the DREAM Act, is federal legislation that would, if passed, provide a path to legal permanent residency and eventually citizenship for certain categories of currently undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States at a young age. Immigrant youth who have actively campaigned for the act, or who would benefit from its passage, are often referred to as DREAMers.
The bill would confer benefits to those unauthorized residents who are between the ages of 12 and 30 at the time of bill enactment; arrived in the United States prior to age 16 and resided in the country for five consecutive years; and have graduated from an American high school, obtained a GED, or been admitted to an institution of higher education. They would not qualify if they had committed crimes, were a security risk, or were inadmissible or removable on certain other grounds. Those who meet all qualifications would be granted “conditional” status; they could earn permanent legal status if within six years they graduate from a two-year community college, complete at least two years towards a four-year degree, or serve two years in the US military. The DREAM Act would also eliminate a federal provision that penalizes states that provide in-state tuition without regard to immigration status.
The DREAM Act was first introduced in Congress in 2001 by Democrat Rep. Luis Gutiérrez and Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch. After years of advocacy by undocumented youth, commonly labeled Dreamers, and allies, versions of the bill passed the House of Representatives in 2007 and 2010 but never managed to gain the 60 votes needed in the Senate to defeat Republican filibusters. In 2012, the Obama Administration through executive action, created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program that provided a population similar to the one covered by the DREAM Act protection from deportation and access to work permits and other legal benefits for two-year renewable periods. Unlike the DREAM Act, DACA does not provide a path to permanent residency or citizenship, and has been subject to multiple legal challenges.
The Biden Administration has strongly encouraged passage of the DREAM Act while exploring multiple options for expanding legal protections to undocumented residents who meet various criteria.
Quote of the Week
“The need for a fair and equitable tax system in Oklahoma, particularly in cities like Tulsa, has never been more needed. The current regressive system worsens economic disparities and places an unfair burden on those least able to bear it.”
-Rep. Amanda Swope, D-Tulsa said in an opinion editorial outlining how tax cuts hurt many low- and middle-income Oklahoma families while also shrinking core public services for the state. [Tulsa World]
Editorial of the Week
Oklahoma’s bottom ranking in voter turnout is likely the consequence of the state’s woefully outdated and exclusionary election laws. It’s time Oklahoma voters demand a better marketplace for ideas and the freedom to make choices.
In 2022, nearly 900,000 Oklahoma voters were shut out of voting in contested races, according to a national analysis by the Lee Enterprises Public Service Journalism team. About 58% (31 of 53) of those contested state and federal races were decided outright in primaries that were closed to all but party members.
It doesn’t have to be that way. The majority of states have some form of open primaries and have much more engaged civic involvement as a result. Oklahoma has examples within the state showing how open ballots encourage better public discourse.
For example, the Tulsa mayor and city councilors are elected on nonpartisan, open ballots. Campaigns are focused on selling as many voters on their ideas as possible. Candidates knock on more doors, public forums cater to all constituents, and every eligible Tulsa voter has the freedom to choose who they feel has the best pitch.
The ballot is simple: All candidates are put on a list. The top two winners go to a general election, unless one gets more than 50% of the vote. For decades, the result has been a diverse council with a range of perspectives and backgrounds, and mayors who seek a consensus among city leaders and residents.
Tulsa has thrived under this election system. Oklahoma would benefit by doing something similar.
Moving to open primaries is about freedom and choice. Political parties still play a role, and some states put the party designation next to candidates’ names on ballots. The reform would be updating the system to involve all voters in deciding on government representatives.
This isn’t a radical idea. But pushback will come from political party leaders and sitting elected officials fearful of losing power or influence. If a party’s candidates have the best vision and plans for an office, then voters will respond — that’s the free market approach.
However, incumbents got elected because this current system works for them, even if it’s not working for all Oklahoma voters. They won’t support a change.
That leaves the initiative petition route, which can be onerous and expensive. It’s also the mechanism used often in Oklahoma when lawmakers ignore the will of the people.
The biggest threat to the American form of democracy is voter apathy, not fraud. Instead of wringing hands over whether to watermark mailed ballots or require more identification, remove obstacles preventing voters from casting a ballot.
Give voters the freedom to consider all candidates and all ideas. That’s the truest form of a representative republic.
Numbers of the Day
- 9% – Housing costs have risen considerably while wages have stagnated in the past two decades. Since 2001, housing costs have risen by 9 percent while wages have only grown by 3 percent. [OK Policy]
- <5% – In one year-long randomized controlled trial in Oklahoma County, payments to the court for legal debts totaled less than 5 percent of all outstanding debt despite significant efforts at collection. [Vera Institute of Justice]
- -3.2% – Oklahoma’s gross receipts to the state treasury were down 3.2%, or $555 million, for the 12-month period ending January 2024. Declining tax revenue from oil and gas production continues to push total gross receipts revenues down. [Oklahoma State Treasurer’s Office]
- $2.3 million – Newly arriving immigrants in Oklahoma pay about $2.3 million in state and local taxes for every 1,000 workers. After about five years of working, state and local taxes rise to about $3.3 million per 1,000 workers stemming from job advancement and rising wages. [Immigrant Research Initiative]
- >10% – Among Arizona private schools that posted tuition rates, nearly half of the schools, tuition increased in at least some grades by 10 percent or more since 2022 when the state implemented universal school choice. Nearly all schools raised tuition, and in five of those cases, schools hiked tuition by more than 20 percent. [Hechinger Report]
What We’re Reading
- A Blueprint for Prosperity: Expanding Housing Affordability: Policy decisions can move us toward the goal of ensuring that everyone in this country is able to afford safe, stable housing in a community of their choice. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]
- A Matter of Time: The Case for Shortening Criminal Debt Collection Statutes of Limitations, a 50-State Survey: Legal financial obligations (LFOs) imposed on people in the criminal legal system trap many in cycles of poverty and punishment. When reducing the amount of debt that people owe is not viable, reducing the amount of time during which people are subject to court debt can offer significant relief from the burden and consequences of that debt. In this brief, Vera builds the case for using statutes of limitations (SOL) reform as an effective pathway for relief by outlining the scope and scale of the national LFO debt problem, describing the functions and capabilities of SOL reforms for criminal debt relief, and surveys the various periods of enforcement for criminal debts as compared to civil debts across all 50 states. [Vera Institute of Justice]
- Arizona Lawmakers Face Big Deficit Due Mostly to Massive Tax Cut and School Voucher Expansion: Less than six months after they celebrated passing a bipartisan budget, Arizona lawmakers face a steep deficit due mostly to plummeting revenues from a massive tax cut that took full effect last year and skyrocketing costs from a school voucher program expansion. A year ago, the state had a budget surplus of $1.8 billion. Now, it has a shortfall of about $400 million for the current fiscal year and another $450 million shortfall in the following year. [U.S. News & World Report]
- A Shortage of Immigration Lawyers Is Another Barrier to Integration for Immigrants: Immigrants are now far more likely to face the complexities of the immigration court system alone, without an attorney. As of December 2023, only 30% of immigrants with pending cases have secured representation, down from 65% just four years ago. IN January 24, Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) published data showing that representation rates at U.S. immigration courts have decreased significantly. These trends highlight concerns about migrants’ ability to obtain an attorney to navigate our immigration system. [American Immigration Council]
- Better Planning Could Help States Avoid Perilous Deficits: States can use data and analysis to prepare for fiscal crises or prevent them entirely, helping to avoid tax increases and service cuts that harm residents and local economies. Research shows that since the start of 2018, only 15 states have published long-term budget assessments. Another 15 have published long-term revenue and spending projections, but do not use the projections to determine whether their budget is on a sustainable path — or discuss the reasons behind that conclusion. [Governing]
- NOTE: Oklahoma in January published a budget stress test from the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency, but does not publish long-term budget and spending assessments.