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
When lawmakers prioritize democratic processes, all Oklahomans benefit: Oklahoma’s 2023 legislative session presented a chance for lawmakers to expand democracy in our state. Despite passing a few bills that will increase access to the ballot for some Oklahomans, the legislature disappointingly entertained and, in some cases, passed other bills designed to significantly limit Oklahomans’ ability to participate in the democratic process. At a time when citizens feel increasingly frustrated with the democratic process, lawmakers should be working to more deeply engage residents rather than pushing them away. [Cole Allen / OK Policy]
- Factsheet: What to know about Online Voter Registration in Oklahoma [PDF]
Economic uncertainty calls for fiscal responsibility from Oklahoma leaders, not tax cuts (Capitol Update): This week legislators will arrive at the Capitol to respond to Governor Stitt’s call for a special session on tax cuts. It’s difficult for elected legislators to fight calls for lowering taxes, especially when the governor is using his megaphone to say the state doesn’t need the revenue. Many, both in and out of the legislature would like to make sure the state doesn’t set itself up for long term mediocrity or another fiscal crisis in the future. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]
Policy Matters: It’s time to quit our Lone Star envy: Many Oklahomans will be watching the Red River Rivalry this Saturday. However, many of our state officials won’t be able to tear their eyes away from the Texas state Capitol, which they’ve long seen as a role model. But Oklahoma isn’t Texas, and it’s time to call it quits on this Texas-sized envy. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]
‘Make Your Vote Count’ panel to discuss how Oklahoma can modernize its voting process
Together Oklahoma, the grassroots advocacy arm of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, will be hosting a community discussion in Ada about ways in which alternative voting processes can increase democratic participation while still ensuring election security.
The Make Your Vote Count events will be held:
- Ada: Thursday, Oct. 12 in the Pontotoc County Agri-Plex (North Building) at 1710 N. Broadway.
Weekly What’s That
A filibuster is a political procedure in which one or more members of a legislative body prolong debate, or threaten to prolong debate on a legislative measure, so as to delay or prevent a vote being taken.
In the United States, the filibuster is typically associated with the U.S. Senate, which traditionally allowed for any Senator to speak for an unlimited time on any measure. In 1917, the Senate revised its rules to allow a two-thirds majority to end a filibuster, a procedure known as “cloture.” In 1975, the cloture threshold was lowered to 60 votes. A Democratic majority eliminated the filibuster for judicial nominees below the Supreme Court in 2013 and a Republican majority eliminated the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees in 2019.
While historically the filibuster was used only rarely in the U.S. Senate, in recent decades, both parties have routinely threatened filibusters on almost all major legislation. This has meant that in practice, a supermajority of 60 Senators is needed to pass a cloture motion and advance most bills through the Senate. The only major exception, besides judicial nominees, are budget reconciliation bills, which are exempt from the filibuster and thus need only a simple majority of 51 Senators to pass.
The filibuster is seen by critics as contrary to the principle of majority rule and responsible for the inability of Congress to address major problems, while defenders see it as a vital protection of the rights of the minority and as a hallowed Senate tradition. In recent years, both parties have threatened to abolish the filibuster while in the majority, but attempts to do so have failed to muster the necessary 51-vote majority.
Oklahoma is among the 37 states that does not have a filibuster; the majority party in each chamber determines the length of time allowed for debate on each measure before it is brought up for a vote.
Quote of the Week
“We talk a lot about tax credits for corporations and big industries but it’s time we take action and increase tax credits for the families that need it the most.”
– Rep. Andy Fugate, D-Oklahoma City [The Lawton Constitution]
Editorial of the Week
Tulsa World Editorial: Now isn’t the time to cut personal incomes taxes; Oklahomans need better services
On the same day the Oklahoma Legislature was ordered into special session by Gov. Kevin Stitt to consider reducing or eliminating personal income taxes, a report requested by the governor was released, stating that the child welfare system needs more workers, resources and salary.
Oklahomans get the government we pay for.
The Oklahoma Senate gathered on Tuesday and then quickly adjourned without picking up Stitt’s request, effectively ending the session. It was right move.
This is not the time to get rid of personal income taxes, which would be estimated to take $4 billion from the state’s revenue. Lawmakers already have passed various tax breaks during the past five years totaling about $750 million.
We are not against cutting taxes and have called for eliminating the state sales tax on groceries. But we urge caution after that to avoid a complete breakdown of public services.
Stitt has cited the $5 billion socked away in different savings accounts to justify income tax cuts, and he claims that Oklahomans want the cuts. He wants to “slow government down.”
With the annual budget at about $11 billion, that financial cushion won’t go far in the next economic storm. The savings were built up by the availability of one-time pandemic funds. Also, once a tax goes away it takes 75% approval to reinstate it, a nearly impossible bar to reach.
What Oklahomans want is a well-operating government that isn’t bloated or mismanaged. Right now, state services are not flourishing, and residents are frustrated.
Oklahomans drive hours for a driver’s license and wait months for a birth certificate. Public school students are crammed into overcrowded classrooms with untrained teachers. More than 9,000 high school students are on waiting lists for CareerTech workforce programs.
Mental health services remain out-of-reach for many; people with disabilities cannot obtain home-based services.
Add to this a new report finding child welfare has high staff turnover from overwork and low pay, stressed foster parents with stipends barely covering basic needs, and poor services for biological parents trying to regain custody of their children.
All these poor services may stem from a 15% reduction in state government during the past four decades while the population grew by 25%.
With more residents come more needs in infrastructure and services. It means more people driving on highways, accessing courthouses, enrolling in schools, going to parks, needing birth certificates and driver’s licenses, requiring health care and even eating in restaurants that need inspections.
Oklahoma state government is at its lowest staffing level since at least 1982, when there were about 37,000 employees. Its current level is 31,487 workers.
Drastic income tax cuts originate from a supply-side, trickle-down economic theory that was tested a decade ago by Gov. Sam Brownback in Kansas. It failed.
It led to businesses using the new tax structure to protect money rather than invest in labor. The state’s bond rating went down; core services and infrastructure were gutted; and the Republican-controlled Legislature was forced to raise taxes over the governor’s veto.
Lawmakers would do better by setting aside tax cut talks and focusing on improving services and infrastructure.
Numbers of the Day
- 1.72x – The percentage of Oklahomans with debt in collections is 1.72 times higher in predominantly nonwhite areas (62%) than it is in predominantly white areas (36%). [National Consumer Law Center]
- > 5% – Oklahoma is projected to see its total revenue decrease by more than 5% for Fiscal Year 2024, which ends on June 30, 2024. [Tax Policy Center]
- 4.4X – Oklahoma public defenders have a case workload that is 4.4x higher than the new national recommended workload. [Tulsa World]
- -31.8% – The weekly wages for Oklahoma teachers are 31.8% lower than college graduates working in other professions in the state. Oklahoma has the nation’s fourth highest teacher pay penalty. [Economic Policy Institute]
- 18 – Number of states with holidays – either official or designated – that honor Native Americans on the second Monday in October, which is also recognized as Columbus Day in many places. Oklahoma’s Native American Day was signed into law in 2019, and it is observed by the state alongside Columbus Day. [Pew Research] | [The Oklahoman]
What We’re Reading
- The Downward Debt Spiral: A Study of Oklahoma’s Judicial Debt Collection System: Combining new, quantifiable court data with findings from court observations and interviews, the Oklahoma Access to Justice Foundation designed this study to highlight inequities in how debt collection lawsuits are adjudicated and offer data-informed solutions that can better support unrepresented and low-income Oklahomans. Consumer debt in this report is defined as any type of debt primarily incurred for personal, family, or household purposes. This kind of debt may look like the rent payment a person charges to their credit card to afford groceries that month or the car loan a recent college graduate takes out so they can get to and from their new entry-level job. Consumer debt also includes the thousands of dollars in medical debt that follows a new mother home after childbirth or the remaining cost of the health scare that drains a family’s savings. Often, unmanageable debt of this type can lead to a lawsuit. [Oklahoma Access to Justice Foundation]
- Navigating Fiscal Uncertainty: Weak State Revenue Forecasts for Fiscal Year 2024: With more fiscal data coming in, the long-term health of state budgets looks murky. After a run up in 2022, preliminary data show a substantial weakness in state tax revenues for the first 11 months of fiscal year 2023 (July 2022 through May 2023). Overall, state tax revenues declined 5.3 percent in nominal terms, largely driven by declines in personal and corporate income tax revenues, while sales tax revenues increased in nominal terms. [Tax Policy Center]
- The State of the Nation on Gideon’s 60th Anniversary: In honor of Gideon’s 60th anniversary, the Sixth Amendment Center surveyed all state and local governments to estimate total national expenditures on the right to counsel under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. We estimate that, collectively, state and local governments spend approximately $6.5 billion, or $19.82 per capita, on indigent defense. Compared to the $123 billion the nation spends on police and the $82 billion on corrections, this is a drop in the bucket. Of serious concern, though, are states that spend far less than $19.82 per capita. Oklahoma ranked 48th on per capita spending on indigent defense at $8.36. [Sixth Amendment Center]
- Teacher pay penalty still looms large: Teacher pay has suffered a sharp decline compared with the pay of other college-educated workers. On average, teachers made 26.4% less than other similarly educated professionals in 2022—the lowest level since 1960. [Economic Policy Institute]
- Goodbye, Columbus? Here’s what Indigenous Peoples’ Day means to Native Americans (2022): Indigenous Peoples’ Day advocates say the recognition helps correct a “whitewashed” American history that has glorified Europeans like Italian explorer Christopher Columbus who have committed violence against Indigenous communities. Native Americans have long criticized the inaccuracies and harmful narratives of Columbus’ legacy that credited him with his “discovery” of the Americas when Indigenous people were there first. [NPR]