Weekly Wonk: Oklahomans best served by investments, not continued revenue cuts | Budget transparency pledge is step in right direction | Getting Oklahomans connected to health care

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

To thrive in today’s economy, Oklahoma needs investment, not continued tax cuts: The legislative special session this fall focusing on tax issues came and went without action. But Oklahomans who are concerned about the state’s ability to prosper should remain wary of future attempts to further eliminate state revenue through poorly targeted tax cuts. [Emma Morris / The Oklahoman]

Last year’s voucher push prompts Senate to commit to budget transparency: It’s going to be interesting to see how the new, more transparent appropriations process works in the Senate next session. Dissatisfaction with the process seemed to reach a high-water mark in the Senate last session. According to Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, the Senate last year was so focused on school choice (using public tax dollars for private schools) that many senators didn’t have adequate time to consider the final appropriations bill. [Capitol Update / Steve Lewis]

As SoonerCare renewals continue, it’s vital to connect to health care: As health care rules change following the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) has been working to help Oklahomans who receive health insurance through SoonerCare/Medicaid keep their insurance. But for many individuals, action is needed to ensure eligible Oklahomans can keep their health care. [OK Policy]

Policy Matters: Senate’s budget transparency pledge is step in right direction: Senate leaders last week shared their intention to make the annual budget process more transparent. This is a welcome first step towards making this vital process more inclusive and democratic. But more can be done. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]

Weekly What’s That

Gross Receipts

Gross receipts are the total amount of receipts collected by state government.

The state’s gross receipts for FY 2023were $17.4 billion, a 6.0 percent increase from FY 2022 and an all-time high, as Oklahoma’s tax collections benefited from a strong overall economy and record-high oil and gas revenues.

Gross receipts totals are larger than both state appropriations and the state General Revenue Fund, for several reasons.  First, gross receipts includes sales and use taxes levied by cities and counties but collected by the Oklahoma Tax Commission. These collections are distributed to cities and counties the month after they are collected. Second, much of the state receipts are “earmarked,” or restricted by law to a specific purpose and not subject to the annual budget process. Examples include taxes that are earmarked for transportation, schools, and retirement funds. State receipts that are not earmarked – just under 50 percent of gross receipts in FY 2021 – are deposited in the General Revenue Fund.

[View the November 2023 Gross Receipts Report]

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

Quote of the Week

“With these political actions, elected leaders, including Gov. Stitt, are making a calculated attempt at the state level to discredit and diminish effective, proven mechanisms that have opened doors of opportunity and helped historically marginalized students earn their degrees. These actions rebuild barriers for groups that were historically marginalized and pushed aside. They do nothing to support students.”

-Paulette Granberry Russell, the president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, speaking about the governor’s executive order to ban using state funds for diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. [The Oklahoman]

Editorial of the Week

Enid News & Eagle Editorial: Lawmakers need to continue to shine more light on budget process

It’s a good first step, but we hope to see more.

Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, recently announced the Senate will move to make the state budget process more transparent for lawmakers and the general public.

Next legislative session, the Senate publicly will unveil its proposed budget by mid-March. Senators then will vote on the spending measure that will include a breakdown of funding for each state agency.

The plan will serve as the Senate’s idea for budget negotiations with the House and the Governor’s Office.

Treat also said the Senate’s transparency will extend in other ways, with the chamber’s appropriations committee and related subcommittees vetting agency budget requests. As senators hash out budget details with their House counterparts and representatives from the Governor’s Office, the details of those conversations will be brought up in public Senate Appropriations Committee meetings whenever possible.

The Legislature has long kept the budget process too secretive, with only a few individuals putting together the multi-billion dollar spending plan behind closed doors. The public and most lawmakers don’t know anything about the budget until it is finally unveiled in the final days of the legislative session. That also means many lawmakers aren’t able review all the details before they have to vote.

While House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, and Gov. Kevin Stitt have publicly stated they want a more transparent budget process, they have not come out with any plans as Treat did. One thing Stitt has said is that he wants spending bills be to be publicly available three days before any votes.

We like the steps being proposed, but there’s still going to be a lot of budget talks going on away from the eyes of the public.

It’s a good first step, but let’s not stop looking for ways to improve and shine more light on the budget process.

[Editorial / Enid News & Eagle]

Numbers of the Day

  • 30% – Rate of all children in Oklahoma under age 18 living in families where no parent has regular, full-time employment. [KIDS COUNT]
  • .03% – Percentage of estates in Oklahoma that owed federal estate tax in 2019. That year, 14 estates in Oklahoma were large enough to trigger federal estate taxes compared to 2007 when 148 estates (or .42% of estates) did. The federal estate tax exemption was $2 million in 2007, and was $11.4 million in 2019. [Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy]
  • 60% – Percentage of Black adults who say they prepare for possible insults from providers or staff and/or feel they must be very careful about their appearance to be treated fairly during health care visits. About half of American Indian and Alaska Native (52%) and Hispanic (51%) adults, and 42% of Asian adults also reported this. In contrast, 33% of white adults reported doing these things. [KFF]
  • 49th – Oklahoma’s rank in 2020 among the 50 states and the District of Columbia for election administration policy and performance. Oklahoma consistently has among the nation’s lowest rates of voter participation. [MIT Elections Performance Index]
  • 93% – Percentage of residential land in Oklahoma City that is zoned only for detached single-family homes by right. [OK Policy analysis of Oklahoma City Data Portal]

What We’re Reading

  • Federal investments in sector-based training can boost workers’ upward mobility: By some metrics, the U.S. labor market recovery has been the envy of the world, with unemployment rates at record lows and workers’ earnings rising at a substantial clip. But these glowing figures mask harsh realities. The low unemployment levels are partially attributable to low labor force participation rates, and even with the income gains, the U.S. has the third-highest share of workers earning low pay among 26 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This prevalence of low-paying work stifles upward economic mobility; nearly 60% of U.S. adults who were socioeconomically disadvantaged in their teens continue to struggle economically at age 30. [Brookings]
  • The Estate Tax is Irrelevant to More Than 99 Percent of Americans: The federal estate tax has reached historic lows. In 2019, only 8 of every 10,000 people who died left an estate large enough to trigger the tax. Legislative changes under presidents of both parties have increased the basic exemption from the estate tax over the past 20 years. This has cut the share of adults leaving behind taxable estates down from more than 2 percent to well under 1 percent. [Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy]
  • New KFF Survey Documents the Extent and Impact of Racism and Discrimination Across Several Facets of American Life, Including Health Care: In a reflection of how pervasive racism and discrimination can be in daily life, a major new KFF survey shows that many Hispanic, Black, Asian, and American Indian and Alaska Native adults in the U.S. believe they must modify both their mindset and the way they look to stave off potential mistreatment during health care visits. [KFF]
  • Unlocking the Ballot Box: Policies to Promote Voter Access and Engagement in Oklahoma: Oklahoma continues to be ranked among the worst states in studies of electoral systems and our rates of electoral participation are among the lowest in the nation. Although policymakers have taken some positive steps to make the franchise more accessible, these have been largely offset by measures that restrict access to the ballot. We’ve gone three steps forward and two steps back. As a result, there continues to be an urgent need for elected officials to adopt common-sense election reforms that would help promote voter access and engagement in Oklahoma. [Oklahoma Appleseed Center for Law and Justice]
  • Cities Start to Question an American Ideal: A House With a Yard on Every Lot: Single-family zoning is practically gospel in America, embraced by homeowners and local governments to protect neighborhoods of tidy houses from denser development nearby. A reckoning with single-family zoning is necessary, proponents say, amid mounting crises over housing affordability, racial inequality and climate change. Today the effect of single-family zoning is far-reaching: It is illegal on 75 percent of the residential land in many American cities to build anything other than a detached single-family home. [New York Times]


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.