Weekly Wonk: Proposed tax cuts would endanger public services | We can’t move forward if we don’t acknowledge past | Capitol Update

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

The needs of everyday Oklahomans outweigh tax cuts that benefit the wealthyAs Oklahoma’s 2023 legislative session begins, the perennial push for tax cuts that would shrink state revenue will likely return. In 2022, leaders of the Oklahoma House of Representatives championed tax cuts – primarily focusing on reducing the personal income tax, the corporate income tax, and the sales tax on groceries. Ultimately, the legislative session ended without any major tax cuts, but many of these proposals may be back this session, despite impending economic uncertainties both in Oklahoma and around the nation. [Emma Morris / OK Policy]

Policy Matters: We can’t move forward if we don’t acknowledge past: During Black History Month, it’s worth remembering the adage that “history never repeats itself, but it rhymes.” While some believe the civil rights movement resolved our nation’s racial problems, that’s far from the truth, and we can meaningfully address them only if we have an honest dialogue about actions that got us here. [Shiloh Kantz / The Journal Record]

New session could be pivotal year for Oklahoma (Capitol Update): The legislative session began Monday with the governor’s state of the state address to a joint session. Despite it being an election year, the summer and fall produced quite a few constructive interim studies, and among the introduced bills there are plenty to make for a productive legislative session. I look for education and the budget measures to consume the most time, and probably fireworks, with the new state superintendent and the legislature working to get on the same page. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

OK Policy in the News

Why programs like paid family leave might be getting more Oklahoma Republican support: Banning all abortions in Oklahoma has some Republican lawmakers more receptive to increased support for mothers and families, including some ideas that have long been championed by the political left. [The Oklahoman]

Upcoming Opportunities

  • Thursday, Feb. 16 at 6:30 p.m.: Safe Communities/Justice Reform Affinity Group Meeting (Online). Focusing on issues that can help make our communities safer, including criminal justice reforms. [Join the Meeting Online]
  • Tuesday, Feb. 21 at 6:30 p.m.: Thriving Families Affinity Group Meeting (Online). Focusing on issues that can help all Oklahomans and their family have equitable opportunities to thrive. [Join the Meeting Online]
  • Thursday, Feb. 23 at 6:00 p.m.: Healthy Oklahomans Affinity Group Meeting (Online). Focusing on health care and policies that help Oklahomans live healthier lives. [Join the Meeting Online]

Weekly What’s That

Lindsay Nicole Henry Scholarships

The Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Act, passed by the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Brad Henry in 2010, provides public funds for eligible children with disabilities to attend private schools.

Students are eligible to receive the scholarship if they meet one of the following criteria:

  • a student who attended a public school the prior year and was served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA);
  • the child of active duty military stationed in Oklahoma with permanent change of station orders who has moved to Oklahoma after receiving IDEA services in another state;
  • a student who has been served through the SoonerStart program and during transition has been determined to be eligible for school district services;
  • a student in foster care, adopted from foster care, or in custody of the Office of Juvenile Affairs; or
  • a student who has been in out-of-home placement with DHS, or who was adopted while in the permanent custody of DHS.

A participating private school receives a voucher in an amount equal to state and local dollars spent on the child in public school or the private school’s tuition and fees, whichever is less. The program has no income cap so any student who meets eligibility criteria is eligible regardless of the family’s income. In 2012, the Oklahoma Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the program faced with a challenge from Tulsa-area school districts.

In the 2020-21 school year, 1,135 students received scholarships totaling $7.3M, an average of roughly $6,500 per student, according to data from the State Department of Education. The number of scholarship recipients more than doubled from 2015-16 to 2020-21. There are 83 private schools that have been approved to participate, almost all of which are run by religious institutions. 

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

Quote of the Week

“The governor is talking about fiscal discipline and really presenting just a bunch of back-of-the-napkin math instead of looking at what we need to invest in… Our budget’s already artificially low. We’re not spending enough on public schools, we are not enough on mental health, and we’re seeing the effects of that.”

-Sen. Julia Kirt, D-Oklahoma City, expressing frustration with the rush to cut taxes when current state revenues could be used to expand state services. [NonDoc]

Editorial of the Week

Stillwater News Press Editorial: State Dollars and Sense

Gov. Kevin Stitt, as he did in Monday’s State of the State address, will happily take credit for Oklahoma being flush with cash.

His administration and the legacy legislators should get a bit of credit based on being fiscally conservative. That much is true.

On the other hand, the state’s budget surplus may not be so much savings as it is the underfunding of much-needed programs – that and the higher taxes on oil revenues that have been in place since oil prices have rebounded.

Revenue outpacing spending typically creates a surplus.

Stitt would like to turn the savings into tax cuts and increasing the education budget. On the surface, it sounds kind of nice. But, we also have to ask what else might need a bit more funding.

As we have mentioned – more than a few times before – the state still owes a lot of money to counties for drug rehabilitation and mental health resources related to State Question 781, that was passed by ballot initiative in 2016. State lawmakers, by law, are supposed to be taking savings from criminal justice reform measures and funding county programs. Can you really argue that the savings should go to tax cuts before things that are legally required to be funded?

The governor’s plan in his proposed executive budget adds about $400 million to the education budget – with about $130 million tabbed for education savings accounts – but those are still taxpayer dollars, meaning a lot of public funds going into private schools.

It would be nice to see the focus go to pumping more of that money into public schools, the ones that can’t refuse a child based on disability or who their parents are or how bad they are at basketball.

It would be good if the money wasn’t eventually going to be funneled to a for-profit lobbyist.

It would be great if the focus was on hiring and retention of dedicated teachers and staff.

We expect our local legislators to help draw up a budget that works for everyone.

[Stillwater News Press]

Numbers of the Day

  • 37% – Oklahoma’s individual income tax contributed nearly $4 in every $10 (37 percent) of the General Revenue Fund in Fiscal Year 2022. [OK Policy] | [Detail]
  • $134 Million – Amount of revenue provided directly to public common education by Oklahoma’s corporate income tax in FY2022. For reference, that’s just slightly less than the entire budget for the Department of Career and Technology Education. [OK Policy]
  • ~300,000 – The estimated number of Oklahomans who could be affected once SoonerCare rules change following the declared end of COVID-19 public health emergency. [Oklahoma Health Care Authority CEO Kevin Corbett, Jan. 25, 2023 Budget Hearing]
  • $30,864 – The 2021 median income for Black Tulsans, which is nearly half that for white Tulsans who reported a median income of $58,948 [Tulsa Equality Indicators] | [Data]
  • 65% – In the year that followed a disenrollment from Medicaid/CHIP, roughly two-thirds (65%) of people had a period of uninsurance while just 35% were continuously enrolled in coverage. [KFF]

What We’re Reading

  • Note To Governors: Cutting Taxes Will Make Inflation Worse, Not Better: Truth is, elected officials can’t do much to slow inflation. The Fed can address the problem by raising interest rates, as it will start doing this week. But the best lawmakers can do is not make the problem worse by throwing more money at consumers, either in the form of tax cuts or new spending. Many of the income tax cuts being debated in state legislatures are rate reductions that would largely benefit high-income households. [Tax Foundation]
  • State Lawmakers Should Break the 2023 Tax Cut Fever Before It’s Too Late: Despite mixed economic signals for 2023, including a possible recession, many state lawmakers plan to use temporary budget surpluses to forge ahead with permanent, regressive tax cuts that would disproportionately benefit the wealthy at the expense of low- and middle-income households. These cuts would put state finances in a precarious position and further erode public investments in education, transportation and health, all of which are crucial for creating inclusive, vibrant communities where everyone, not just the rich, can achieve economic security and thrive. In the event of an economic downturn, these results would be accelerated and amplified. [Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy]
  • States Must Act to Preserve Medicaid Coverage as End of Continuous Coverage Requirement Nears: In December, Congress passed its year-end omnibus spending bill, which delinked the Medicaid continuous coverage requirement from the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE), established the certain date of April 1, 2023, for resuming Medicaid terminations, and set standards to help mitigate coverage losses as the requirement ends. With this advance notice, states must now act to ensure that eligible individuals stay covered. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]
  • Decades After the Tulsa Race Massacre, Urban ‘Renewal’ Sparked Black Wall Street’s Second Destruction: More and more Americans are coming to know the story of the Tulsa Race Massacre that destroyed Black Wall Street. But the common narrative—that the neighborhood never recovered after the massacre—is incorrect. In fact, Greenwood’s resilient residents rebuilt their community almost immediately after the events—in defiance of hastily-enacted racist zoning codes—giving rise to the neighborhood’s moniker of Black Wall Street after, not before, the massacre. And while a price cannot be put on the 300 lives lost, the violence that really destroyed Black Wall Street wasn’t physical, but structural. [Smithsonian Magazine]
  • As Pandemic-Era Medicaid Provisions Lapse, Millions Approach a Coverage Cliff: States are preparing to remove millions of people from Medicaid as protections put in place early in the COVID-19 pandemic expire. The upheaval, which begins in April, will put millions of low-income Americans at risk of losing health coverage, threatening their access to care and potentially exposing them to large medical bills. It will also put pressure on the finances of hospitals, doctors, and others relying on payments from Medicaid, a state-federal program that covers lower-income people and people with disabilities. [Kaiser Health News]


Hana Saad joined OK Policy in August 2022 as the Communications and Operations Fellow. She graduated from the University of Tulsa with degrees in Media Studies and English and is part of Phi Beta Kappa, an academic honor society. At TU, Hana regularly wrote for The Collegian and was the Co-Editor of the Stylus Journal of Art and Writing. She also serves on the team at Puppy Haven Rescue to help in their mission of saving rescue dogs across Oklahoma. Hana is eager to learn more about public policy in Oklahoma and use her skills to support the OKP work to build a more equitable state. In her free time, she loves to read fiction and poetry, walk her dog, and make copious cups of tea.

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