Weekly Wonk: SB 704 can reduce Oklahoma’s incarceration rate | Supporting thriving families | Recommitting to higher ed funding

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’s edition of The Weekly Wonk was published with contributions from Communications Intern Lilly Strom. This Week from OK Policy.

This Week from OK Policy

SB 704 would be step towards reducing Oklahoma’s incarceration rate (Capitol Update): Oklahoma is among the top incarcerators in the nation at nearly twice the national average incarceration rate and spends over half a billion dollars per year on the Department of Corrections. During the week of February 8, 2021, there were 21,681 inmates in Oklahoma prison facilities and 1,009 in county jails awaiting transfer to prison. Part of the problem is lengthy sentences for non-violent offenses that do not make the state safer or the offender less likely to repeat offend. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Together Oklahoma Talks Policy: Thriving Families: Together Oklahoma, OK Policy’s grassroots advocacy program, held a Feb. 22 talk on policy and legislative issues that support thriving families in Oklahoma. A video of this conversation is available online. Also available are policy talks about safe communities (justice reform) and healthy Oklahomans (health care). On March 4, Together Oklahoma will hold a Virtual Day of Action to help connect Oklahomans with their lawmakers. [Learn more or register

Policy Matters: State must recommit to higher education funding: When I was in college, I could use my summer job at Dillard’s to pay my school expenses for the following year. If I share that experience now, I might as well start with, “Once upon a time…” These days, that story would seem like a fable for Oklahoma students facing rising college tuition costs resulting from the state’s ongoing disinvestment in higher education. [Ahniwake Rose / Journal Record]

Weekly What’s That

Corporate Income Tax

Oklahoma’s corporate income tax is set at a flat rate of 6 percent of taxable income. The tax is based on a three-part formula that looks at the portions of a company’s sales, property and payroll that is based in Oklahoma.

The corporate income tax generated $517.4 million in Fiscal Year 2018, which was 4.7 percent of total state tax collections. The corporate income tax tends to be, along with the gross production tax, one of the state’s most volatile tax sources, fluctuating dramatically from year to year and often coming in far above or below certified estimates. This volatility has been explained by changes in corporate tax laws, the use of corporate tax breaks, and the outsized impact that a small number of corporations can have on total collections. Under a 2016 law, a portion of corporate income tax collections are allocated to the Revenue Stabilization Fund in years where collections are projected to exceed their five-year average.

The corporate income tax has generated a declining share of total tax revenue over time as more businesses incorporate as S-Corps and LLCs (which report their income on the personal income tax return of shareholders) and as companies find ways to take advantage of loopholes and tax breaks to limit their corporate tax liability.

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

Quote of the Week

“We don’t know the long-term impact of the pandemic, but believe more and more people fall into financial crisis. More and more people will be in need of more affordable housing than we’ve had in the past.”

– Becky Gligo, executive director of the Tulsa nonprofit Housing Solutions [Tulsa World]

Editorial of the Week

Initiative petition changes would silence voters

Oklahoma legislators just don’t seem to get it.

In 2020, after years of inaction regarding hundreds of thousands of uninsured Oklahomans and several hospital closures, Oklahomans took the matter into their own hands. They proposed and received approval for an initiative petition to expand Medicaid.

That proposal passed narrowly. However, it did pass. But, now, many legislators, who apparently don’t like their authority challenged, have filed nearly 30 bills aimed at narrowing the initiative petition process and ultimately silencing constituents.

Because Medicaid expansion passed primarily due to its popularity in Oklahoma and Tulsa counties, legislators in rural counties are saying the initiative petition process disenfranchises their voters. They contend that the metropolitan counties dictated the Medicaid expansion and that the proposal was less popular rural areas. They say that initiative petitions are too easy to get on the ballot.

However, that’s just not true. Oklahoma has deep populist roots, and direct democracy through initiative petition. The initiative petition process provided by the Oklahoma Constitution is based in principles of agrarian populism. Since statehood, Oklahomans have had a general distrust of government trying to exercise too much authority over the individual.

So, what are legislators in rural areas trying to do right now?

Oklahoma has a good and reasonable process regarding initiative petitions. It is not easy for initiative petitions to get on the ballot. In fact, in the last 10 years, of the nearly 40 citizen-led initiative petitions filed, only seven qualified for a ballot. Of those, voters only approved 4.

And, once some of these petitions pass, legislators have a bad habit of spending much of the next legislative session trying to undo what the voters have approved. When citizens proposed, and approved, statutory initiatives for criminal justice reform in 2016 and medical marijuana in 2018, the Legislature responded each time by passing laws to weaken those measures.

Instead of trying to restrict the initiative petition process, legislators should start to recognize and pay attention to the growing frustration of citizens who are tired of lawmakers’ inaction on challenging issues. If legislators want fewer citizen-led petitions, they need to work harder on the serious needs at hand instead of kicking the can down the road.

[Editorial / Muskogee Phoenix]

Also see the related editorial, Citizen-led petitions reinforce populist roots, from the Enid News and Eagle 

Numbers of the Day

  • 17% – Percentage of those experiencing homelessness in Oklahoma City who were members of families with children. [Homeless Alliance, 2020 point-in-time count]   
  • $1,100 – Reported natural gas price per thousand cubic feet during high-demand periods resulting from the recent winter storm. The natural gas price usually reaches $5 per thousand cubic feet for a typical winter storm. [NonDoc]
  • 91,000 – Number of Oklahomans who are eligible for their second COVID-19 vaccination dose but have not yet gotten the shot. [Oklahoma Department of Health via CNHI]
  • 9.4% – The seven-day rolling average of Oklahoma’s COVID-19 positivity rate has dropped from 14.7% to 9.4%. [Johns Hopkins University via AP News]
  • 32% – Black renters represent 32 percent of evictions between 2012 and 2016, but only 20 percent of renters. [Eviction Lab at Princeton University]

What We’re Reading

  • The ACA Marketplace Is Open Again for Insurance Sign-Ups. Here’s What You Need to Know [Kaiser Health News]
  • 8 Steps That Paved the Way to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 [History ChannelFebruary is Black History Month. 
  • ‘There’s No Natural Dignity in Work’ [New York Times]
  • The mirage of the Black middle class [Vox
  • For Black Families, Evictions Are Still At A Crisis Point — Despite Moratorium [NPR


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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