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
Policy Matters: Taking a longer look at grocery sales tax relief: One of the proposals referenced in Monday’s State of the State address was elimination of the sales tax on groceries. While Oklahoma is one of the few states that fully tax groceries, I encourage lawmakers to proceed carefully. Completely eliminating the tax without addressing revenue issues could create lasting harm for state services, torpedo local funding, and hurt Oklahomans who need tax relief the most. [Ahniwake Rose / The Journal Record]
Strengthening the Grocery Tax Credit would provide fiscally smart tax relief to working Oklahomans: At a time when many Oklahomans are struggling to put food on the table and are at risk of eviction, a more robust Sales Tax Relief Credit can help put money back into the pockets of those who need it most. Doing so would bolster family finances, make purchasing food more cost-effective, and stimulate our local economies. [Emma Morris / OK Policy]
Budget choices have dramatically shifted college costs to students, families (Capitol Update): The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education have requested an $85.1 million budget increase for next year. Good for them. A portion of the funding would be allocated toward lessening the state’s workforce shortages of teachers, nurses, and physicians. [Steve Lewis / OK Policy]
OK Policy 2022 Legislative Primer: How does a bill become a law? Who chairs key legislative committees? How much is in Oklahoma’s Rainy Day Fund? With the 2022 session here, our newly updated Legislative Primer will answer these questions and more. [Web] [Download PDF]
We are hiring! Join the team: We believe all Oklahomans deserve to live in safe communities, raise thriving families, and lead healthy lives. If you do too, join us in the fight for an equitable future. OK Policy is currently hiring for three positions:
- Digital Communications Associate / Storybanker
- Manager of Organizational Advancement
- Staff Accountant
Applications for these three positions close on Friday, February 25 at 5:00 PM (CST). [Learn more and apply]
Weekly What’s That
Consumer Price Index (CPI)
The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is the main measure of inflation in the United States and is used to assess price changes associated with the cost of living. The CPI, which is calculated and reported monthly by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, measures the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services. The Consumer Price Index is calculated nationally and for various regions.
The monthly CPI report breaks down price changes by major categories, including food, energy, transportation, medical care, shelter, and others.
Look up more key terms to understand Oklahoma politics and government here.
Quote of the Week
“The public right now is wanting reasons to trust their government, whether it’s the state government or the federal government. By giving them more information and being open and transparent about what’s going on, it’s a great way to do that.”
– House Minority Leader Emily Virgin speaking at an online call with state legislative leaders about the legislative process and the 2022 session [Tulsa World]
Editorial of the Week
Gov. Stitt’s priorities have things to like and things to worry about
The pro-business, politically conservative tenure of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s State of the State address Monday had a mixed bag of welcomed priorities and some cautionary elements.
Promoting the science of hope theory, developed by University of Oklahoma-Tulsa researcher Chan Hellman, is a proven framework for inspiring individual success. Many organizations, including the state Education Department, have embraced this approach.
Stitt said it would be rolled out to all state agencies. It is tied to brain health, though not as a replacement for therapy or medical interventions.
Oklahoma has acute needs in brain health. State mental health advocates have deemed a continuing spike in youth suicide and drug overdoses an “epidemic.” More must be done in access, affordability and parity.
Stitt was right to include brain health in speaking about needs for recruiting and retaining law enforcement. We would add health care workers and educators to his list.
More tax cuts on groceries and personal income are on the table. This comes after last year’s reductions on corporate and individual income taxes, taking about $137 million out of the budget. It hasn’t been seen whether those will be recouped in economic growth.
Right now, the budget is buoyed by federal relief funds. The more conservative plan would be to wait before whittling down two significant revenue sources.
Stitt called on a $13 billion investment in transportation in the next decade. We agree that keeping up roads, bridges and other pathways are critical for business and tourism.
We encourage Stitt to forge relationships with the federal government and tribal nations within the state’s borders to leverage resources for infrastructure. There is no reason for Oklahoma to go it alone.
Stitt is correct that the flawed medical marijuana law language should be fixed. However, changing the initiative petition process to prevent future grassroots, voter-led efforts isn’t the answer.
Private school vouchers is Stitt’s plan to improve public schools, citing Senate Bill 1647. No income eligibility would be required to receive the vouchers. Private schools would retain the right to deny enrollment, would not be required to show how public dollars are spent or prove academic improvements.
Stitt’s reference to boosting salaries for teachers into “six figures” through matching funds is intriguing but lacking in details.
Left unaddressed was the ongoing pandemic. More than 13,530 Oklahomans have died from COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University of Medicine. Hospitals have hit capacity, and schools and businesses have been forced to close because of too many sick workers.
Criminal justice reforms were absent from the governor’s speech, including the legally mandated — but legislatively ignored — funding of State Questions 780 and 781.
Also disappointing were the continued scare tactics over the Supreme Court’s McGirt decision. Of the state’s 25,000 prisoners, only 235 were affected, and 71% of them so far have been prosecuted in federal or tribal courts.
Now is the time to form partnerships around issues such as infrastructure, education and criminal justice. Moving forward, we urge lawmakers and Stitt to find common ground benefiting all Oklahomans.
Numbers of the Day
- $87 billion – Estimated annual loss of GDP due to underemployment of formerly incarcerated people the U.S. [Clean Slate Initiative]
- $22 million – Estimated potential annual revenue loss for the City of Tulsa if it was unable to collect sales tax on groceries [Public Radio Tulsa]
- 93% – Percent of eligible justice-involved Oklahomans who could seek to have their records expunged but aren’t obtaining relief under the current system, which is costly and complex. [Oklahoma Policy Institute]
- 42.4 months – Average probation term for Oklahomans released from prison. The national average was 22.4 months. [Pew Charitable Trusts]
- 8 – Number of Black lawmakers out of 149 seats in the Oklahoma House and Senate. [Governing]
What We’re Reading
- More States Consider Automatic Criminal Record Expungement [Pew Trusts]
- States Can Thoughtfully Implement Grocery Tax Reforms to Help Families and Improve Equity [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]
- 50-State Comparison: Expungement, Sealing & Other Record Relief [Collateral Consequences Resource Center]
- New data: The changes in prisons, jails, probation, and parole in the first year of the pandemic [Prison Policy Initiative]
- New rules are limiting how teachers can teach Black History Month [Axios]
NOTE: February is National Black History Month, a time to honor the contributions and sacrifices of African Americans who have helped shape the nation, and celebrate the rich cultural heritage, triumphs and adversities that are an indelible part of our country’s history.