Weekly Wonk: Tax cuts would hurt local business, cut public services | Fixing court fines and fees | Countdown to Medicaid Expansion

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

Want to reduce Oklahoma’s public services, hurt local business, and shrink our economy? Eliminate the corporate income tax!: Tax cuts are not free; we pay for them by reducing government services or increasing other taxes, which thanks to State Question 640 requires supermajority support in both houses. Tax cuts often don’t help the state’s economy because they often benefit higher-income taxpayers who are more likely to save their tax cut than spend it. The state sees little impact from those out-of-state entities who benefit from tax cuts because they may not spend any of the money in our local economy. On the other hand, government spending mainly stays in Oklahoma and supports hundreds of thousands of middle-class, high-skilled jobs. [Paul Shinn / OK Policy]

Policy Matters: State revenue cuts are not pro-business: The Oklahoma House last week approved bills that would significantly reduce state revenue – slashing $540 million, which equates to about 7.5% of the current fiscal year budget. House Bill 2041 and HB 2083 would reduce individual income taxes and phase out the corporate income tax, respectively. The bills are now with the Senate for consideration. [Ahniwake Rose / Policy Matters]

Fixing Oklahoma’s court fines and fees problem (Capitol Update): There are a couple things on which nearly everyone seems to agree. The first is that Oklahoma, like several other states, made a mistake through the years by piling the cost of the court system and some executive agencies of government on the backs of offenders who in many cases are unable to pay. The second is that using arrest and incarceration as a means of collection from someone unable to pay is not only wrong but ineffective and counterproductive to the larger purposes of criminal justice. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Countdown to Care Kickoff Event: Oklahoma will expand Medicaid coverage this summer. Join OK Policy on Wednesday, March 24, as we count down to this important milestone that will connect thousands of Oklahomans with much-needed health care. This live online event will feature Oklahomans sharing how Medicaid expansion helps our state, why Medicaid coverage will be life-changing, and how to raise awareness in your communities. [Register Today]

Weekly What’s That

Shell Bill

A shell bill is a bill that is introduced at the beginning of the legislative session with little or no substantive language. Shell bills are intended to serve as a placeholder for legislative proposals to be filled in later. Shell bills will typically include nothing more than a title that describes the section of law being changed or some meaningless wording changes.

Historically, a large number of shell bills have been introduced in each chamber. In some past sessions, a majority of introduced House bills were shell bills with the Speaker introducing several hundred alone. Shell bills are generally assigned to the House Rules Committee and cannot be heard in committee until substantive language is added as a “committee substitute.” The Senate adopted a rule prohibiting the introduction of shell bills as of 2015.

Most appropriations bills, which are introduced later in session and assigned to the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget (JCAB), are initially shell bills.

An example of a typical shell bill from the 2015 session was HB 2192 authored by Speaker Jeff Hickman, which read:

SECTION 1. NEW LAW A new section of law not to be codified in the Oklahoma Statutes reads as follows:
This act shall be known and may be cited as the “State Employee Remuneration Reform Act”.
SECTION 2. This act shall become effective November 1, 2015. 

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

Quote of the Week

“The governor bypassed the Legislature for a decision involving more than $2 billion per year, roughly one-fourth of next year’s fiscal budget. It is not a stretch to call this a hold-up.”

-Patti Davis, president of the Oklahoma Hospital Association, about the state’s Medicaid program moving to a private managed care model [Journal Record]

Editorial of the Week

Editorial: Norman High School girls basketball team turn racist slurs into teachable moment

The Norman High School girls basketball team gave everyone a lesson in peaceful protests, grace and class when faced with despicable racism.

The teenagers knelt during the National Anthem to bring attention to racism and social injustice. That prompted announcer Matt Rowan, who owns a Tahlequah-based streaming service for high school games, to prove their point, launching into a tirade calling the girls the n-word.

It was heard over an open microphone. Had that not happened, his racist beliefs would remain unknown.

This comes in a string of incidents including an apology from state Rep. Brad Boles, R-Marlow, after using the term “colored babies” during an abortion debate and a fight at a high school boys basketball game after students yelled racist slurs.

Newcastle High School students who jeered at the predominantly Black John Marshall High School players have been disciplined and banned from future games. But Oklahoma City administrators asked for an official action against Newcastle.

Racism is alive and takes different forms, all must be dealt with directly, swiftly and with consequences…

[Read full Tulsa World editorial

Numbers of the Day

  • 80% – Percent of eligible taxpayers who claim the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, which provides a tax break for low- to moderate-income workers and families. [Urban Institute]
  • $3 billion – Oklahoma has about $3 billion less annual state revenue — about 25% less — for public programs and services than it did in 2001, when adjusted for inflation and population growth. [OK Policy Analysis of State Budget]
  • 7.5% – Percentage of state budget reduction resulting from HB 2041 and HB 2083. [Oklahoma Policy Institute]
  • 3 days – Number of days HB 2041 went from a shell bill (containing no content) to being amended into its current 66-page bill and being approved by the Oklahoma House. [OK House of Representatives]
  • >$100,000 – Half of Oklahomans expected to experience tax cuts from HB 2041 are those earning more than $100,000. [OK Tax Commission]

What We’re Reading



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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