Weekly Wonk: Time to revisit state education governance | Tax isn’t a four-letter word | Sales Tax Relief Credit | More

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

Current events show need to revisit education governance (Capitol Update): A look back at how the composition of the State Board of Education has changed from six-year staggered terms to four-year concurrent appointments serving at the will of governor. Given the current turmoil, it seems the time may be right for the legislature to take another look at education governance in Oklahoma. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Policy Matters: Tax isn’t a four-letter word: Taxes are the price of admission for a functioning and well-organized society. It’s perplexing that Oklahoma politicians want to further lower – or even eliminate – the individual income tax, the state’s primary revenue source. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]

Upcoming Opportunities

Oklahomans invited to share input on addressing the state’s affordable housing crisis: To help raise awareness of the state’s affordable housing crisis, the Oklahoma Policy Institute and its grassroots advocacy program Together Oklahoma will be hosting a town hall in Edmond (Tuesday, Sept. 6) for residents to share how the lack of affordable housing impacts them and their communities.  [OK Policy]

Legislative Priorities Survey: We are asking Oklahomans to complete an online survey about the important issues facing our state. Survey responses will help shape legislative priorities for OK Policy and Together Oklahoma during the coming legislative session and beyond. [Complete Online Survey]

Weekly What’s That

Sales Tax Relief Credit

The Sales Tax Relief Credit, sometimes known as the “grocery tax credit,” is an income tax credit that provides a rebate of $40 per household member to households with incomes at or below the following levels:

  • $50,000 per year for filers who are elderly, have a physical disability, or claim a dependent; or
  • $20,000 per year for everyone else.

The credit was first enacted in 1990 as part of the legislative compromise that led to the passage of House Bill 1017 and was intended to offset the sales tax on groceries for low-income households. Eligibility for the credit was expanded in 1998 but the amount has remained frozen at $40. The credit is refundable, meaning that it can be claimed in an amount that exceeds a taxpayer’s income tax liability.

The credit was claimed by 424,294 households in Tax Year 2020 for a total of $33.6 million, according to the Oklahoma Tax Commission’s 2021-2022 Tax Expenditure Report.  A total of 840,000 individuals received the credit in 2020, or roughly one-fifth of the state’s population. Over time, the number of recipients of the sales tax relief credit had been steadily declining, as incomes rose while eligibility for the credit remained flat. However, 2020 saw an increase of some 40,000 households receiving the credit compared to 2018 (385,362), which likely reflects a drop in household income associated with Covid-19. Still, there were nearly 100,000 fewer households that received the credit in 2020 compared to 2010 (520,476).

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

Quote of the Week

“Those people are not protected from complaining about black mold, from complaining about screens not being on their windows, from complaining about just those basic things that they’re legally required to have when they’re signing a lease.”

-Tulsa City Councilor Lori Decter Wright about rental housing complaints from vulnerable residents. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Editorial of the Week

Tulsa World Editorial: Oklahoma must do more to protect Indigenous people from crime

The truths unearthed during a Tulsa World series on missing and murdered Indigenous people show this crisis has not been a priority, remains largely unaddressed and has roots in generations-long distrust.

The stories produced by Tulsa World summer interns — reporters Karoline Leonard and Neal Franklin and photographers Karlie Boothe and Riley Hayden — outline the complexity in solving the tragic problem of higher rates of violence against tribal citizens.

It’s a national challenge but one in which Oklahoma has a unique perspective and prospective approach.

Statistics about missing and murdered Indigenous people are startling but also fall short of reality. Tribal affiliations were not required in many law enforcement databases until recently, meaning victims would be misidentified as other races or ethnicities. What is available now ought to inspire more action.

Oklahoma has the third-largest American Indian and Alaska Native population in the country and about the seventh-highest rate of reported and active missing Indigenous people cases: 12.9 per 100,000 as of June 30.

The states with the largest Indigenous populations, California and Texas, do not rank in the top 20.

Oklahoma was No. 2 for missing Indigenous children between 2012 and 2021. Nationally, 4 out of 5 Indigenous women experience violence in their lifetimes, and about 50% experience sexual violence.

Native men have the second-highest rate of homicide compared to males in all other racial and ethnic groups.

Many law enforcement agencies are involved in investigating crimes involving tribal citizens: local police, county sheriffs, state investigators, federal authorities and tribal law enforcement. That’s a problem, with no agency serving as a central hub. It’s inefficient and easy to point blame at others.

This obstacle existed before the 2020 Supreme Court McGirt ruling, which found that many reservations in northeastern Oklahoma were not dissolved at statehood. The decision isn’t the cause of jurisdictional issues but adds a layer of complication.

Reaching this level of violence against Indigenous people comes from generations of oppression — the Trail of Tears, boarding schools, voting restrictions, poor community infrastructure, and ongoing struggles around poverty and lower health outcomes. Non-Indigenous people and institutions have failed tribal citizens.

It’s not unusual for Native people to avoid reporting crimes to police based on that historical and personal experience. Law enforcement across Oklahoma ought to recognize this reality and work to change it.

Efforts to attack this problem continue to fall short. Oklahoma passed Ida’s Law two years ago to require the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to establish a tribal liaison. That one agent assigned to cover the entire state refused Tulsa World interviews.

The U.S. Department of Justice just launched a Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons Regional Outreach Program, staffed with just 10 attorneys and coordinators across the country. Similar past programs have been short lived.

It appears that private investigators are the only ones making progress on these cases while federal and state governments commission more task forces.

Oklahoma must do better at providing resources and attention to save the lives of Indigenous people.

[Editorial / Tulsa World]

Numbers of the Day

  • 214,000 – Number of Oklahoma children living in low-income households where more than 30 percent of the monthly income was spent on rent, mortgage payments, taxes, insurance, and/or related expenses in 2021. [KIDS COUNT]
  • 43 – Oklahoma’s rank for state and local tax collections as a percentage of personal income, among the lowest in the nation. Oklahomans pay about 8.3% of their personal income towards taxes, which is the second lowest among neighboring states. Other states include: Texas (8.1%), Missouri (8.4%), Colorado (9.1%), Arkansas (9.6%), Kansas (10.1%), New Mexico (10.3%). The national average is 9.9%. [Tax Policy Center]
  • 18 – The average number of months Oklahomans spend on a wait list for rental assistance through the Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency, which is six months longer than the average public housing authority in the state but less than the national average of 26 months. There are approximately 26,291 people on OHFA’s waiting list for rental assistance. [Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency]
  • 47.3% – Projected decrease in the share of children experiencing poverty in Oklahoma as a result of 2021’s American Rescue Plan Act, which temporarily expanded the federal Child Tax Credit during the pandemic. [Urban Institute]
  • 1 in 12 – Oklahoma’s labor force in 2018 included 149,512 immigrant workers, which represents about 8 percent of the labor force or about 1 in 12 workers. [American Immigration Council]

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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