Weekly Wonk: Undocumented immigrants pay taxes | Addressing homelessness | Capitol Update | Why taxes matter

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

Undocumented immigrants pay taxes: The $133.7 million elephant in the room: One of the most deeply ingrained myths about immigrants who are undocumented is that they don’t pay taxes. In reality, immigrants without documentation pay taxes in multiple ways and contribute more to the U.S. and state economy than they receive in return. It is time we acknowledge the contributions of undocumented immigrants and move towards more inclusive state and federal policies that can bolster their participation in the economy. [Gabriela Ramirez-Perez / OK Policy]

Checking status of major Senate education bills (Capitol Update): The House and Senate leadership dispute and closed-door negotiations on education policy and appropriations has sucked nearly all the air out of the Capitol in the past few weeks. Appropriations discussions on other areas of government have ceased pending a determination of how much money will be available after the education appropriation is settled. Several bills containing substantive law changes with a fiscal impact are also caught up in the dispute. [Steve Lewis / OK Policy]

Policy Matters: Addressing homelessness requires coordinated efforts: Oklahomans are at our best when we work cooperatively with our friends and neighbors in need. The governor’s announcement last week that he was disbanding the state’s Interagency Council on Homelessness stands in stark contrast to this community-focused approach at the heart of our “Oklahoma standard.” [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]

Video: Why Taxes Matter? Highlight from OK Policy’s 2023 State Budget Update (March 2023): Emma Morris, Fiscal Policy and Health Care Analyst for the Oklahoma Policy Institute, discusses why state revenue (i.e., taxes) are important for Oklahoma’s long-term well-being. Taxes are – at their core – an illustration of community, and they represent what we contribute to live in a functioning society. [Emma Morris / OK Policy] | [More from 2023 State Budget Update

Upcoming Opportunities

Together OK Meetings

  • Monday, April 24 at 6:30 p.m.: Carter County Community Meeting (in-person & online). Join us for a town hall discussion on economic development in your community and throughout southeast Oklahoma. This week we’ll be joined by Dr. Eric Ward, Superintendent of Southern Tech, Bill Murphy, President of Ardmore Chamber of Commerce, and Senator Jerry Alvord. Southern Tech at 2610 Sam Noble Pkwy Conference Rm. A, Ardmore. [Join the Meeting Online]
  • Tuesday, April 25 at 6:30 p.m.: Creek County Community Meeting in Sapulpa (in-person only). Crossroad Cookery, 117 E Dewey Ave in Sapulpa. 
  • Wednesday, April 26 at 6:00 p.m.: Cleveland County Community Meeting (in-person & online). Join us for a town hall discussion about the policies affecting your region. Equity Brewing Co. at 109 E Tonhawa St, Suite 100, Norman. [Join the Meeting Online]
  • Thursday, April 27 at 6:00 p.m.: Combined: Healthy Oklahomans Affinity Group & Comanche County Community Meeting (in-person & online). We’re combining the health care affinity group and southwest Oklahoma community for a hybrid meeting about health care policy and advocacy. We’re joined by Julie Seward, Oral Health Programs Manager at Southern Plains Tribal Health Board, who will present on the difficulty of accessing dental services, especially for rural and underserved communities. Cameron University at 2800 W Gore Blvd, North Shepler Tower, Wichita Room, Lawton. [Join the Meeting Online]

Weekly What’s That


Woolly-booger (or woolly-bugger) is a colloquialism used in Oklahoma and Louisiana politics referring to a provision snuck into legislation, usually in the waning hours or days of session, that is likely to be overlooked by all but a small handful of people. A lobbyist might be overheard saying, “We need to keep an eye on that deal, we don’t want them to go adding in any woolly-boogers.” Outside the State Capitol, a woolly-booger is the colloquial term for “the larval-stage insect known as the woolly worm or woolly bear; a fishing fly that resembles such an insect.”

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

Quote of the Week

“We know that Oklahoma families are watching and waiting for the Oklahoma Legislature to do its job. They are waiting for us to do our job and invest in our children, our education system and their educational needs. It’s really not that difficult.”

-Senate Democratic Leader Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, talking about the legislative gridlock from competing Republican proposals that would provide millions of dollars in private school vouchers, in the form of refundable tax credits, for parents who choose to home school their children or send them to private school. [The Oklahoman]    

Editorial of the Week

Joplin Globe Editorial: Bill would protect Indigenous students’ rights

A measure passing through the Oklahoma Legislature with bipartisan support would guarantee, by law, an Indigenous student’s right to wear tribal regalia at a school graduation ceremony.

The law would define “tribal regalia” as traditional garments, jewelry, other adornments such as an eagle feather, an eagle plume, a beaded cap, a stole or similar objects of cultural and religious significance worn by members of a federally recognized Indian tribe or the tribe of another country, according to the text of the legislation. It wouldn’t include a firearm or other weapons.

Lawmakers have correctly noted that such tribal wear is deeply rooted in many Native students’ history and culture. The state is home to 39 tribal nations.

Most school districts already allow this in some form or fashion. The state’s former attorney general, Mike Hunter, previously issued an opinion that schools must allow students to wear tribal regalia because it is a protected right.

But some students still fall through the cracks, and to protect them, this should have become law a long time ago.

If it had, we could have avoided situations that happened as recently as last year, when a Native American student in Broken Arrow was forced to remove an eagle feather prior to her high school graduation.

Lena’ Black, who is Otoe-Missouria and Osage, said the feather was attached to her mortarboard. She passed several checkpoints before being approached by a school counselor and a security guard, who tried to remove the feather, the Associated Press reported at the time. “I had to take off my cap,” Black said. “They kept trying to take it off of me.”

The student’s mother, Marci Black, said the family received an apology from the district. “I want this to never happen to another Native student … they ruined something she has worked her whole life to achieve,” she said.

In 2016, a graduating senior at Sapulpa Public Schools wanted to wear traditional Navajo moccasins to the ceremony, but was initially told she could not, according to the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. In 2019, the Latta School District told a senior he could not wear his Chickasaw Nation honor cord and beaded cap and feather while walking across the stage during graduation.

Oklahoma lawmakers are right to pursue this legislation, and the governor should sign it as soon as it hits his desk.

If signed, the measure would become law immediately, and it could perhaps ensure that all Native students are afforded their right to represent their tribal history at graduation ceremonies next month.

[Editorial / Joplin Globe]

Numbers of the Day

  • 35.7% – Individual income taxes represented 35.7% of all Oklahoma tax collections in Fiscal Year 2022 (July 1, 2021-June 30, 2022). [Oklahoma Tax Commission
  • 6.2% – The wealthiest 1% of Oklahomans pay about 6.2% of their family income towards state and local taxes, less than half of the 13.2% share that the lowest 20% of Oklahomans pay. The middle 20% of Oklahomans pay about a 10.7% share. [Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy]
  • $100 billion – Surplus generated by undocumented immigrants in the Social Security program during the last decade as they paid into the program but were ineligible to participate in it. [New American Economy]
  • 7.4% – Corporate income tax collections in Oklahoma represented about 7.4% of state revenue collections during the last fiscal year (FY 2022), which ended on June 30, 2022. [Oklahoma Tax Commission]
  • 2 out of 3 – Oklahoma collections for the gross production tax (severance tax) have decreased in two of the last three fiscal years when compared with the previous year. At $1.5 billion in collections in FY 2022, the gross production tax was the state’s third highest source of state revenue. FY 2022 collections were up 101% after collections declined about 30% in FY 2020 and 9% in FY 2021. Revenue from this tax varies widely from year to year depending on conditions in the oil and gas markets. [Oklahoma Tax Commission]

What We’re Reading

  • 8 Things to Know About State Taxes: As Tax Day approaches, it’s worth thinking about not only the taxes that we individually pay but the overall condition of our tax code as well. State tax codes, while perhaps less discussed than the federal system, are critically important. Depending on how they are designed, state taxes can improve or worsen economic and racial inequities; make states better or worse places to live, work, and play; and lead to robust or scant public services like education, health care, and environmental protection. Here are eight things to know about state taxes. [Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy]
  • States Feel Budget Pinch Amid Darkening Revenue Projections: After two years of record tax collections, budget writers in some states are starting to feel a revenue pinch created by a slumping stock market, banking and tech layoffs, slower consumer spending and lower energy prices. Buoyed by higher revenues and federal aid during the pandemic, officials in many states had been promising to cut taxes and expand services next fiscal year. That could all come crashing down as high-flying revenue expectations collide with the new economic reality, which has shrunk some state projections for income and sales taxes. [Pew]
  • Tax Day Highlights States’ Promise and Peril: Strong tax systems are a foundation for states to expand opportunity, promote fairness and equity, and foster broadly shared success. When policymakers prioritize efforts to protect and raise revenue, especially from wealthy taxpayers and corporations that don’t pay their fair share, it enables them to support essential investments such as high-quality schools and health services, clean water and reliable transportation, income support programs, and strong democratic institutions. Unfortunately, many states this year are choosing to cut taxes — often deeply — at an enormous cost in lost revenue and little to no benefit for families, communities, small businesses, and local economies. [CBPP]
  • What does race have to do with taxes? (audio): This episode looks at the racial landmines in our tax code with Dorothy A. Brown, a tax expert and author of “The Whiteness Of Wealth: How The Tax System Impoverishes Black Americans And How To Fix It.” Her work over the past few decades laid the groundwork for the first research study released earlier this year uncovering the racial disparities in how the IRS audits taxpayers. [NPR]
  • Explainer: State and local taxes and spending: While the federal tax system tends to reduce inequality, state and local taxes tend to increase it. About a third of the average U.S. household’s taxes are actually going to state and local governments. In all, state and local governments collect about $1.8 trillion in tax revenue. [Economic Policy Institute]
    • Oklahoma has the nation’s 9th most unfair state and local tax system, indicating that the state takes a much greater share of income from low- and middle-income families than from wealthy families. [Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy]


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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