Where are we in the legislative session? You may know, but MANY Oklahomans struggle to keep up with the fast moving and complicated legislative process. Please help your friends and neighbors by sharing this information.
By March 15th, all bills that will be heard this session have passed their “chamber of origin.” Any bills we talk about from here on out have been passed by either the House or the Senate. These bills have some momentum, but it is FAR from a sure thing what will make it all the way to becoming law.
If you care about a bill, pay attention to where it is. If it is headed to committee, those committee members need to hear from you as well as the folks in the chamber who may have a chance to vote on it. If it is out of committee and headed for a vote of the full House or Senate, your legislators NEED to hear from you RIGHT AWAY.
It is an election year, so everyone is playing to what they think voters want. Make sure they know what kind of officials you’ll be voting for in November.
Read on for updates on our top priority issues:
Restore Education Funding
Curb Unnecessary Tax Breaks
Expand health coverage
Protect essential revenues (download the fact sheet)
Bill Watch!: Tax cut proposals have been approved in both the House (HB 2508) and the Senate (SB 1246). If revenue increases next year, both bills would trigger automatic tax cuts in 2016. The House bill would cut the personal income tax top rate from 5.25 percent to 5 percent and the corporate income tax from 6 percent to 5 percent. The Senate Bill would cut the top personal income tax rate to 5 percent in 2016 and 4.85 percent in 2018, based on another trigger.
Quotable comment: Instead of automatically cutting taxes when there is a modest revenue increase, OK Policy Director David Blatt presented some alternative trigger ideas: “If we are going to tie tax cuts to a trigger, how about we choose other benchmarks? We know that a well-educated workforce is what is most critical to our state’s prosperity, yet since 2008 we’ve made the steepest per-pupil cuts to education funding in the nation. Why not decide that we will only cut our income tax when per-pupil funding climbs back to where it was in 2008? When our teacher salaries are raised to the regional average? When our college graduation rate reaches the national average?” (Source)
The Senate also approved HJR 1009, which would send to a vote of the people a state question to freeze property taxes for all seniors, regardless of income. Property taxes are already frozen for seniors making below the median income in their county.
Restore Education Funding (download the fact sheet)
Bill watch!: The House approved HB 2642, which would take money “off the top” for education before lawmakers can appropriate it in the overall budget. If General Revenues increase 1 percent, schools would receive $57.5 million in automatic funding, which would increase by the same amount each triggered year until reaching $575 million annually.
Education may benefit from this approach, but we can’t relax until we know where the revenue will come from. If we still have pressing needs to fund health, public safety, child welfare, and other essential services, lawmakers may compensate for the education boost by cutting funding for schools in another part of the budget.
Is your legislator one of the brave ones who both say they support education AND is willing to find the money to do it? Make sure they put the money where their mouth is!
Quotable comment: “Oklahomans cannot be expected to put their children in a box with only the hope that the walls were built right. The pupils’ safety is entrusted to the elected officials who are responsible for the public buildings built with taxpayer money. Where are they?” -The Journal Record, writing about an apparent lack of concern from legislators after it was revealed that a contractor used faulty construction methods in the two Moore schools that collapsed in a tornado (Source)
Parents and educators are planning a big education rally on March 31st, but don’t wait till then to make your voice heard! Contact your legislators now to let them know you want education funding restored and that you’ll be up there to see them soon.
Curb Unnecessary Tax Breaks (download the fact sheet)
Oklahoma’s $188 million budget shortfall is a choice. Lawmakers can stop the cuts and restore funding for education, public safety, and other public services. They just need to know that’s what we expect them to do!
One big opportunity to restore investments in Oklahoma is to reform the out-of-control tax break for horizontal drilling (fracking). Tell your legislators:
- Horizontal drilling is no longer new and rare, so it doesn’t need a tax break to continue.
- When we let the horizontal drilling tax cut lapse, we will still have a competitive tax rate compared to other natural gas rich states.
- North Dakota has a much higher tax on horizontal drilling. Not only have companies continued to drill, they have been able to use their tax revenue to pay for major funding boosts to schools and other core services.
Expand health coverage (download the fact sheet)
This year’s deadline for open enrollment on healthcare.gov is March 31st. About 33,000 Oklahomans have enrolled, but that still leaves out hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans without affordable insurance.
About 150,000 Oklahomans are still blocked from accessing affordable insurance while Oklahoma continues to refuse federal funds to expand coverage. Meanwhile, a 3/4ths supermajority in the Republican-controlled Arkansas Legislature voted to continue funding their health coverage expansion using a private option.
It’s happening in other conservative, Republican-controlled states, so why aren’t we doing the right thing for Oklahomans?