Coverage Issues: Oklahomans want focused, well timed assist

Shiloh Kantz

News about this week’s special session was slow until Friday night when House Speaker Charles McCall dropped a news release saying the House on Monday would be introducing an array of bills to spark “a thoughtful conversation” on inflation relief.

The House on Monday afternoon unveiled 15 complicated bills – with some of them contradictory – just minutes before the special session was to be called to order. The breakneck schedule had House lawmakers introducing the bills on Monday, holding a second reading on Tuesday, and voting on them on Wednesday. It’s plain that this plan provides little opportunity for thoughtful conversation about complicated tax law.

Observers quickly noted that the bills contained proposed budget cuts to the governor’s office (proposed cuts of more than 50%), the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (which has been feeling the heat from the Swadley’s investigation), and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (which manages the state’s health care programs for low- and moderate-income residents). Capitol watchers noted this gamesmanship stems from friction between the governor’s office and the Legislature.

I appreciate the Senate leadership’s announcement on Tuesday to create a committee to study tax reform ideas because of the tax system’s complexity, but I am concerned it lacks bipartisan representation. Such significant changes require careful evaluation especially because it could harm the state’s long-term ability to deliver essential services.

Prudent options that should be considered include expanding the Sales Tax Relief Credit – which would effectively eliminate or reduce the sales tax on groceries for low- and moderate-income residents – and strengthening the state Earned Income Tax Credit to return more money to working Oklahomans. Targeted, one-time rebates also could help. Lawmakers, however, should avoid tax cuts or rebates that go to all residents, because this could make inflation worse. Broadly injecting money into the economy will only further increase demand and in turn further fuel rising inflation.

While the legislative drama may create political theater, many Oklahomans cannot afford to watch this show. Our elected officials should focus their energies delivering targeted and timely relief to help low- and moderate-income Oklahomans who are hurting most from inflation. Judging by what’s gone on during the first three days of the special session, that’s not happening any time soon. Oklahomans who are dissatisfied with these games should contact their lawmakers to let them know this is not helpful. Our voices – and our votes – will be the most effective tools we have.

Shiloh Kantz is interim executive director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute.