Oklahoma’s 2015 legislative session concluded May 22. At OCPA Impact, we set four objectives prior to the start of session.
These were: (a) enact paycheck protection to safeguard taxpayers from out-of-control government-sector unions, (b) expand options for children to attend schools that best meet their educational needs, (c) advance reforms to reduce the cost curve of state government spending, and (d) continue working to end Oklahoma’s burdensome income tax.
Due to efforts by groups like OCPA Impact and Americans for Prosperity’s Oklahoma chapter – along with growth-minded state lawmakers – results were achieved on these items.
On Apr. 2, Gov. Mary Fallin signed into law House Bill 1749, a paycheck protection measure resembling Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s reforms.
The new law prohibits Oklahoma state government from collecting dues for organizations that collectively bargain against taxpayers at the state agency or school district level. Taxpayers had previously been forced to facilitate dues collections for labor unions that funded extreme political causes.
This session also saw passage of House Bill 1693, updating the Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship, one of two private educational choice programs in Oklahoma.
Established in 2011, the scholarship gives parents access to better educational opportunities for their school-age children. This year’s update makes it easier for students from special populations, including disabled, homeless or abused children, to participate.
Proposals were also promoted to allow parents to utilize another option, Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), to place their children in more suitable educational environments outside the public system. The ESA issue advanced further this year than in 2014 and is alive for next spring’s legislative session.
Passage of House Bill 1566, a significant reform of Oklahoma’s Medicaid system, should help reduce the cost curve of state government spending.
Medicaid has become the fastest-growing area of state spending. Oklahoma’s Medicaid system is fee-for-service, with little emphasis on responsible individual behavior. This has led to cost overruns. The new reform begins a shift to a structure in which care is better coordinated among providers to improve health outcomes for beneficiaries, reducing costs.
There was also progress this session on responsibly ending Oklahoma’s “penalty on work,” the state income tax. With states like Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas reducing tax rates on working families and entrepreneurs, Oklahoma must compete.
Last fall, the Oklahoma Supreme Court upheld the income tax reduction passed by lawmakers earlier in the year. Justices had been expected to throw out – but instead upheld – the reduction, which is still scheduled to lower Oklahoma’s tax rate to 5 percent starting Jan. 1, 2016.
This session, rumblings at the Capitol suggested lawmakers might cancel this tax relief so they could spend more money.
When a left-leaning, New York City pollster said Oklahomans didn’t want a tax reduction next year, numerous opinion surveys by Oklahoma firms were pointed to, debunking this myth.
In the end, lawmakers passed a budget that preserves the upcoming income tax reduction and keeps Oklahoma’s tax rate moving in the right direction – down.