Welcome to Oklahoma by Jimmy Emerson, DVM is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In 2021, Oklahoma was one of 14 states that cut income taxes. The state reduced all individual income tax rates by .25% and trimmed the corporate income tax rate by 2%, keeping more money in the pockets of hardworking Sooners.

These policies also are making the growing Cowboy State even more attractive to taxpayers and businesses weary of being beaten down by high-tax states.

Oklahoma has done well in other policy areas as well, from improving criminal justice, to expanding school choice.

Under the leadership of Governor Kevin Stitt, and legislative leadership, there are more opportunities to improve the state in 2022.

Oklahoma is by no means a high-tax state, but the state income tax is split into six brackets, topping out at 4.75%, and corporate income tax is now 4% (down from 6%).

As more states, like Mississippi, work to eliminate their state income taxes entirely, Oklahoma can seize the momentum to further reduce the state’s tax burden.

House Bill 3635 is one proposal to do just that. It flattens the state income tax, increasing the standard deduction to keep lower-income taxpayers from seeing a tax increase, then gradually reduces the tax rate as state revenues hit certain benchmarks. This approach uses revenue triggers to protect against unwelcome revenue drops disrupting tax reform. Ultimately, the rate continues to go down until it hits zero.

On criminal justice reform, state legislators are working to advance a solid, conservative “Clean Slate” bill, HB 3316. The legislation automates the expungement process for former offenders who have proven they will stay on the straight and narrow – it does not expand expungement eligibility to any new offenses. The bill also uses American Rescue Plan money to fund the system.

Clean Slate has been a resounding success in Pennsylvania and Utah. The policy safely reduces the burden of collateral consequences for people who have already paid their debt to society, offering them a chance – if they’ve earned it – to more easily find work, housing, and generally rejoin their communities. Many of the records that are sealed are for cases that did not result in convictions.

Earned time credits are another proven, conservative policy that Republican-led states have used to successfully reduce recidivism rates and make the criminal justice system more efficient and effective.

This session, Oklahoma legislators can advance HB 4369, which creates earned time credits for probation and parole. The bill incentivizes people on community supervision to follow the requirements, which can include drug treatment, going to work, and alike. This improves public safety, keeping people on track and working to be productive members of society, it also helps by freeing up parole and probation officers to focus on offenders who are not living up to their obligations and pose more risk to the community.

Oklahoma has plenty of other opportunities to improve, as they lag behind the rest of the country on driver’s license suspensions and civil asset forfeiture. The state has not enacted key civil asset forfeiture reforms, whether a conviction requirement (so a crime has to actually have happened for the authorities to take your property) or reporting measures so there is some transparency as to what authorities are seizing.

School choice has become a massive issue during the pandemic, and Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat is leading an effort to further expand school choice in Oklahoma. Senate Bill 1647 would create the Oklahoma Empowerment Account program. “Under the program, any student eligible to enroll in a public school would be eligible for an OEA, which could be used to pay for a range of education services, including private-school tuition,” writes Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs.

Plenty of other notable bills abound, including a measure that asserts the state legislature must be involved in any greenhouse gas emissions regulation, so the executive or bureaucracy cannot act alone. This might not seem necessary, until you consider Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has pressed the state into a multi-state carbon cap-and-trade scheme without legislative approval. In fact, the Pennsylvania state legislature has disapproved of the Governor’s unilateral move. Proactively defending against the bureaucracy trying a similar effort in Oklahoma is worthwhile.

Oklahoma has done well, leading on smart, conservative policy, and has more opportunities this year to make the state even better.