OKLAHOMA CITY – Legislation that would restore the earned income tax credit to previous spending levels will be filed soon by newly elected state Rep. Collin Walke, an Oklahoma City Democrat.
Senate Bill 1604 approved last year by the Legislature and signed by Governor Fallin. The new law reduced tax credit’s benefit for low-income working families by nearly 75 percent. The bill, one of several measures intended to help close a $1.3 billion state budget gap, will increase state income tax collections by an estimated $29 million.
S.B. 1604 “penalizes some of Oklahoma’s neediest citizens by withholding funds they desperately need to buy milk and food for their families,” said Walke, D-Oklahoma City.
“Balancing the state budget on the backs of our state’s poorest citizens is unconscionable.”
Oklahoma’s earned income tax credit is equal to 5 percent of the federal EITC. The maximum tax credit for a family with two children has been $277; for a family with three children, $312.
The credit is designed to encourage work by supplementing earned income from lower-wage jobs. “Only working parents and a few working singles can claim the credit,” Walke emphasized.
EITC recipients pay income taxes and sales taxes, and many pay property taxes, too. People who qualify for the earned income tax credit pay a higher percentage of their annual income in taxes than do the wealthy, Walke said in a state House press release.
The state’s EITC was created in 2000 during the administration of Republican Gov. Frank Keating. The state EITC previously was “refundable,” which meant that families received the full value of the tax credit even if it exceeded their income-tax liability. “Refundability is critical to the success of the EITC because it allows the credit to reward work and support families even if workers have small state income-tax bills,” the Oklahoma Policy Institute reported.
S.B. 1604 eliminated the refundability feature, effective with the 2016 tax year. That will reduce or eliminate the benefit for most of the 334,000 Oklahoma families who claim it. An OK Policy analysis calculated that because of the new law, a single mother with two children and working full-time at $10 an hour will experience a tax increase of $231, and a married couple with three children and earning $20,800 a year will realize a tax hike of $313, the Oklahoma Policy Institute calculated. The average loss will be $91 per family, according to an analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.
In Walke’s House District 87 (which extends from Northwest Expressway south to NW 16th Street, between Penn and MacArthur), scrapping the refundability feature of the EITC adversely affected more than 2,400 working families.
Walke prevailed in the District 87 November election over Republican Bruce Lee Smith and Libertarian Elle Collins. The first Democrat to win the seat in three decades, Walke garnered 6,474 votes (47.96 percent of the total) to 6,043 (44.77 percent) for the Republican and 981 (7.27 percent) for the Libertarian.
Walke, 34, said his legislative priorities will be the economy, education, sensible tax policies, and bipartisan politics. He says quality education is “the cornerstone of a thriving economy and a safe neighborhood.” One goals is “to ensure that our schools have the resources to provide our children with the best education possible.” He also wants to “empower teachers in their own classrooms.”
In a House staff release after his mid-November swearing-in, Walke said he believes, “We need to be stewards of taxpayer dollars and make sure we use tax credits responsibly.” He will “work to boost small-business owners and make sure they are able to grow their businesses.”
In a staff release, Walke was criticized several steps the House Republican majority took the past two years. He said legislators “patched the budget with one-time fixes and on the backs of working families of Oklahoma. In an act of logical contortion that apparently knows no bounds, they believed that tax cuts to the wealthiest would improve the economy, while giving tax cuts to working families who need it most would be inappropriate. They can’t have it both ways, and they know this. It’s time for them to step up to the plate, show some moral courage, and reinstate the Earned Income Tax Credit to help those who desperately need it.”
Walke said he will “reach across the aisle to find solutions that benefit everyone, not just the privileged few or special interests.”
Born and reared in Del City, Walke was valedictorian of his graduating class. He enrolled at Oklahoma State University, studying philosophy, then earned his juris doctorate degree from the Oklahoma City University School of Law, graduating magna cum laude. He was an adjunct professor at Oklahoma City Community College. His wife, Lori, was graduated from Moore High School. She attended Oklahoma State University on an athletic scholarship, and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s in healthcare administration.
She, too, earned a law degree from OCU, then attended Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, where she received a Master’s of Divinity degree. Ordained in the United Church of Christ, she is associate minister at Mayflower Congregational UCC.
Walke is president of the board of directors of the City Rescue Mission in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma’s largest homeless shelter which operates a private drug and alcohol rehabilitation program.
Note: Editor Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report.