State Senator Kim David, Republican Majority Floor Leader
I’m proud to say that this was one of the most productive legislative sessions we’ve ever had. We made tremendous strides in strengthening Oklahoma’s economy and helping improve the lives of our citizens.
Altogether, the governor signed close to 600 bills, which included nearly 15 of mine. One of those will help our dedicated 33,000 state employees by modernizing the annual state employee flexible benefit allowance to better address ever-increasing healthcare costs.
Senate Bill 650 increases the statutory minimum benefit allowance amount for Plan Year 2022 by 2 percent and provides for an additional 2 percent increase for Plan Year 2023. It then establishes the allowance amount in Plan 2023 as the statutory minimum benefit allowance amount. This was an important step for these dedicated public servants who work year-round, and essentially get a pay cut each year as the current benefit allowance calculation isn’t keeping pace with the ever-growing costs of their state health insurance. This modest change will help adjust for inflation and bring the benefit allowance more in line with current health insurance costs. State employee compensation is also approximately 12 percent below the market value, so this is an important step in helping properly compensate these workers that provide critical services from health and human services to transportation and public safety.
As for the budget, it was one of the most comprehensive I’ve seen during my time thanks to Oklahomans’ resilience, the legislature’s fiscal conservatism last year in not spending all available revenue and our economy fully reopening so quickly. Together, this helped infuse our state general fund with record revenue that we were able to put into the historic $8.8 billion FY’22 budget. It’s hard to believe we’ve come so far from the $1.3 billion revenue shortfall we were facing last year from low energy prices and the pandemic.
This will protect our core state services like education, public safety, and health and human services, among the many others. It restores last session’s cuts and increases most of the nearly 70 state agency budgets.
Our public schools are always a priority and received a revenue boost of nearly $172 million, resulting in a historic $3.2 billion budget, which accounts for over one-third of the total state budget. Overall, including higher education and other education-related agencies, Oklahoma education will receive nearly $4.17 billion, which is nearly half of the total state budget. This funding level will trigger lower class sizes for kindergarten and first grade and provide much-needed new funding for textbooks along with other critical classroom expenses.
A $42 million investment will also be made to expand broadband services statewide, especially in rural areas. Oklahoma ranks 47thnationally in broadband connectivity, hurting not only those trying to work and learn, but deterring businesses from locating here. This provider tax rebate will help more communities get the high-speed internet service they need to function in our digital age.
We’re also putting money back into the pockets of hardworking Oklahomans and the companies who support our economy. All Oklahomans will receive tax relief through the reduction of the personal income tax to 4.75 percent, and low-income families will also receive additional relief through the restoration of the state earned income tax credit refundability. Our business community will see relief through the corporate income tax being reduced to 4 percent. These changes will leave Oklahoma with the third lowest corporate income tax of those that have one and one of the 10 lowest personal income taxes nationwide.
Healthcare is another area where critical investments will be made. The budget includes $164 million to fund the voter-approved Medicaid expansion. OU Health’s historic sales tax credit was also restored to allow significantly more nurses and doctors to be trained, addressing our state’s dangerous shortage of medical professionals, especially in rural areas like ours.
Further helping rural Oklahoma, an additional $15 million will be provided for Rural Economic Action Plan (REAP) grants for critical infrastructure projects in communities of 7,000 or less. These grants cover transportation, water and other major infrastructure needs.
You can learn more about the FY’22 budget on the Senate website at www.oksenate.gov.
NOTE: This report is adapted from one that first appeared here on the Tulsa Today website.