Sen. Taylor: Legislative session coming to an end
The legislative session is coming to an end. The governor has signed both the Senate and House redistricting bills. We’ll reconvene later this fall to finish congressional redistricting once we get the final census numbers. We also finished considering the governor’s 175 executive nominations this week.
Our other constitutional requirement each session is passing a balanced budget, which we completed this week and sent to the governor for his final consideration.
Public education remains a priority in the legislature. The education budget includes funding for 11 of the 65 appropriated state agencies. Together, these 11 agencies receive nearly half of the total state budget, and the Department of Education alone receives more than one-third of appropriated state dollars. Under this agreement, Oklahoma schools will receive nearly $3.2 billion, which restores the FY’21 cuts, caps classroom sizes for kindergarten and first grade, and includes increased funding for textbooks, the Reading Sufficiency Act, Alternative Education, and state testing.
The agreement also includes an individual income tax rate reduction from 5% to 4.75% and a corporate income tax reduction from 6% to 4%. These changes will give Oklahoma the third-lowest corporate income tax, given that five states have no corporate income tax. Oklahoma’s individual income tax rate will also be among the ten lowest in the country. This will help provide relief to those living and doing business in our great state and make our state more attractive to companies and families looking to relocate. We’re also restoring the Earned Income Tax Credit to help provide some relief to working families.
An issue that will positively affect many in our district is expanding broadband services to underserved and unserved areas in the state through a $42 million tax incentive for providers. This will be huge for rural Oklahoma, especially for virtual learning and increasing telehealth services.
Fortunately, the governor and legislature had the foresight to increase state savings to more than $1 billion in recent years. That funding is what saved our economy and state agencies last year during the pandemic. It’s never easy to choose to save money for a rainy day but just as families need a little financial cushion, so does the state. We’re all too familiar with natural disasters, and our state savings is what helps us deal with those catastrophes. Last year, the world was faced with one of the worst pandemics in modern history, and Oklahoma was able to overcome and pull through the crisis faster than most other states because we had over $1 billion in savings. The FY’22 budget will return our state savings to over $1 billion, so we’re prepared for the next crisis.
A few other important aspects of the budget that will greatly benefit rural Oklahoma and our district are increased funding for county roads and bridges as well as the Rural Economic Action Plan (REAP), which provides money for critical infrastructure projects. Funding will also be provided to address the REAL ID backlog and help tag agencies.
I’ll have more budget details next week. In other news, I was so pleased Thursday with the passage of the Redbud School Funding Act, which I proudly co-authored to provide funding equity for our public schools. The bill will utilize close to $39 million of medical marijuana tax revenue and the State Public Common School Building Equalization Fund to provide grants for more than 300 public school districts and brick-and-mortar charter schools that receive little ad valorem taxes. These grants can be used to improve school sites and equipment, including repairs and remodels, or to acquire new equipment or furniture. Our state is one of only four that doesn’t currently have an equalization fund for balancing school building dollars. This measure will provide equity for our schools and end the pending lawsuits hanging over districts due to the State Board of Education’s decision to allow charter schools to receive local tax dollars. If approved by the House and governor, the grants would be available to public schools beginning in the upcoming school year.
To contact me at the Capitol, please write to Senator Zack Taylor, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 446, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105, email me at Zack.Taylor@oksenate.gov or call (405) 521-5547.