New budget will add $172 million to common education
With only days left in the 2021 legislative session, work was fast and furious at the Oklahoma Capitol last week, and everything was coming together. The Senate and House redistricting bills had been signed into law.
Again, we’ll reconvene later this year to work on congressional redistricting once the final census numbers are received. We’ve also finished consideration of the governor’s nearly 175 executive nominations.
Last week, the Legislature passed a historic $8.8 billion budget, which is a 14% increase over last year and the largest budget in state history. The Fiscal Year 2022 budget, which will begin on July 1, protects all 65 state agency budgets, providing an average increase of more than 7%.
As always, common education was the big winner under the agreement, receiving the largest budget increase of any of the agencies at more than $172 million, bringing its total budget to a near record high of $3.2 billion. This will trigger class size reductions in kindergarten and first grade, which are critical years in students’ lives. It will also provide an increase for textbooks and the school activity fund, among other critical needs.
Because of the tremendous resilience of Oklahomans, state revenues have increased significantly. Last month, gross receipts increased more than 38% over April 2020 numbers. One of the reasons Oklahoma was able to weather the pandemic so well was because we had over $1 billion in state savings. That was nearly depleted last year, but the budget calls for putting $800 million back into state savings, returning the total to over $1 billion. Since we don’t know what the future holds, we want to ensure our state is prepared for unexpected disasters.
Another piece of the budget that will be great news for districts like ours is a major investment into rural broadband expansion. This will happen through a $42 million tax incentive for providers. This will be so beneficial not only for families but will help students who depend on virtual classes and to improve access to telehealth.
The budget is going to provide tax relief to individuals and businesses. This will be achieved by cutting the individual income tax from 5% to 4.75% and the corporate income tax rate from 6% to 4%, making it the eighth-lowest corporate income tax in the nation. Further tax relief will come through restoring the refundability of the Earned Income Tax Credit to help low- and moderate-income working families.
We’re focusing on improving economic development by investing an additional $35 million to recruit high-quality jobs to our state. A new film tax incentive is also being introduced to attract more TV and film productions to Oklahoma. It has been found that for every dollar invested in this program, as much as $17 is created through additional jobs and expenditures made by the film crews and actors in our local communities.
I’ll discuss more of the budget next time. As I close, I want to let those who are looking for employment know that there are currently nearly 70,000 job openings around the state, and the business community is desperately seeking employees. The state offers a free job search database at www.okjobmatch.com.
If you are an employer, you can also post openings for free on the site. Please share this information, so we can help all Oklahomans find good employment and help our businesses thrive.
If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I will continue to update you on what’s happening as we move through these final days. You can contact me by calling 405-521-5581 or emailing Bill.Coleman@oksenate.gov.