Budget & Tax
Ray Carter | March 10, 2020
OKPLAC opposes aid for teachers, school security, adoption
In an email sent to Oklahoma lawmakers this month and later posted online, the Oklahoma Parent Legislative Action Committee (OKPLAC) has urged legislators to kill numerous tax-break measures, including bills that would reduce teachers’ out-of-pocket health insurance costs, improve school security, and support adoption.
“OKPLAC asks state representatives and senators to protect state revenues for state services,” the March 1 email states. “Vote no on any tax credit or incentive that does not diversify and grow our economy.”
The OKPLAC email says some tax breaks may be “for admirable causes,” but “do not broaden the tax base, nor do they grow the economy.” It then provides a list of examples, including “tax credits for adoption expenses, tax credits for companies that provide school security personnel training, increasing tax credits for affordable housing, tax credits for contractors providing aging-in-place residential construction, tax credits for donations to the Oklahoma School Security Revolving Fund, tax credits for donations to the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology, tax credits for teachers’ health care costs for their families and raising the tax credits for the OK Equal Opportunity Scholarship programs.”
“We oppose all of these tax credit proposals,” OKPLAC declares.
House Bill 3086, by Rep. Kyle Hilbert, was among the measures targeted by OKPLAC. It provides a tax break to partially offset the one-time expenses associated with adoption.
“We need to be doing all we can as a state to help families take care of those that are most vulnerable, and especially those children that are needing forever families,” said Hilbert, R-Bristow. “It seems like a pretty common-sense bill.”
Under current law, taxpayers can deduct up to $20,000 from state taxable income for any nonrecurring adoption expenses. Under HB 3086, the deduction is eliminated and replaced with an income tax credit equal to 10 percent of qualified expenses. No adoptive parents could claim a credit of more than $4,000.
Hilbert noted the existing deduction is roughly equivalent to 5-percent tax credit for adoptive costs and HB 3086 would double the tax break. But even the larger tax break of up to $4,000 doesn’t come close to offsetting the costs of adoption. The Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates the nonrecurring costs of adoption range from $15,000 to $50,000 per occasion, depending on a range of factors.
“It’s pretty small, but at least it’s something headed in the right direction to help alleviate some of those expenses,” Hilbert said.
He noted the bill has the support of Oklahomans for Life and Oklahoma Faith Leaders.
“Not only do we want to reduce abortions in Oklahoma, we also want to help provide homes for those babies when they are born,” Hilbert said.
Despite OKPLAC’s opposition, HB 3086 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on a bipartisan 78-13 vote.
Two measures by Sen. Nathan Dahm were also among those opposed by OKPLAC. Senate Bill 1504 provided a tax credit for school officials who seek Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training (CLEET) certification. SB 1631 provided a tax credit for donations to Oklahoma School Security Revolving Fund.
Dahm said the bills’ focus was on “protecting kids.”
“Some schools are considered a ‘soft target’ right now because they’re a ‘gun free’ zone,” said Dahm, R-Broken Arrow.
In the aftermath of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Dahm noted experts recommended increasing school security in several ways, including the methods incorporated into his two bills.
He pointed out that the Oklahoma School Security Revolving Fund helps schools pay for security officers, metal detectors, and other school security protocols.
“That’s another way, in looking at what Parkland had recommended, to create a more ‘hardened’ target to where there’s not as many access points, as many opportunities for somebody to be able to get in there and cause harm,” Dahm said.
House Bill 2943, by Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, would have provided a $1,000 tax credit to offset the insurance costs carried by teachers. Under current law, the state government pays 100 percent of the cost of a teacher’s health insurance, but not the cost of the teacher’s spouse or children on the same policy.
House Bill 2932, by Rep. Chelsey Branham, D-Oklahoma City, provided an income tax credit for donations to the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology.
Those two bills were part of the House Democratic agenda for 2020.
House Minority Leader Emily Virgin did not directly address OKPLAC’s opposition to the measures.
“While I would love to discuss these pro-public education bills, our caucus is focusing on impacting legislation that is still viable in 2020,” said Virgin, D-Norman.
She noted her caucus does agree with OKPLAC on some bills, such as a measure to increase credits offered to public schools and scholarship-granting organizations through the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act.
OKPLAC endorsed only a handful of tax-break measures for specific entities, including aerospace tax breaks that have primarily gone to Boeing and tax breaks for doctors who open practices in rural areas. In its email, the group said it supported tax breaks that undergo review by the Oklahoma Incentive Evaluation Commission.
Notably, the group did not come out against legislation that would provide up to $50 million in tax credits to film projects each year, even though consultants hired by state’s Incentive Evaluation Commission previously urged lawmakers to eliminate Oklahoma’s film tax credit, saying it did not result in sustainable new job creation or a stronger film industry.
Also, one of the measures opposed by OKPLAC has received the tacit blessing of the Oklahoma Incentive Evaluation Commission.
According to 2016 research conducted by economists at Oklahoma City University, the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act produced $1.24 for every $1 in credits issued for private-school scholarships. Subsequent research by the same economists has shown even greater return on investment.
In July 2019, the Opportunity Scholarship Fund, one of the scholarship-granting organizations that benefits from the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act, requested that the Oklahoma Incentive Evaluation Commission review the program.
In an e-mailed response, Lyle Roggow, chairman of the Oklahoma Incentive Evaluation Commission, noted that the tax-credit scholarship program is not among those subject to review by the commission, but added that OCU economists would be able to perform “the type of analysis” needed “for the State of Oklahoma’s ROI for this program.”
Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.