Three dozen COVID-era policy prescriptions to protect taxpayers and get Oklahoma moving again
- Freeze all new hiring for state employees. Oklahoma state government employment (FTE per 10,000 residents) exceeds the national average by 25%.
- Eliminate positions in state government that have been vacant for six months prior to March 15, 2020.
- Suspend all new capital spending. All new construction not related to COVID-19 should be delayed.
- Freeze or reduce spending on all nonessential government services. With a $416 million budget shortfall this year and a $1.3 billion shortfall expected for next year, belt-tightening is mandatory.
- Create a budget stress-test process similar to that used in the banking industry. The state should create financial estimates based on different economic scenarios so lawmakers can better plan ahead.
- Place all newly hired teachers in a defined-contribution (DC) pension plan. DC plans help control the state’s unfunded liabilities and give teachers more control over their own money.
- Take no further action on HB 3350, a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) bill that would boost the state’s unfunded liability by more than $800 million.
- Reduce the state government’s real-estate footprint. The Commissioners of the Land Office (CLO) should sell the majority of its agricultural holdings. The ROI on those holdings has been relatively low and the sale of that land would immediately increase the investment income for the CLO as well as add real estate to the property tax rolls.
- Sell some or all of Oklahoma’s state-owned golf courses. These state courses compete directly with privately operated courses—and they do not pay property taxes to support essential services such as local schools, firefighters, and police. Tax dollars should be reserved for the core functions of government, not squandered on non-core functions which the free market capably provides (such as golf courses).
- Eliminate state-appropriated dollars for the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority. Tax dollars should be reserved for the core functions of government, not squandered on non-core functions that the free market capably provides (such as television programming).
- Use some of the “state aid” from federal taxpayers to offset state revenue shortfalls, finance some strategic projects, and finance pro-growth reforms.
- Build a tax code for the 21st century. With the oil and gas industry collapse and COVID-19, now more than ever Oklahoma must position itself to diversify with new businesses, preserve existing businesses, and attract business from other states. Eliminate the corporate income tax, put a revenue-neutral plan in place to phase out the personal income tax, and then adjust the code accordingly to protect the most vulnerable from any tax increases.
- Order a delay in the collection of business property taxes until at least Oct. 1, 2020.
- Remove the experience rating on unemployment-insurance tax rates related to COVID-19. Businesses that have made layoffs after being ordered to close should not pay a higher payroll tax.
- Extend Oklahoma’s state tax filing and payment deadlines to July 15th, 2020.
- Provide permanent and full expensing for new investments in machinery and equipment. The tax system creates a disincentive for investment in capital by not allowing the full cost to be deducted in the current year; allowing full expensing will incentivize more investment in capital and lead to more productivity.
- Allow depreciation deductions to be taken more quickly for new investments in structures by corporations.
- Protect patients from surprise medical bills. Senate Bill 1646 would require medical providers to give an up-front, good-faith estimate to patients before procedures and services when applicable. If the patient was not made aware of the total charges, payment cannot be collected by creditors.
- Don’t expand Medicaid. It is especially important now that Medicaid is preserved to care for our most vulnerable citizens. With a $416 million budget shortfall this year and a $1.3 billion shortfall expected for next year, and with state cost projections for expansion increasing, this is not the time to overwhelm our Medicaid program.
- Protect health care workers from some lawsuits while treating COVID-19 patients by passing SB 300, the “COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Limited Liability Act.”
- Protect doctors from medical-malpractice suits by passing SJR 40. This will allow Oklahoma voters to decide whether to cap noneconomic damages.
- Relax pharmacy regulations regarding COVID-19 testing and treatment and expand pharmacists’ practice abilities going forward.
- Expand the scope-of-practice laws for advanced nurse practitioners and physician assistants, thus increasing the number of available healthcare providers and facilities.
- Eliminate Oklahoma Certificate of Need (CON) laws to ensure that no regulatory barriers impede healthcare professionals from opening new facilities.
- Protect employers and employees from lawsuits related to COVID-19.
- Pass HB 2637 which allows for a new crowdfunding infrastructure providing more capital to small businesses.
- Privatize city permitting. Implement Phoenix’s self-certification model to speed up permit approvals for Oklahomans.
- Make permanent the waiver of any regulations waived in reaction to COVID-19—expediting the out-of-state medical licensure process, for example, or allowing stretcher vans to service all counties regardless of population—unless there is evidence that a waiver caused public harm.
- Use federal CARES Act funding to give teachers a stipend to help with professional development, with a focus on distance learning.
- Use federal CARES Act funding to address student and school distance learning access issues.
- Use federal CARES Act funding to grant money to a private education-related entity which will provide need-based scholarships to private-school families impacted by COVID who would otherwise have to enroll their children in public school. Fiscal-impact research indicates that if 10 percent of students now in Oklahoma private schools switch to traditional public schools next year, it will cost the traditional system an additional $21 million.
- Raise the cap on Oklahoma’s tax-credit scholarship program to allow more students to attend nonpublic schools, thus reducing the burden on the state budget.
- Utilize university endowment funds to reduce tuition and fee costs for the fall semester of 2020. Universities are not trust companies or hedge funds; endowments (some of which are around a billion dollars) should be used to assist students and families suffering economic dislocation in the COVID-19 recession.
- Cancel university study-abroad programs for the summer and fall of 2020.
- Target all necessary spending cuts in higher education to reduce administrative bloat, especially in the diversity-industrial complex, so as to preserve core teaching faculty.
- Close the Confucius Institute at the University of Oklahoma. “The Confucius Institutes are directly funded and overseen by the Communist Party of China (CPC),” Sen. James Lankford recently noted, “whose suppression of human rights and malign activities around the world warrants a strong response from the U.S.” More than 30 Confucius Institutes have closed since 2014.