A measure that gives parents of school-aged children a $1,000 tax credit next year is garnering bipartisan support as it advances through the Legislature.
House Bill 1927 proposes a one-time $1,000 income tax credit for tax year 2021 for the 411,000 Oklahoma households that currently have children enrolled in public school.
The measure is expected to cost the state an estimated $411 million when Oklahomans file their 2021 income taxes.
State Rep. Ryan Martinez, R-Edmond, said he’s heard from a lot of constituents who either had to miss work, lost wages or faced expensive child care costs because their child wasn’t in school this year. His said his measure is an opportunity to try to help mitigate some of those costs.
“I know $1,000 probably doesn’t cover some of the unexpected costs put on families, but I think this is a step in helping them and showing them that we get it,” he said.
Martinez said he never intended for his measure to be all encompassing. It does not help Oklahomans without children who experienced unexpected costs arising from COVID-19.
“I think it’s also important to remember if we make a deal with parents saying you pay taxes, we’re going to educate your kids, and we didn’t do it, that we give them some of their money back,” he said.
House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said she supported the measure in committee because anything that lawmakers can do to get families more money in their pockets is a good thing. The measure passed out of a House budget committee with no opposition and bipartisan support.
“I think the intent is good, but I think that we could chip away at that price tag by targeting it to those people who truly need that relief,” she said.
The $411 million price tag may be unaffordable right now because the Legislature is also considering other measures that would have “significant fiscal impacts” on upcoming budgets, including cutting the corporate income tax and increasing other tax credits, Virgin said.
State Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond, said now is a good time to provide Oklahoma families some relief.
The state budget is stable, Oklahoma hasn’t had to layoff any employees, and school districts have been able to maintain staffing levels and continue to pay employees despite the fact that schools weren’t open for in-person instruction, he said.
“We’ve done a lot of things to make sure that all those employees were protected during a very tumultuous time, but private citizens haven’t been afforded that opportunity,” said Pugh, who is the Senate author of the measure.
Pugh said school parents also faced tough economic times, lost jobs or had their pay or hours cut. Yet, they also faced additional expenses such as childcare, higher internet or electricity bills, or having to purchase a device so their child could participate in virtual learning.
“That’s a cost parents did not foresee in tough economic times,” he said. “And so this is just a small way to recognize that those parents maybe faced harsh economic times and didn’t have the means to maybe pay for some things that they were going to have to do in their home for their kids to be educated.”
Pugh said the measure does not require parents to prove that they actually had an additional $1,000 in expenses because he didn’t want to make it cumbersome for families to claim the tax credit or for agencies to audit it.
He said ultimately it will be up to the state’s appropriations chairs to decide if the state budget can afford a $411 million loss in tax revenue, but he said Oklahoma parents weren’t asked if they could afford the pandemic.
“Nobody asked the parents when those decisions were made not to have those kids in school,” Pugh said.
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.