One of Oklahoma’s strongest rural economies was chosen by Senate Democrats as the site to unveil their legislative agenda to “empower the middle class.”
Durant and Bryan County have enjoyed tremendous growth over the past seven years. Senate leaders said that growth proves that policies to lift up middle class families create opportunity for all.
The area’s own Senator Jay Paul Gumm said a key component of Senate Democrats’ middle class agenda is a “Back-to-School” sales tax holiday that would strengthen Oklahoma’s retail economy.
“Oklahoma families should not have to leave this state to find savings on back-to-school items for their children,” said Gumm, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a Senate assistant majority leader.
“Businesses on Main Streets all across Oklahoma should not have to keep losing dollars to Texas. No other tax bill should have a higher priority than this one that helps every family and small business owner in Oklahoma.”
Joining Gumm at the news conference was Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Morgan and other members of the Senate Democratic Caucus. Morgan said the Back-to-School sales tax holiday is part of an agenda Senate Democrats say will strengthen Oklahoma’s middle class families.
Other components of the plan include:
Making more children eligible for the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program (OHLAP) scholarships by raising the income eligibility to those families making $75,000 or less annually;
Creating OHLAP PLUS to give greater financial incentives for Oklahoma students to pursue degrees in math and science; and
Giving middle class families a financial incentive to purchase health insurance for their children.
“This commitment from Senate Democrats is designed to respect and empower Oklahoma’s middle class and promote personal responsibility and greater accountability,” said Morgan, D-Stillwater.
“That is what Oklahomans deserve from those they send to Oklahoma City to be their voice in the Legislature, and that is what the people of Senate District 6 have gotten from Senator Gumm.”
The lawmakers said they look forward to continuing their work to lift up middle class families, who are often squeezed out of a debate when officials choose to put a greater value on wealth than they do hard work.
“Democrats in the Legislature created OHLAP scholarships so that students who make a commitment to work hard and stay out of trouble could get a college education,” Morgan said. “Now we want to expand this successful program to include more middle class families by raising the income level from $50,000 to $75,000.”
Senator Susan Paddack, the Chairman of the Senate Education Committee explained including more middle class families in the OHLAP scholarship program means greater opportunities for Oklahoma to grow its economy. She said creating OHLAP PLUS will allow Oklahoma to expand the number of college graduates with degrees in math and science—an integral part of attracting companies that offer high paying jobs to Oklahoma citizens.
“If students demonstrate a commitment to the math and science field by taking challenging courses in math and science, the state has a responsibility to reward this hard work,” she said.
Senator Johnnie Crutchfield, D-Ardmore and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, explained that offering a $1,200 tax credit to middle class families who purchase health insurance for their children will help create a healthier state for future generations.
“This is simply a matter of promoting personal responsibility for middle class families who earn too much to benefit from Medicaid but whose employers simple cannot offer affordable healthcare coverage for their children and families,” Crutchfield said.
The lawmaker explained that thousands of hard working families cannot afford health insurance, putting a strain on their budgets and the state’s health care system.
“Offering a financial incentive to insure Oklahoma’s children contributes to a healthier Oklahoma,” he said. “It also stops doctors and hospitals from having to pass financial losses to the rest of us in the form of higher costs and premiums to those who have insurance or can afford to pay cash.”
The lawmakers said strengthening Oklahoma’s middle class will be among Democrats’ top priorities when the Second Session of the 50th Oklahoma Legislature convenes Feb. 6.
“Some have made proposals that would help only the wealthiest among us,” Gumm said. “Oklahoma’s middle class deserves better than that and that is what we of the Senate intend to deliver: an agenda that creates opportunity and rewards hard work.
“We in the Senate will fight with everything in our power to make Oklahoma a land of opportunity for all our people, not just those born to wealth and privilege.”