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AM NewsBrief: Jan. 29, 2024

This is the KGOU AM NewsBrief for Monday, Jan. 29. 2024.

Special Session On Tax Cuts

Lawmakers will convene for a special session Monday to discuss cutting the income tax. Low and middle-income Oklahomans will see marginal returns compared to their wealthiest neighbors.

Governor Kevin Stitt touts rising inflation, the need for small government, and Oklahoma’s record $1.6 billion in savings in his call for cutting the state income tax by a quarter of a percent and giving all Oklahomans a “pay raise.”

House Speaker Charles McCall supports Stitt’s position. And Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat says he’ll discuss cutting taxes, but not until the regular session begins in February.

Shiloh Kantz leads the center-left think tank Oklahoma Policy Institute. She says an income tax cut would only benefit the wealthy.

"A .25 tax cut for somebody who earns in the second 20% of income earners will only see $48 a year," said Kantz.

Meanwhile, those in the top 1% of earners will see a yearly return of about $2,600.

The state income tax accounts for more than a third of Oklahoma’s General Revenue Fund.

Oklahoma Board Of Education Approves Final Rule On Student Pronoun Changes

The State Board of Education approved a rule last week prohibiting school districts from changing students’ gender designations on prior school records without its approval. This comes despite a lawsuit over the issue that’s garnered national attention.

Even if a student gets a court order to legally change their gender, the rule says they must get approval from the State Board of Education. It applies only to prior student records, not current or future ones. The permanent rule was approved by the board unanimously. Here’s State Superintendent Ryan Walters.

"We do not want these transgender games going on in our school. (...) It’s something that, unfortunately, is necessary because of what the left has pushed into our schools," said Walters.

The rule has already been in effect as an emergency since October. It was made in response to a court order authorizing a student from Moore Public Schools to legally change their gender. That student and another from Cushing Public Schools petitioned the board for the changes, and both were denied.

The Moore student filed suit in December against the board, which is now in federal court.

Oklahoma Broadband Projects

More than 140 grants are moving forward thanks to Oklahoma’s Broadband Governing Board. Officials have identified more projects than expected and say there is more work to be done.

The grants are for broadband projects in 57 counties covering 55,000 underserved or unserved locations in the state. The $374 million approved for the grants are through the American Rescue Plan Act.

Jim Meek, the board’s chairman, touted the grants approved as the most important work the state has done in a while.

"Of all the work that’s taken place, the real work starting right now. We’ve got a lot of people depending on us and looking to us for guidance, and counting this becoming a reality," Meek sid.

Last year, the office was slammed with broadband grant applications worth $5.1 billion. But only $374 million were available.

The Oklahoma Broadband office is tasked with ensuring 95% of the state has internet access by 2028.

Meek says there will be more grant opportunities through the office.

Rain Barrel Project

The Central Oklahoma Stormwater Alliance is partnering with eleven communities to get affordable rain barrels into people’s yards. More details on how to get your hands on one, and why you might want to.

Rain barrels cut down on runoff during soggy periods and help people conserve tap water during dry times. The water they catch isn’t for consumption, but it’s handy for watering gardens and washing off outdoor equipment.

Jordan Peebles is Vice-Chair of the Stormwater Alliance. She says the barrels had previous lives as containers for international food shipments.

"My favorite color is the terracotta. And that was used to ship olives to the U.S. from Greece. So there's Greek, you know, letters and symbols on the barrel," said Peebles.

Orders are open for the next two months, and pick-up dates are in late April and early May. You don’t need to live in a participating community to order — you’ll just need to pick up your rain barrel in one.

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