A former fiscal director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives told state lawmakers in an interim study this week they’ll need to play an active role in a long recovery from the coronavirus-driven economic downturn.
Oklahoma Policy Institute Budget and Tax Senior Policy Analyst Paul Shinn said while corporate income will likely return to pre-pandemic levels in 2022, unemployment numbers may not get there until 2030. Same goes for oil prices.
"Fifty dollars in oil, $54, I think is what it averaged in 2019 – we don’t anticipate being back there for nine more years," Shinn said.
Shinn said lawmakers will actually have five distinct economies to help recover in the meantime.
"There’s an economy for oil and gas that’s of particular interest to us in our state. There’s a high-income economy. There are low- and middle-income economies, and then there’s a different economy altogether for persons of color and for women," Shinn said.
Shinn says policies that help low-income workers, women and people of color will be most important, as they’ve been hit hardest by the pandemic’s economic consequences. Those include raising the minimum wage, increasing childcare supports, creating a paid leave program and addressing an inequitable tax structure to keep the state budget growing.
But those recommendations weren’t well received by leading Republicans. Rep. Todd Russ, for one, questioned figures Shinn presented on the downturn’s effect on low-income households because they were based on the federal poverty level alone.
"But wouldn’t it be valuable to consider the cost of living in Oklahoma? Because that is a considerable number from a relief perspective," Russ said.
House Appropriations and Budget Chair Kevin Wallace also pushed back on a suggestion the state’s budget transparency could improve.