Gov. Kevin Stitt will call the Legislature into a special session in October to consider tax cuts, among other proposals. Stitt said he wants to put Oklahoma “on the path to zero income taxes.” He’s also said in recent public comments that he wants to do away with the state sales tax on groceries. Stitt cites Oklahoma’s record-level savings and a strong economy as evidence the state is ready to further cut taxes and says services won’t be affected. We used government economic data, news archives and other sources to fact-check some of his claims. In a statement to The Frontier, Stitt Spokeswoman Abegail Cave stood by the governor’s promise not to cut services.
“The governor is calling for the Legislature to put Oklahoma on a path to zero, that includes assessing the budget, not increasing appropriations and cutting the size of government,” Cave said. “He will not cut core services. You’ll remember that the House has voted to cut taxes on multiple occasions and the Senate continues to hold it up.”
Claim: Oklahoma now has record savings after emptying its reserves and facing billion-dollar budget deficits in past years.
Stitt said: “We went from billion dollar budget deficits and zero money in savings and now we have the largest savings account in our state’s history” during an interview on Aug. 23 on KKAJ Texoma.
Fact check: True but misleading
It’s true that Oklahoma had a record $1.3 billion in savings in June after higher-than- expected revenue from income taxes, which Stitt now wants to cut. But how much the state is able to keep in savings depends on tax revenue and swings in the state’s energy industry and overall economy. The state’s primary savings account, the Rainy Day Fund, was created in the wake of the oil bust in the 1980s and designed to conserve money from good years to spend in leaner times.
Oklahoma completely drained its Rainy Day Fund in 2003 and 2004 and again between 2010 and 2011 to plug budget holes after economic downturns. In 2016, the state faced a more than $1 billion deficit after steep declines in oil prices and years of tax cuts.
There are now some indications that Oklahoma’s economy is slowing again. The state’s total revenue collections were down nearly 9% in August from the same time a year ago, mostly due to declines in collections from oil and gas production taxes, according to the Oklahoma State Treasurer.
Claim: Oklahoma is one of just 12 states that tax groceries.
Stitt said: “We’re one of only 12 states that taxes groceries, and I’m trying to eliminate that because of the inflation and the harm that it’s causing everyday Americans, everyday Oklahomans. We’re trying to give them some relief at the grocery store as well,” during an Aug. 22 appearance on Fox Business.
Fact check: True
Oklahoma is now one of 12 states that have a state tax on groceries, after Virginia’s legislature passed a measure earlier this year eliminating the state sales tax on groceries. In addition to Oklahoma, Hawaii, Illinois, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, South Dakota, Utah and Idaho all charge a state sales tax on groceries, though many of those other states have already reduced the tax compared to other items. Oklahoma’s state sales tax rate on groceries is 4.5%.
Claim: Oklahoma’s median income has grown over the past decade, thanks to less government regulation.
Stitt said: “More jobs, more competition, less government regulations. That’s good for our economy and your wallet,” in social media posts on Aug. 28. He also shared a graphic showing Oklahoma’s growth in median income over the past decade.
Fact check: Mixed
Oklahoma’s median personal income grew from $46,161 to $60,096 between 2013 and 2023, according to figures from the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services. The figures Stitt cited are adjusted for inflation, an agency spokesperson said. Lots of factors can affect median household income, including demographic shifts in the population over time. The figures also don’t reflect disparities between households with the highest and the lowest incomes. Median household income only shows the middle of the range.
Claim: Cutting income and grocery taxes won’t put state services at risk.
Stitt said: “When you have a budget surplus, it just makes common sense. You either raise expenses, or you cut revenue, and so I’m not going to put our services at risk. But with surplus, we should give that back,” during an Aug. 22 appearance on Fox Business.
Fact check: False
Oklahoma’s budget failures and agency shortfalls in the late 2010s were preceded by years of deep tax cuts made worse by a slump in oil prices. Lawmakers eventually had to raise taxes to fund core services.
Personal income taxes have made up about 30% of all state taxes collected so far this year, according to the Oklahoma Checkbook, a state budget transparency website. The estimated impact of cutting the state’s grocery sales tax would be more than $300 million per year.
A tax cut permanently eliminates a source of recurring revenue for the state to fund things like education and social services. And raising taxes in Oklahoma is difficult, requiring a supermajority vote in the Legislature.
The state’s current budget surplus has been helped by an influx of federal relief dollars throughout the pandemic. When those funds run out, the state’s financial picture should settle. Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said Wednesday that the tax cuts Stitt has called for would eliminate $4 billion dollars from the state budget, putting funding for things like schools and hospitals at risk.
Claim: Eliminating the state tax on groceries will help lower income people because they spend a larger portion of their money on groceries.
Stitt said: “People in the lower income bracket spend the high — most amount of their — percentage — of their income on groceries than people in the higher income bracket,” during the Tulsa Regional Chamber’s State of the State luncheon on Aug. 24.
Fact check: True
The lowest-earning 20% of Oklahomans used 13.2% of their family income on state and local taxes, while the top 1% used only 6.2% on taxes, a 2018 analysis by the liberal-leaning Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found. Lower-income households spend less on food, but it makes up a larger portion of their budget than higher earners, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
True: A claim that is backed up by factual evidence
Mostly true: A claim that is mostly true but also contains some inaccurate details
Mixed: A claim that contains a combination of accurate and inaccurate or unproven information
True but misleading: A claim that is factually true but omits critical details or context
Mostly false: A claim that is mostly false but also contains some accurate details False: A claim that has no basis in fact