"The truth is poor people don't have lobbyists."
This was a quote from one of the presenters during my interim study on restoring the refundability of Oklahoma's Earned Income Tax Credit last Thursday. It is as eye-opening as it is truthful. Oklahoma's laws, specifically our tax laws, are designed by people who can afford lobbyists to do their bidding, and this system has led to one of the most regressive and unfair tax systems in the nation.
In 2016, our legislature passed partisan legislation to make the EITC non-refundable. By doing so, the EITC is still available, but if the amount of the credit exceeds the amount of income tax owed, the balance is no longer issued as a refund. This seemingly small change took money out of the pockets of more than 200,000 Oklahoma households.
Before I go into why the EITC is important not just to the recipients but to the entire state, I want to talk about who uses the EITC. Recipients of the tax credit must be employed, which is why it is an "earned income" credit. These families are low- and middle-income households, and many have school-age children living in their homes.
The 2016 law change most severely impacted rural Oklahomans, but the negative side effects have been felt statewide. As another presenter mentioned during the study, for every dollar returned to our citizens through the EITC, the economy receives a return of $1.50 to $2. To put it a different way, although the grocery store owner may not qualify for the EITC, many of her customers will.
More money in their pocket increases the likelihood that those same customers will spend money in her store. In the case of the EITC, rising tides really do lift all boats.
So how much money are we talking about per person? According to OK Policy, if refundability was restored, the EITC would put an extra $121 in the pockets of most Oklahomans. This number may seem minuscule, but when you consider that 600,000 Oklahomans are living in poverty and even more are living paycheck to paycheck, five extra tanks of gas or five packs of diapers a year helps.
Additionally, taking these things away, which is what happened in 2016, hurts. I make this last point to remind people that the EITC used to be a norm in Oklahoma, and politicians backed by lobbyists took it away.
We must do better. As we did last session and every session since 2016, the House Democratic Caucus will continue to fight tor restore the EITC, but we need your help. We need citizens to call their lawmakers and demand this money be put back into the pockets of Oklahomans.
The only way that this legislation will be reversed is if citizens take action, because at the end of the day, "The truth is poor people don't have lobbyists."
Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, is the minority leader at the state Capitol.