Each session, we’re assigned to four standing committees and one appropriations subcommittee. I’ll be serving as Vice Chairman of the Senate Education Committee and also as a member of the Appropriations, Business and Commerce, and Tourism and Wildlife Committees as well as Appropriations Subcommittee on Education.
One of the most difficult of my committee assignments this session will be serving on the Business and Commerce Committee. All banking, construction, business, and labor- related legislation must be heard in this committee. Several hundred bills are assigned each session to this committee because of the wide scope covered under business and commerce.
During the last legislative session, the Business and Commerce chairman conducted early morning, weekly meetings with committee members and invited representatives from various business and commerce areas to present updates on their codes. This was tedious and required several hours above and beyond the committee’s review of pending legislation and the time served in session on the Senate floor. Oklahoma is blessed with excellent employees who came in early each week to present their code changes to the committee.
I’d like to briefly mention some of the Oklahoma business/economic factors we consider in this committee when working on legislation.
According to the Oklahoma Commerce Department in 2013 there were 6,569 new businesses started in the state. From 2010-13, after three years of being established, 2,538 businesses had failed. Therefore, the three year survival rate for new businesses started in 2010-2013 was only 59.7 percent. Note that data from 2014 has not yet been updated. It’s important that we do all we can from a legislative perspective to help business owners be successful.
As of November 2014, Oklahoma had nearly 1.72 million individuals employed and a 4.4 percent unemployment rate. Of these, approximately 60,000 were at, or below, the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Again, it’s important that we’re aware of personal incomes to ensure that all Oklahomans have a living wage and the opportunity to support themselves and their families.
It’s estimated that 90 percent of Oklahoma’s occupational employees earn $71,760 or less per year. However, because some employees work with more than one employer, this likely underestimates the earning threshold. We must work to ensure that our occupational industries are competitive with other states.
The median income rose dramatically in 2013 according to the federal government. Subsequently, Oklahoma was forced to contribute about $56 million more to its share of Medicaid than it did in 2014. This was not an easy amount to absorb during a tight Oklahoma budget year.
I also contacted the IRS to gather further economic statistics. The IRS state-level data for Oklahoma for tax year 2012 shows 3,820 returns (0.24 percent of all returns) with federal Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) greater than or equal to $1 million. There is no breakdown by the IRS for returns over $1 billion. *
Our OTC data for tax year 2012 has 3,685 returns for full year residents filing form 511 with federal AGI greater than or equal to $1 million. This is 0.25 percent of all full year resident returns filing form 511. There were no full year residents filing form 511 with federal AGI greater than or equal to $1 billion in tax year 2012.
Keep in mind that the figures above are the number of tax returns, not the number of people. However, the Wall Street Journal published an article on January 16, 2014, which listed 62,233 millionaires in Oklahoma in 2013. Forbes publishes an annual list of billionaires and the last couple of years there have been six Oklahomans listed – George Kaiser, Harold Hamm, David Green, Lynn Schusterman, and Tom & Judy Love. These millionaires and billionaires are Oklahoma business owners so it’s important to keep track of whether or not there are more or fewer Oklahomans on these lists from year to year.
To figure out how many Oklahomans are living below the poverty level, it’s better to use third-party data, rather than tax return data, since these individuals may not file tax returns. Also the poverty level varies with family size, making it difficult to count the number of returns that would fall below the threshold. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 636,134 (17.2 percent) Oklahomans were at or below the poverty level in 2012. For 2013, the estimate for Oklahoma was 624,209 (16.7 percent).* We must work to get as many Oklahomans above the poverty line as possible.
The Business and Commerce Committee is tasked with approving legislation that will strengthen business in our state so it’s important that we’re aware of the many economic factors that will play a role in that effort.
To contact me at the Capitol, please write to Senator Ron Sharp, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 411A, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (405) 521-5539.
*(SOURCE: IRS, Statistics of Income Division, Individual Master File System, December 2013.)
*(Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Small Area Income and Estimates (SAIPE) Program)