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All articles by David Blatt

Former Bellmon top advisor, non-profit director join OK Policy board

Oklahoma Policy Institute is pleased to announce that Andrew Tevington, who served for many years as a top advisor to Governor Henry Bellmon, and Felicia Collins Correia, whose experience includes over 25 years as CEO of major non-profit organizations in Tulsa, have been elected to its Board of Directors.

“We are delighted to add two widely-admired and respected individuals who have made outstanding contributions to our state through their professional careers and community service,” said Vince LoVoi, OK Policy’s Board Chair. “Felicia and Andrew will add to our tradition of building a strong, nonpartisan board that is thoughtful, far-sighted, policy-focused, and comprised of individuals who bring a wide range of personal and professional experiences to the table.”

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The state budget deficit is not just oil prices

by | May 12th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Taxes | Comments (4)

Oklahoma lawmakers are now struggling to write a budget with $611 million less revenue available than what was appropriated last year. It’s easy to blame falling energy prices and accompanying job losses for the shortfall – until we recall that last year, when oil prices were over $100 a barrel and the state was enjoying stronger economic growth than the national average, we still faced a $188 million shortfall. In order to balance last year’s budget and provide some modest funding increases for education and a few other agencies, the Legislature used up over $400 million in one-time revenues from cash reserves and agency revolving funds, and imposed 5 percent cuts on most agencies.

The reality in recent times is, in good times as well as bad, Oklahoma can’t balance its budget. Our state tax system is no longer generating the revenue needed to pay for basic public services. There are numerous indicators of a chronic and deepening budget gap, also known as a structural budget deficit:

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No, halting the tax cut doesn’t need a supermajority

by | May 7th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (0)


Oklahoma Supreme Court

Unless the Legislature acts to halt it, the state’s top income tax rate will fall from 5.25 to 5 percent next January based on legislation passed last session, SB 1246,  that tied the top rate cut to a revenue trigger. Even though the trigger was supposed to ensure that the tax cut would not take effect unless revenues were growing, the trigger was drafted in such a way as to kick in despite falling oil prices and projected revenue drops.

The tax cut contributes $57 million to the state’s $611 million budget shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year and $147 million in 2017, while providing just $31 in savings for the average household. A majority of Oklahomans oppose moving ahead with the tax cut given the state’s budget situation, and close to 100 businesses, foundations, and organizations have joined a call for the tax cut to be halted.

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House bill threatens Oklahoma’s Promise

by | April 27th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (3)

In today’s economy, a college education is more important for finding a good job and earning a decent income. Yet for children of low- and moderate-income families, the cost of higher education can be a substantial barrier to enrolling in and completing college. Over the past two decades, the Oklahoma’s Promise financial aid program has been the key for thousands of students to get a college degree – but legislation being considered this session could put the program out of reach for many students.

Oklahoma’s Promise, also known as the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program, or OHLAP, is an early commitment financial aid program that covers tuition for students with family income below $50,000 at the time of application. Students must apply prior to the start of the 11th grade and complete a series of requirements before graduating from high school. Once enrolled in college, students must maintain a minimum GPA and follow behavioral guidelines.

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Uncertain future for third grade reading reforms

by | April 22nd, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (0)

One year ago, parents and educators organized a powerful campaign to amend a state law that would have automatically retained thousands of 3rd-grade children who failed a standardized reading test. In response, the Legislature passed a bill temporarily revising the law, and then  mustered the two-thirds super-majority needed to overturn the Governor’s veto of the bill. This year, a strong effort is underway to make last year’s fix permanent – but the supporters of automatic retention are not giving up.

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Federal Money As Promised (FMAP)

by | April 16th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (0)

It’s rare that Congress finds bipartisan consensus on important issues, but that happened last month when the House approved health care legislation that includes an extension of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Last night the bill was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate and is expected to be signed into law by President Obama.

Under this law, states will receive a substantially higher federal match rate for coverage of certain low-income children through 2017. Oklahoma will see a 23 percentage point jump in its SCHIP match rate in fiscal year 2016.

The temporary boost in the federal match was included in the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010 but was not initially funded. The higher match will boost federal Medicaid spending in Oklahoma by $42 million, according to projections from our state Medicaid agency.

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Medicaid back on the chopping block

by | April 7th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Health Care, Healthcare | Comments (0)

chopping block

Photo by Eric Tastad used under a Creative Commons license.

As the Oklahoma Legislature enters the final months of session, state agencies and the populations they serve are bracing for another round of painful budget cuts. A stark example of the high stakes involved in this year’s budget shortfall is the state’s Medicaid program, which provides health care to over 800,000 low-income children, pregnant women, seniors, and persons with disabilities. There is no plausible scenario under which Medicaid will avoid cuts. But unless legislators are willing to take action to boost revenues substantially, the cuts to Medicaid providers, and the impact on the people they serve, could be enormous.

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Halt the tax cut

by | March 30th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Taxes | Comments (3)

picnic in the rainNote: This is an updated and expanded version of a column that ran in the Journal Record.

Faced with a $611 million budget shortfall, elected leaders have many tough decisions to make. But one decision should be easy: halting a tax cut that was never meant to take effect in these conditions.

Lawmakers approved the quarter-point drop in the top income tax rate, from 5.25 to 5.0 percent, last session in SB 1246. But since they knew they’d be unable to balance this year’s budget if the tax cut took immediate effect, they deferred it a year and made it contingent on revenue being back to prior year levels. That way, if revenues were falling, the tax cut would be delayed.

When the tax cut passed, House Speaker Jeff Hickman commented, “This measures provides a responsible means to lower the tax burden on our citizens, while making sure there is sufficient revenue growth to fund core government services.” (emphasis added)

Yet somehow, we’ve ended up in the precise situation that legislators who crafted and  supported last year’s bill promised to avoid.

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Lawmakers pushing another unproven tax break with no idea what it will cost

by | March 23rd, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (2)
Photo by Ken Teegardin.

Photo by Ken Teegardin.

There’s lots of talk at the Capitol this year about the need for greater scrutiny and control of tax incentives. As we’ve discussed, bills authored by the House Speaker and Senate Pro Tem would evaluate all incentives on a regular basis and collect data on their fiscal and economic impact. Yet at least one measure that would create a new tax incentive of unknown cost and effectiveness is rushing through the Legislature.

HB 1747, authored by Rep. Tom Newell, has been labelled the Rural Opportunity Zone bill. As a way to lure new residents to struggling rural areas, it creates a five-year exemption from all state income tax for anyone moving from out-of-state to a county that is projected to lose population between 2016 and 2075. The bill references a 2012 report by the Oklahoma Department of Commerce that identifies 25 counties, mostly in the Western half of the state, that are expected to see their population decline in the coming decades (see map).

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This nonsensical ‘double dipping’ tax break is costing Oklahoma millions

by | March 10th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Taxes | Comments (0)
Photo Credit: Chris on Flickr

Photo Credit: Chris on Flickr

As Oklahoma faces a more than $600 million budget hole, state leaders have consistently said that “all options should be on the table.” With state services already straining from years of repeated cuts and flat funding, a balanced approach to closing the budget gap must include new revenues. One of the fairest and most sensible revenue options involves eliminating one of the most nonsensical quirks of our tax system – the state income tax deduction for state income taxes.

continue reading This nonsensical ‘double dipping’ tax break is costing Oklahoma millions

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