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All articles by David Blatt

Don’t touch Oklahoma’s Tobacco Settlement Trust Fund

by | November 18th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Healthcare | Comments (2)

As Oklahoma staggers through an apparently endless string of bad budget years, our investments in education, health care, public safety, and infrastructure that are tied to the annual budget cycle are suffering. Amid all the cuts and all the struggles just to survive from one year to the next, there’s at least one area where forward-thinking by an earlier generation of state leaders has left us in strong and stable condition: using tobacco settlement payments to invest in better health.

In the late 1990s, Oklahoma was one of 46 states that settled an historic lawsuit with the nation’s major tobacco companies. Under the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, states were assured an annual financial payment in perpetuity for as long as cigarettes are sold nationally as compensation for the public health-care costs associated with smoking. In return, the companies gained exemption from future state lawsuits regarding harm caused by tobacco use.

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Budget challenges call for better tools

by | October 26th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (0)

crystal ballAs Oklahoma grapples with a deepening budget crisis, one of the greatest challenges our policymakers face is the absence of a full and forward-looking picture of the state’s financial situation to help guide tax and spending decisions.

Year after year, policymakers make short-term decisions, like approving tax cuts that take years to go into full effect and using cash reserves to balance the budget, without a clear sense of what they will mean for our longer-term outlook. The dearth of long-term thinking contributes to our large and growing structural budget deficit, where the our tax system is incapable of generating the revenues needed to pay for the ongoing cost of providing core services like education, roads and bridges, and public safety.

A new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities makes a strong case that states, including Oklahoma, can do a much better job of budget planning by adopting some well-established best practices. ​​Unfortunately, Oklahoma ranks among the worst states in the nation for adopting these best practices.

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Is Oklahoma headed for a revenue shortfall?

by | September 24th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Taxes | Comments (2)


Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger

The next legislative session is still four months off, and we’re nine long months out from the start of the next fiscal year. Yet concern is already mounting that the state’s protracted budget crisis is likely to get more severe. Last year, legislators used nearly half-a-billion dollars in one-time revenue to balance the budget, even as they slashed funding to state agencies by up to 7.25 percent. The reliance on one-time funding, along with the full cost of the income tax cut scheduled to take effect in January, another automatic funding increase for transportation, and continued low energy prices are contributing to fears of a budget shortfall for FY 2017 of anywhere from $600 million to $1.2 billion.

Separate but related to anxiety about the budget crisis facing us for next year is concern over whether this year’s revenue collections will meet projections. Last week, Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger announced that August General Revenue (GR) collections had missed the certified estimate by 5.3 percent, or $22.9 million. Collections from gross production taxes and the sales tax both came in well below the estimate, while net income tax collections were slightly above.

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Introducing our 2015-16 Research Fellows and Fall Interns

by | September 23rd, 2015 | Posted in Blog, OK Policy | Comments (0)


Top left to bottom right: Alexandra Bohannon, Candace Smith, John Lepine, Matt Hecox

Oklahoma Policy Institute is very pleased to announce that Alexandra Bohannon, Matt Hecox, John Lepine and Candace Smith have been selected as our third class of Research Fellows for 2015-16.

The Fellowship program is intended to recognize and support top-performing graduate students who are conducting promising research on public policy issues. Research Fellows are each expected to contribute at least one post for publication on the OK Policy Blog and conduct a bill analysis of legislation introduced next session. OK Policy provides each fellow a $500 stipend.

OK Policy Research Fellows are current graduate students who are distinguished by strong research interests on policy issues affecting Oklahomans. This year’s Fellows were selected from a strong field of over a dozen applicants.

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Settlement will help help more Oklahomans vote

by | August 20th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Elections | Comments (3)

Low voter turnout is a serious problem in Oklahoma, as we’ve discussed previously in issue briefs and blog posts. Most recently, just one in three eligible voters in Oklahomans went to the polls in the 2014 mid-term election. Electoral disengagement is especially acute for  low-income citizens. Yet thanks to an important agreement reached last month, it will be easier for more low-income Oklahomans to register to vote and engage in the electoral process.

Electoral participation is a cornerstone of our representative democracy. The vote allows citizens to participate freely and fairly in the political process and ensures that elected officials stay accountable to their constituents. When citizens don’t vote, their opinions and interests may go unrepresented. The vote is especially important for disadvantaged groups, such as low-income citizens, racial minorities, and those with disabilities, who have little capacity to hire lobbyists, donate to campaigns, or find other ways to exercise political influence. Yet, with some exceptions, these groups tend to have the lowest rates of voter turnout.

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Grim and Grimmer: Voter turnout hits all-time lows

by | August 12th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Elections | Comments (4)

Every two years, the U.S. Census Bureau issues a report on voter participation in the most recent elections based on a national survey conducted the previous November. The news from this year’s report ain’t pretty. Fewer Americans voted in the 2014  midterm elections than in any election in at least 45 years. In Oklahoma, barely one out of three adults (34.2 percent) went to the polls. Among voters age 45 and under in Oklahoma, less than one in five voted. All this makes the efforts to repair Oklahoma’s broken democracy, which gained some momentum and enjoyed some modest progress this past legislative session, all the more urgent.

Here are three major takeaways from the report:

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New savings initiatives will boost financial security for Oklahoma’s Native Americans

ONAC_Circle_logoRecently, the Oklahoma Native Assets Coalition (ONAC) announced a pair of exciting new initiatives for Native American families in Oklahoma. Supported by a $200,000 grant from the Michigan-based W.K. Kellogg Foundation, both initiatives aim to support savings as a way to promote family financial security and opportunity.

For families and individuals, savings are a basic cornerstone of financial well-being. Having savings to draw upon cushions the impact of temporary financial disruptions like the loss of a job or a medical emergency, serving as a private safety net that can avert a crisis and reduce reliance on public programs.

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Two great opportunities for Oklahoma college students

by | August 5th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, OK Policy | Comments (0)

okpolicy_mugsOK Policy is pleased to announce two exciting opportunities for Oklahoma college students. We are now accepting applications for our Fall Internships and for our 2015-16 Research Fellowships. Students working with OK Policy have a wide range of opportunities to conduct research, write blog posts, and contribute to OK Policy projects and events. We invite all interested candidates to apply; the deadline for both programs is Friday, August 28th.

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Happy birthday, Medicare and Medicaid!

by | July 30th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (0)

LBJ signing

President Johnson signing the legislation creating the Medicare and Medicaid programs, July 31, 1965

This is an edited and expanded version of a column that ran in the Journal Record.

Until a half-century ago, if you were elderly, poor, or living with a disability in America, chances are you were without health insurance and couldn’t get the medical care you needed. Thanks to Medicare and Medicaid, two landmark public initiatives that were signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson fifty years ago this month, the health and financial security of nearly one in three Americans has forever been improved.

Medicare, which covers almost all seniors and younger people with serious disabilities, pays for a wide range of preventive services, as well as hospital stays, prescription drugs, and critical medical supplies. Before Medicare, almost half of all Americans 65 and older were without health insurance. Today it’s only 2 percent. Between 1970 and 2010, Medicare contributed to a five-year increase in life expectancy at age 65 by providing early access to needed medical care. Medicare recipients are also less likely to miss needed care or have unmanageable medical bills than working-age adults with insurance, as a recent New York Times editorial noted.

Medicaid, the other program signed into law by President Johnson in July 1965,  may forever be Medicare’s less renowned and beloved sibling, but it is an equally important part of the health care safety net. Medicaid provides comprehensive medical coverage primarily to low-income children and pregnant women, while covering premiums, deductibles, and additional services such as long-term care for low-income seniors and people with disabilities who also receive Medicare.

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We’re hiring!

by | July 28th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, OK Policy | Comments (0)


OK Policy is seeking an experienced and effective policy analyst to lead our work on economic issues affecting low- and moderate-income Oklahomans. Click here to see the full job description and for information on how to apply.

The policy analyst will conduct research and analysis on state policy issues, with a particular focus on economic opportunity, financial security, inequality, and disparities. Primary responsibilities will also include directing the Oklahoma Assets Network, a statewide coalition of individuals and organizations led by OK Policy working to build stronger financial foundations for all Oklahomans.

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