All articles by David Blatt

Upcoming Event: The Legacy of Gov. Henry Bellmon

BellmonHLOklahoma Policy Institute will honor Governor Henry Bellmon with the 2014 Good Sense/Good Cents Award, followed by a panel discussion on the Bellmon legacy, on Monday August 4th from 1:00 – 3:00 pm at the Lorton Performance Center on the University of Tulsa Campus. The events are free and open to the public.

The Good Sense/Good Cents award will be presented to Gov. Bellmon’s daughters Ann Denney and Pat Hoerth by Tulsa Mayor Dewey F. Bartlett Jr., whose father, Dewey F. Bartlett Sr., succeeded Henry Bellmon as Governor and served concurrently with him in the United States Senate. The  annual award honors political leaders whose political service is distinguished by a commitment to respectful political dialogue, sound fiscal stewardship, and concern for the less fortunate. The inaugural recipients of the award in 2013 were Mayors Robert LaFortune of Tulsa and Melvin Moran of Seminole.

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Did term limits really change how long Oklahoma legislators serve?

by | July 16th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Capitol Matters | Comments (0)
Gene Stipe, who served 53 years in the Oklahoma Legislature (1948-54, 1956-2003)

Gene Stipe, who served 53 years in the Oklahoma Legislature (1948-54, 1956-2003)

*This post has been updated to correct errors in the original version, noted by *

In September 1990, Oklahoma voters, by an overwhelming margin, approved State Question 632 which limited service in the Oklahoma legislature to no more than twelve years in the House of Representatives and Senate combined. The new term limits took effect in *1992 and did not apply to time already served. The first group of legislators subject to SQ 632 hit their term limits in 2004 (for House members and Senators elected in 1992) and in 2006 (for Senators elected in 1994).

Oklahoma political observers are in near unanimous agreement that term limits have had profound and far-ranging effects on the Oklahoma legislature. In the view of many journalists, legislative and agency staffers, and lobbyists, today’s legislators are significantly less experienced than were their predecessors. Short legislative careers are taken to mean that legislators are less familiar with policy issues, agency operations, public finances, and the legislative process itself.  With less time to rise through the ranks to leadership, term-limited legislators are often seen as more overtly ambitious and more beholden to lobbyists than in pre-term limit days. 

Yet is it really the case that term limits have brought about the sweeping changes that are often attributed to them?

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Invalidated appropriation leads to $6.7 million budget cut

by | July 7th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (0)

Attorney General Scott Pruitt

The state’s new fiscal year began on July 1st with most state agencies funded slightly worse than they had originally expected.

Last month, OK Policy broke the story that this year’s General Appropriations (GA) bill diverted $7.9 million out of the trust fund for Oklahoma’s Promise scholarships. In accordance with state statutes, each year the State Board of Equalization certifies an amount to transfer to the trust fund to cover scholarships for the coming year. In December, the Board certified $57 million for Oklahoma’s Promise in FY 2015. However, the Legislature attempted to order the Board to reduce the transfer by $7.9 million so that it could be used to balance the overall FY 2015 budget.

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Tax cut legal challenges could be game-changers

by | June 30th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (0)

Jerry Fent. Photo courtesy of David Glover.

Over the years, Oklahoma City attorney Jerry Fent has proven a big thorn in the side of Oklahoma policymakers, filing and winning a string of constitutional challenges to legislation. Several of his lawsuits have led the Supreme Court to strike down down bills as violations of the state’s single-subject rule, including last year’s ruling overturning a measure that combined funding for repairs to the State Capitol and an income tax cut. Others have overturned various bond issues and budget provisions.

This year, Fent is back with new lawsuits challenging SB 1246,the bill that would reduce Oklahoma’s top income tax rate subject to certain revenue triggers, and HB 2562, the bill that changes taxation of oil and gas production. If successful, these challenges would represent a seismic shift in Oklahoma’s budget and tax landscape.

This post will focus on SB 1246, which has now been argued in front of an Oklahoma Supreme Court referee.  The lawsuit (Fent v. Fallin) contends that SB 1246 is unconstitutional because it violates Article  5, Section 33 of the Oklahoma Constitution, which pertains to revenue bills.  The original constitutional language, which dates to statehood, states:

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They did what?? Funding grabs create shortfalls for many agencies

by | June 19th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (1)

pickpocketFaced with a nearly $200 million shortfall in building the FY 2015 budget, legislative leaders and Governor Fallin had three basic choices.

They could have simply cut spending, slashing deeply across all areas of government. This would have left unaddressed critical needs for schools, state employees, the child welfare system, and others, and forced massive cuts on our health care system.

They could have filled the budget hole by curbing tax breaks and closing tax loopholes. This would have strengthened our faltering tax system over the long term but would have antagonized powerful beneficiaries of tax preferences and anti-tax hardliners.

Instead of either of these tough options, they went for the seemingly easier one of balancing the budget by scrounging together whatever money they could find in state funds, even if they were only one-time revenues and even if the money was collected for other purposes than supporting general state operations.

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Inappropriate appropriations and a broken promise

by | June 11th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Education | Comments (4)

cookie jarIn building next year’s budget, legislative leaders and Governor Mary Fallin faced the challenge of starting with nearly $200 million less revenue than this year. Ultimately, the FY 2015 budget ended up at nearly the same amount as this year. In order to get the numbers to balance, the budget agreement scrounged together nearly $300 million in one-time revenue from nearly 30 different funds, including cash reserves, agency revolving funds and other state funds (see the full list here).

The use of one-time revenues to fund ongoing budgetary obligations has drawn concern from OK Policy, Treasurer Ken Miller, and others, particularly for building automatic holes into future year budgets. There has been less attention paid to whether the use of these one-time revenues for general appropriations was legal or constitutional.

One especially problematic provision of the budget  has gone largely undetected until now — the diversion of nearly $8 million from the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program (OHLAP), also known as Oklahoma’s Promise scholarships. This diversion could cause a popular pathway to college to run out of money for low- and moderate income students. It also seems to rest on very shaky legal footing.

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Banker, education leader join OK Policy Board

by | June 5th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, OK Policy | Comments (0)

Oklahoma Policy Institute is pleased to announce that NBC Oklahoma Chairman Ken Fergeson and Edmond Public School Superintendent David Goin have joined the organization’s Board of Directors.

“We are delighted to be adding two outstanding individuals, Ken Fergeson and David Goin, who have made great contributions to the state through their professional careers and community service,” said Vince LoVoi, OK Policy’s Board Chair. “David and Ken will add to our tradition of building a strong board that reflects the political, geographic, and professional diversity of our state.”

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Common Core repeal could put Oklahoma schools under more federal control

by | June 3rd, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (0)

275px-No_Child_Left_Behind_ActWith the legislative session now adjourned, attention shifts to Governor Mary Fallin, who has 15 days from the day bills reach her desk to sign or veto legislation (she can also exercise a ‘pocket veto‘ by taking no action on a bill).  Her toughest decision, and the one generating the most attention, is over HB 3399, the bill aiming to repeal Common Core standards. While there is much at stake for Oklahoma’s education system in the bill, one of the most serious consequences is that Oklahoma could lost its waiver exempting the state from parts of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is the federal education bill passed by Congress in 2001 that requires schools show Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)* in student performance on standardized tests.  Schools that failed to meet AYP goals were subject to various improvement measures and sanctions. By 2014, every child in 3rd through 8th grade was expected to be testing on grade level in reading and math.

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Games legislators play

by | June 2nd, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (0)

truefalseIn the final days of session in May, the legislature approved SB 2127, the annual General Appropriations (GA) bill providing funding for most state agencies.  The press release issued by the Governor, House Speaker and Senate President claimed that the agreement reduces spending by $102.1 million, or 1.4 percent compared to the FY 2014 appropriated budget.

Given that the budget negotiators started with $188 million less of available revenue, limiting FY 2015 cuts to $102.1 million might seem like an accomplishment to be proud of. But under closer scrutiny this story doesn’t quite hold up, and neither do several other assertions made in the wake of the budget agreement. In this post we shed light at a few of the secrets buried in the budget.

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Breaking down the FY 2015 budget

by | May 23rd, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Featured Home Page | Comments (1)

Yesterday the legislature passed the FY 2015 General Appropriations bill, which funds state government for the upcoming year on the basis of an agreement reached by Governor Fallin and legislative leaders.  While negotiators were clearly dealt a tough hand in constructing a budget, the results were disappointing for anyone hoping for a budget that meets the state’s critical obligations in a responsible and sustainable way.

Total legislative appropriations for FY 2015 are $7.193 billion, which is essentially unchanged from last year’s $7.197 billion budget (1). Starting with some $188 million less revenue  than was appropriated this year, the budget tapped  $254 million in one-time revenues that were transferred from a variety of accounts, including the Cash Flow Reserve Fund ($101 million), the Unclaimed Property Fund ($40 million), and more than two dozen agency revolving funds ($108.2 million).


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