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All articles by David Blatt

Six takeaways from Oklahoma’s new budget estimates

by | January 3rd, 2017 | Posted in Budget | Comments (0)

In late December, the State Equalization Board met and approved a preliminary estimate of state revenues for the upcoming budget year, FY 2018. This estimate will be the basis of Governor Fallin’s Executive Budget, to be  released on the first day of session in February. The Board will meet later in February to approve revised revenue estimates that will be binding on the Legislature as it develops the FY 2018 budget. The Board also reviewed revised estimates for the current year.

Here are six things you should know about Oklahoma’s budget outlook based on the December certification:

continue reading Six takeaways from Oklahoma’s new budget estimates

Five reasons NOT to donate to OK Policy

by | December 27th, 2016 | Posted in Blog, OK Policy | Comments (0)

At this time of year, lots of terrific organizations are offering you compelling reasons to donate to them. We have developed a contrarian tradition of trying to convince you why you should NOT  donate to OK Policy.  Here are five reasons why you might decide that a donation to OK Policy is a bad idea.

1. Facts don’t matter

Facts, schmacts – who needs ’em?? If you believe that public policy debates and decisions should be guided by party affiliation, ideological beliefs, and ill-informed opinion, please do NOT donate to OK Policy. Because our role is to provide independent, data-driven information, analysis, and ideas on the major policy issues facing Oklahoma. Our legislative primer, county facts,  and budget highlights all provide the facts you’ll want to avoid

2. You really needed that tax cut

Last year, in the midst of two revenue failures and a $1.3 billion budget shortfall, our legislators allowed a quarter-point cut in the top income tax rate to take effect. The tax cut provided less than $4 a month to the average Oklahoma family, while ensuring deeper cuts for public schools, colleges and universities, health care services, and other building blocks of a prosperous state. We know most Oklahomans agreed with us that the tax cut should’ve been cancelled or deferred. But if that tax cut was your idea of good public policy, then you likely should not donate to help OK Policy fight for better fiscal decisions (you can use our online calculator to see how much the tax cut was worth to you).

3. You shouldn’t know how the state budget is spent

OK Policy works to explain the appropriations process, show where state revenues come from and how they are spent, and track budget trends over time, guided by the belief that an informed citizenry is vital to a healthy, functioning democracy. With an ever-shrinking Capitol press corps, many people count on OK Policy to shine a light on what’s happening behind the curtains. But if you prefer to remain in the dark, then making a tax-deductible contribution to OK Policy is most certainly a bad idea.

4. Oklahoma invests too much in education and other core services

Since 2008, Oklahoma has slashed state support for public schools by among the most in the nation and we are falling ever further behind in paying our hard-working teachers and state employees fair and competitive wages. Meanwhile, severe understaffing of our prisons puts the safety of corrections officers at risk and thousands of those with developmental disabilities and mental illness languish on waiting lists. Now we are facing another year of gaping budget shortfalls. Some say we will just need to cut deeper and not look at options that would put more revenue on the table. If you agree, you should not donate to OK Policy.

5. 49th is OK, 50th is Better

In Oklahoma, one in six of us, and one in four children, live in households that earn too little to stay above the poverty line. On a whole range of health and social indicators, Oklahoma ranks among the states with the worst outcomes, leading some to suggest that our state motto should be “Thank God for Mississippi.” One of OK Policy’s core convictions is that we need purposeful strategies aimed at expanding opportunities for all Oklahomans. We put forward thoughtful, practical policy proposals that will lead to a more prosperous, healthier state (you cam see our Agenda for Better Jobs and Opportunities here). But if you think we just need to work harder to outdo Mississippi in the race to the bottom, donating to OK Policy is probably not a good idea.

Kidding aside, we sincerely hope you will make a tax-deductible one-time or recurring year-end donation to OK Policy to help ensure that our work continues to have an impact in 2017. We greatly appreciate your support, and we wish you all the best during this holiday season.

PS: The best way to stay uninformed about the budget crisis facing Oklahoma is to not attend our State Budget Summit on Thursday, January 26th in Oklahoma City. And if you do decide to attend, please wait until after January 5th to buy your tickets so as not to be eligible for our special early-bird registration price of $75!

STATEMENT: Revenue certification brings tidings of discomfort and woe

by | December 21st, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Taxes | Comments (2)

Oklahoma Policy Institute issued the following statement after the State Equalization Board certified $869 million less for next year’s budget than this year’s authorized budget:

As we enter the holiday season, Oklahomans today learned that the state faces a budget shortfall of over $850 million for the year ahead. The news of another massive shortfall is especially troubling to the tens of thousands of dedicated teachers and state employees who have already gone years without a raise; to children subject to larger class sizes and inexperienced teachers; to those on long waiting lists for critical mental health, substance abuse, and disability services; to health care and social service providers whose reimbursement rates have been repeatedly cut; and to all Oklahomans who have seen a steady decline in public services after years and years of budget cuts.

This year’s shortfall is the result not only of a struggling economy but of policy choices that have shrunk our revenue base and resorted to one-time revenues to plug budget holes. The result is a structural budget deficit that won’t be fixed just by a recovery in oil and gas prices.

This session, lawmakers will have to make the difficult decisions to boost recurring revenues in order to avoid devastating cuts and to address the teacher pay crisis and other urgent needs. All options should be on the table, including reversing some of the $1.5 billion in tax cuts that have been enacted in recent years, as well as closing tax loopholes, broadening the sales tax to more good and services, and raising certain excise taxes.

The one silver lining to today’s announcement is that another ill-timed tax cut is now unlikely to be triggered automatically next year. Already, overall state appropriations are 15 percent below where they were a decade ago when adjusted for inflation and will likely fall again next year. Knowing that it will take at least several years for revenues to recover to where they were before this latest economic downturn, lawmakers this session should cancel the next tax cut or ensure that it can only take effect once the budget has time to recover.

Join us for the 2017 State Budget Summit

by | December 13th, 2016 | Posted in Budget, OK Policy, Upcoming Events | Comments (0)

As Oklahoma’s 2017 legislative session approaches, the combination of continued budget shortfalls at the state level and a new national Administration and Congress committed to far-reaching changes to critical programs have created an unprecedented level of uncertainty and apprehension. OK Policy’s 4th Annual State Budget Summit, which will be held on Thursday, January 26th in Oklahoma City, will bring together all those with an interest in state policy issues for a day of thoughtful discussion and exchange of ideas aimed at understanding the challenges we now face and charting a course for a more prosperous future.

The special early-bird registration price of just $75 is available through January 5th. Click here to register. The cost as of January 6th is $90.

continue reading Join us for the 2017 State Budget Summit

Trigger Warning: Legislature sets itself up for another ill-timed income tax cut

by | December 8th, 2016 | Posted in Budget, Taxes | Comments (2)

Small Handgun with Red TriggerThis time last year, Oklahoma was in the middle of a massive budget crisis. As revenues came in below projections, the state twice made across-the-board budget cuts that hit our schools, health care, roads, and other key building blocks of our economy. Then the Legislature came into session facing a $1.3 billion shortfall, which led to even deeper cuts. In the midst of this agony, another tax cut took effect at the start of this year — adding at least $150 million to the budget hole and ensuring that critical services were slashed more deeply than would have been necessary without the tax cut.

That tax cut kicked in because of a poorly-designed trigger mechanism passed by legislators in 2014. This year could be déjà vu all over again. As a result of the same legislation passed nearly three years ago, Oklahoma could face another automatic tax cut simultaneously as we grapple with another huge budget hole and the likelihood of even more painful cuts. It’s time to learn from our mistakes. Making sure that this tax cut does not take effect should be a top priority of next year’s Legislature.

continue reading Trigger Warning: Legislature sets itself up for another ill-timed income tax cut

Six takeaways from Tuesday’s vote

by | November 14th, 2016 | Posted in Elections | Comments (2)

I-votedWhile most of the attention in Oklahoma last week focused on the geological earthquake that shook the state and the political earthquake that shook the nation, the state election results got less detailed coverage. Here are a few of our important takeaways from the vote:

Turnout was up

A total of 1,451,056 Oklahomans cast ballots for President, according to data provided by the State Election Board. That’s 132,000 more than the Presidential votes cast in 2012 (1,332,872), a 9.9 percent increase, but almost identical to the numbers in 2008 (1,462,661) and 2004 (1,463,758). Oklahoma saw a big increase in early voting: over 152,000 people took advantage of in-person early voting, compared to a previous high of 114,000 in 2008. The turnout rate of registered voters was 67.3 percent, also up from 2012. We won’t have numbers on the turnout rate for eligible voters — which includes those who are not registered to vote – until the Census Bureau releases data from its voter survey, but it should be up slightly from the 52.4 percent of eligible voters who voted in 2012.

continue reading Six takeaways from Tuesday’s vote

Who’s not voting, and why

by | November 7th, 2016 | Posted in Elections | Comments (0)

With Election Day tomorrow, many of us are busily getting prepared to exercise one of our basic civic rights by attending candidate forums, poring over election guides, studying the seven state ballot measures, and reviewing sample ballots.  But many Oklahomans — close to half — will likely not vote on November 8th. Who are these non-voters, why aren’t they voting, and what can we do about it?

Who Doesn’t Vote

Four years ago, just 51.3 percent of voting-age Oklahomans cast a ballot in the Presidential election, one of the lowest turnout rates in the nation. Two years ago, turnout in Oklahoma and nationally fell to its lowest level in decades, with fewer than one in three (32.3 percent) of eligible voters in this state casting a ballot in the contest for Governor and other state and federal races. Nationally, turnout in the 2014 midterm elections was just 41.9 percent of the voting-age population.

continue reading Who’s not voting, and why

Fact Check: The claim that less than half of SQ 779 revenues will go to teachers is false

by | November 1st, 2016 | Posted in Education, State Questions, Taxes | Comments (18)

A central claim being made by opponents of State Question 779, the ballot measure that would increase the sales tax by one percentage point to boost funding for education, is that less than half the money will go to raise teacher pay. This assertion is made repeatedly on the homepage and campaign ads of the group leading the No on 779 campaign and has been repeated by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs and other organizations.

The assertion is false. SQ 779 clearly provides that of all revenue received by the new one-cent tax, a full 60 percent will go to teacher pay.

Here’s how it will work. Under the new language to be added to the state Constitution, 69.5 percent of all revenue from the one-cent sales tax will go to common education. How common education’s share will be allocated is spelled out in Article XIII, Section C.3.A.1  and Section C.4, as follows:

continue reading Fact Check: The claim that less than half of SQ 779 revenues will go to teachers is false

Claims that SQ 777 will boost food security are hard to swallow

yes-on-sq-777-facebook-post

Photo by Yes On 777 campaign.

Note: This is an expanded and revised version of a column that appeared in the Journal Record.

Vote Yes on State Question 777 or else more Oklahoma children and seniors will go hungry?

That’s the highly misleading message that supporters of the so-called Right to Farm amendment are asking Oklahoma voters to swallow.

The campaign for this amendment is being sponsored primarily by the Farm Bureau and other major agribusiness associations. If approved in November, SQ 777 would entrench in the state Constitution the right to engage in far-ranging agricultural practices. The Oklahoma Legislature and local governments would not be allowed to make any new laws regulating the use of agricultural technology, livestock procedures, or ranching practices unless they could be shown to serve a “compelling state  interest” and meet a legal standard of “strict scrutiny.”

Strict scrutiny is the very highest level of constitutional restriction — one that’s currently reserved for laws that discriminate on the basis of race or deprive people of fundamental rights like free speech, gun ownership, or freedom of religion.

continue reading Claims that SQ 777 will boost food security are hard to swallow

Oklahoma becomes a leader at managing volatile revenue (Guest Post: Robert Zahradnik, Jonathan Moody, and Steve Bailey)

by | October 4th, 2016 | Posted in Budget, Taxes | Comments (0)

Robert Zahradnik is a director and Steve Bailey and Jon Moody are senior associates with The Pew Charitable Trustsstates’ fiscal health team. This post originally appeared on the Pew blog and is reposted here with permission.

Volatile revenue sources can create problems for states that rely on them for recurring budget expenditures. During good times, these unstable revenue streams can produce large surpluses that allow policymakers to expand programs or cut taxes. However, dramatic revenue declines often follow those unexpected booms, causing large budget holes and leaving lawmakers scrambling to balance the books.

Few states know this unfortunate pattern better than Oklahoma. The state’s General Revenue Fund (GRF) is supported in part by oil and gas gross production taxes and corporate income taxes, two especially volatile revenue sources. After contributing nearly $250 million to the state’s GRF in 2000, oil production taxes didn’t even meet the minimum requirement to allocate any funds to the GRF from 2001 to 2004. Similarly, gas production taxes contributed almost $700 million to the GRF in 2008 but less than $100 million in 2015.

continue reading Oklahoma becomes a leader at managing volatile revenue (Guest Post: Robert Zahradnik, Jonathan Moody, and Steve Bailey)

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