All articles by David Blatt

Medicaid on the chopping block

by | April 16th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Featured Health Care, Healthcare | Comments (0)

Download the TogetherOK fact sheet: SoonerCare Cuts Threaten Oklahoma’s Health

Photo by Eric Tastad used under a Creative Commons license.

Photo by Eric Tastad used under a Creative Commons license.

Just prior to the start of the legislative session we ran a blog  post titled “Avoiding devastating health care cuts will require hard choices.” Two-and-a-half  months later, as legislative leaders begin to look in earnest at crafting a budget deal, the budget outlook for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services continues to look grim. Lawmakers have not yet done anything to stave off cuts that would create serious hardship for Oklahomans.

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Sex, forecasting and fiscal planning (okay, no sex)

by | April 14th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (0)

crystal ballTwice a year,  the seven members of the State Board of Equalization – six statewide elected officers and the Secretary of Agriculture – get together to certify how much revenue the legislature will have to appropriate for the upcoming fiscal year. The Board is presented with revenue estimates that come from the Oklahoma Tax Commission based largely on a forecasting model operated by Oklahoma State University economic professor Dan Rickman.  The Board certifies an initial estimate in December, which is used to develop the Governor’s Executive Budget. They make a revised estimate in February that becomes binding on the legislature.

This year, it had been widely expected that the February estimates would see an increase from December. Instead, the estimates were down, due to a steep drop in projected collections from the corporate income tax. After prolonged questioning of Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger, Attorney General Scott Pruitt voted against certifying the revised estimates, while Treasurer Ken Miller made clear that he was voting yes with great reluctance.

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Education follows the ROADS to guaranteed funding growth

by | April 9th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Education | Comments (0)

school children roadA decade ago, following the overwhelming defeat of a referendum to boost state taxes on motor fuels, supporters of increased transportation funding hit on a new approach.  In 2005, the legislature approved HB 1078,  creating the Rebuilding Oklahoma Access and Driver Safety (ROADS) fund dedicated for maintenance and repair of state highways and bridges. State dollars would be allocated directly to the ROADS fund “off the top” from  income tax collections without going through the appropriations process, and the fund would be guaranteed an automatic annual increase until it reached an overall cap.

The idea worked. The ROADS fund reached $357 million this year and is slated to grow an additional $59.7 million annually until it hits $575 million. The increased funding has allowed the Department of Transportation to bring about significant infrastructure improvements and adopt a succession of 8-year construction work plans.

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New Poll: Voters favor end to drilling tax break

by | April 8th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (0)

A new poll finds that Oklahoma voters strongly support eliminating tax breaks for horizontal drilling in order to  provide more funding for education, public safety, highways, and other state needs.

2014-poll-breaksNearly two-thirds of voters (64 percent) oppose providing tax breaks to oil and gas companies that use the horizontal drilling process, while less than a third support the tax break (28 percent) after hearing short arguments in favor of and against them.  Ending the horizontal drilling tax break is a popular idea across party lines, with a majority of Democrats (73 percent), independents (75 percent), and Republicans (51 percent) all opposed to the tax break.

Oklahoma currently taxes horizontal wells at only 1 percent for the first 48 months of production, compared to 7 percent for traditional production. The tax break cost the state $164 million last year and is projected to increase to $251 million this year.

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That’s a Whopper: Total revenue is a false measure of school funding

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

WhopperIn making the case against additional funding for public schools, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) has recently asserted that “Oklahoma’s per-pupil revenues — – a whopping $12,206 in fiscal year 2013 — – are at record levels.”  The $12,206 figure has been cited in numerous editorials and articles, and was a common talking point among some legislators at last week’s education rally.

In looking at the actual numbers used by OCPA, one sees that they generated their “whopping” $12,206 per-pupil average by considering the lump-sum total of all school revenues, include revenues that have little or no bearing on school operating budgets. Most importantly, the lump-sum total includes all money in school bond funds,  sinking funds, building funds, and municipal levy funds, as well as dedicated taxes, such as the MAPS fund. It also includes money for school lunch programs paid for by students out-of-pocket and through the federal Free- and Reduced-Lunch Program, and all revenues generated locally by fundraising and ticket sales for school activities, such as athletics and band trips.

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With the right choices, we can restore education funding

by | March 31st, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Education, Taxes | Comments (0)

okedrallyThese are the prepared remarks delivered by David Blatt at the Oklahoma Education Rally on March 31st

It’s amazing to see such a huge crowd standing up for public education and Oklahoma’s children. Thank you all for being here.

My name is David Blatt. I’m the Executive Director of Oklahoma Policy Institute, a non-partisan think-tank that works on education and other state policy issues. We lead a coalition called Together Oklahoma, and if you want to find our information and join with us in the work that we do, please visit TogetherOk.org and okpolicy.org 

When you leave the rally this morning to go talk to legislators, many of them will express sympathy for boosting funding for education, but they may tell you that the money just isn’t there.  Don’t believe them. We have options, and I’m going to tell you what they are.

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Filling the Hole: Options for a balanced approach to the state budget shortfall

by | March 25th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (0)

Appropriations-08-15-CPIadjusted

The Board of Equalization has certified that legislators will have $188 million less for next year’s budget compared to this year.  In her FY 2015 Executive Budget, Governor Fallin proposed an overall cut of 1.9 percent across all of state government and cuts of 5 percent to most agency budgets. In a new issue brief, OK Policy argues that responding to budget shortfalls by imposing deeper budget cuts is not an inevitable outcome.

The prospect of a new round of budget cuts is of grave concern for two main reasons:

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Graph of the Day: State tax rates and drilling activity show no correlation

by | March 20th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (0)

In recent years there has been a tremendous growth of horizontal drilling for oil and gas across the United States.  In Oklahoma, this has led to growing concern that the state’s tax breaks for horizontal drilling are growing out of control at the expense of adequate funding for our schools and other critical services.

Oklahoma taxes traditional production at 7 percent but provides for a lower tax rate to support certain kinds of production seen as especially risky or costly. As the result of a tax break first enacted in the 1990′s, horizontal production is taxed at only 1 percent for the first four years of production. The state is now forsaking some $250 million in revenue from this tax break.

Some proponents of the tax break for horizontal drilling claim that it is working just as it supposed to by encouraging drilling activity that benefits that state’s economy and treasury. They assert that state tax policy is an important factor in determining where energy companies chose to invest. If that were true, we’d expect that states with the lowest tax rates would see more growth in horizontal drilling while states with the highest tax rates would see less. Instead, no such correlation seems to exist.

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Revising the third-grade reading retention law

by | March 12th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (0)

test_stressIn 2011, the Oklahoma legislature approved major amendments to the Reading Sufficiency Act, a law originally enacted in 1997 to improve Oklahoma children’s reading skills. As of this year, the law requires third-grade students who score “unsatisfactory” on a state standardized reading test known as the OCCT to be retained in third grade, unless they meet limited criteria for an exemption. Schools would have no discretion or choice about retaining students with an unsatisfactory test score who do not qualify for one of the legislatively-defined exemptions.

The legislature is now considering two measures – HB 2625 and HB 2773 – that mark a significant change of direction from the mandatory retention approach in current law. Under HB 2625, authored by Rep. Katie Henke (R-Tulsa), a team composed of a parent, teacher, principal, and certified reading specialist would determine whether a child who tests unsatisfactory would be retained or promoted to fourth grade, based on “the best option for the student.” HB 2773, by Rep. Jadine Nollan (R-Sand Springs), would create a district-level appeals process for students who are retained in third grade. HB 2625 passed the House by an overwhelming vote of 84-6, while HB 2773 has passed out of committee and is awaiting action by the full House.

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The colors of money

by | March 6th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (0)
FedFunding-771x589

Source: Oklahoma Economic Report, January 2014 via Oklahoma Watch

Recently, Treasurer Ken Miller shared data from the Council of Governments showing that Oklahoma ranked 7th  in the percentage of state expenditures from federal funds, with more than two-fifths (43 percent) of all dollars spent by the state spending coming from Washington.  Federal grants account for a large share of state spending on health care, human services, roads, education , public safety, environmental protection, and other core services.

The ten states with the highest reliance on federal dollars all have Republicans controlling both the Governor’s office and legislature (see chart), and seven of these states, including Oklahoma, are refusing to accept federal funds to expand health care coverage to low-income adults under the Affordable Care Act. Governor Fallin contends that accepting these federal funds is “unworkable and unaffordable,” and would “put Oklahoma on a fiscally unsound path.” However, an in-depth study by the Leavitt Group found that extending coverage would have a $14 – $17 billion positive economic impact on the state over a decade, and would reduce spending of state dollars by $450 – $485 million.

The unwillingness of states that rely most heavily on Washington for a whole range of programs and services to accept billions in federal funds to cover the uninsured has created some confusion.  OK Policy offers the following modest proposal to sort things out:

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