All articles by David Blatt

House bill threatens Oklahoma’s Promise

by | April 27th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (0)

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 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 (2)

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.

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Education vies for funding down the road

by | March 4th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (1)

school-children-roadHow do you boost support for education in a year when the state faces a massive budget shortfall? Several bills to provide teacher pay raises have gained initial committee approval, but these bills are unlikely to make it into law given the grim budget situation. The best chance for success for education advocates seems to be a proposal by House Speaker Pro Tem Lee Denney (R-Cushing) that provides a multi-year $600 million increase in education funding, but not for another three years. Yet even this proposal is far from a sure thing.

HB 1682 creates the Securing Education Excellence Fund. The bill is designed to increase funding for common education by $59.7 million annually beginning in fiscal year 2019. The funding increase would come from income tax revenue that is take off-the-top before legislators appropriate budgets for other state services.

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Proposal aims to get a grip on Oklahoma’s business tax breaks

by | March 2nd, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (0)
Panelists discuss tax credit reform at OK Policy's State Budget Summit.

Panelists discuss tax credit reform at OK Policy’s State Budget Summit.

Oklahoma’s more than 70 business incentives are one of the primary ways the state attempts to create jobs and encourage businesses to locate and expand in Oklahoma. These tax credits, tax exemptions, and cash rebates also have a significant cost. Each year they reduce the revenue that could otherwise be used for public services by hundreds of millions of dollars.

Policymakers have struggled to determine which incentives are working, which are not, and how the state can make sure it’s getting a strong return on taxpayer dollars. Oklahoma has no formal, ongoing method to measure the effectiveness of its incentives. Though legislators have made attempts to review these programs over the years, lawmakers found that an absence of data, direction, and agency coordination stymied their progress. But a new effort aims to provide the evidence they need to evaluate tax incentive programs and invest in those that work.

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Rainy Day Fund 101

by | February 25th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Budget & Tax Basics | Comments (0)
Photo by Hamed Parham.

Photo by Hamed Parham.

With the state now facing a massive budget shortfall, attention has turned to tapping the Rainy Day Fund to close a portion of the gap. This post gives an overview of the Rainy Day Fund and how it might be used to help close Oklahoma’s current budget hole. The bottom line is that of the $535 million currently in the Fund, up to just under 5/8ths, or $325.5 million, could be appropriated for next year.

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