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All articles by David Blatt

Confront the ‘parasite economy’ by raising the minimum wage

by | July 21st, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Economy, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (1)

Every three months, the ADP Research Institute releases its Workforce Vitality Index, a measure of private sector job and wage growth.  For the past two quarters, Washington state has led the nation in growing jobs and boosting wages, far outpacing the national average and such states as Texas, Florida, and California.

Why does this matter?   Because Washington state has one of the highest minimum wages in the nation at $9.47 an hour. And since April 2015, the city of Seattle has been moving towards a $15 minimum wage, with the current minimum ranging from $10.50 to $13 depending on employer size.  As the Workforce Vitality Index shows, businesses in Seattle and Washington state are thriving and generating more employment. Seattle’s restaurant industry — which fought the wage laws fiercely — is continuing to add jobs.

continue reading Confront the ‘parasite economy’ by raising the minimum wage

Time for Oklahoma to off the runoff

by | July 18th, 2016 | Posted in Elections | Comments (0)

runners in business suitsWhen August 23rd rolls around next month, you can be sure that lots of things will be on Oklahomans’ minds: kids going back to school, the upcoming Labor Day weekend, and the start of college football season, to name a few. What probably won’t be on the minds of most Oklahomans are the primary runoff elections that will be held in a handful of districts across the state that day. Yet these run-off elections, decided by a shrunken electorate, will have a decisive impact on who ends up representing these districts in the Legislature.

There will be 14 runoff elections this August in races where no candidate won over 50 percent of the vote in the June 28th primary. Eleven of these will be Republican runoffs — seven for the Senate and four for the House — along with two Democratic House runoffs and a Democratic runoff for the Fifth Congressional District. Interestingly, while the number of candidates filing for legislative and Congressional races surged from 311 in 2014 to 388 in 2016, there will be fewer runoffs this year (14) than in 2014 (16). In races that will be decided by a runoff, the vote total of the leading candidate in the initial primary ranged from a low of 33.47 percent for Republican Tom Gann in HD 8 to a high of 49.89 percent for Republican Adam Pugh in SD 41.

continue reading Time for Oklahoma to off the runoff

Why poverty in Oklahoma is being compared to a Third World nation

by | July 5th, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (37)

homeless mother with her daughterEach year, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof holds a Win-A-Trip contest for college students to accompany him on a reporting trip to the developing world. Most years, his trip explores  global poverty in far-flung places like Congo or Myanmar. This year, he decided to add a stop in Tulsa to see the impact of the nation’s 20-year experiment with revamping welfare.

His disheartening findings were featured in a recent Sunday’s New York Times column. “The embarrassing truth,” he writes, “is that welfare reform has resulted in a layer of destitution that echoes poverty in countries like Bangladesh.”

In 1996, President Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress approved legislation to “end welfare as we know it.” Under the replacement Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, it became harder for single parents to qualify for cash support. Recipients were subject to work requirements, harsh penalties for non-compliance, and strict time limits for receiving assistance.

continue reading Why poverty in Oklahoma is being compared to a Third World nation

Adopting the National Popular Vote would make Oklahomans’ votes matter

by | June 28th, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Elections | Comments (2)

The weeks before the Presidential primaries on Super Tuesday back in March were heady times in Oklahoma. The leading candidates for the Republican and Democratic nominations held large, enthusiastic rallies in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Voter registrations surged by nearly 30,000 in the weeks before the primary registration deadline.  Small armies of volunteers knocked doors, organized meetings, and got out the vote.

On Super Tuesday, the nation watched in fascination as Oklahoma bucked national trends to “choose Cruz” and “feel the Bern”. For choosing our parties’ nominees, our votes mattered. Oklahoma mattered.

But with the primaries over,  Oklahomans can put the Presidential election back on their list of events to be treated as pure spectator sport, like the Superbowl and World Series.  Putting aside the possibility that our Governor is selected as Donald Trump’s vice-presidential nominee, one prediction seems solid: no Presidential candidate is likely to step foot in Oklahoma again before the November 8 election.

continue reading Adopting the National Popular Vote would make Oklahomans’ votes matter

After two revenue failures, Oklahoma will end the year with surplus. What?

by | June 21st, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (6)

Bad haircutThis weekend, The Oklahoman reported the unexpected news that state finance officials now expect to end the current fiscal year with a cash surplus of at least $100 million. After two mid-year revenue failures that led to across-the-board budget cuts of 7 percent, many people are left wondering what in the world is going on. Here’s the explanation.

continue reading After two revenue failures, Oklahoma will end the year with surplus. What?

Bad Brew (Guest Post: Erin Taylor)

by | June 8th, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Children and Families | Comments (3)

trashcan-punchErin Taylor, PhD is a mother to five and a disability advocate living in Oklahoma City. Her previous guest post, “What I Didn’t Get From My Tax Cut,” ran in March.

Like many advocates, I’m still recovering from the Capitol last week where our elected officials passed a trash can punch of a budget. It reeks of classism and party dogma. As an Oklahoma mother who sends my children to public school and colleges, uses child support, and holds Medicaid (TEFRA) on my child with a developmental disability, our family will be paying the price.

I also work on behalf of some of Oklahoma’s most vulnerable – adults with intellectual disabilities and families coming to terms with their child’s developmental disability. Oklahomans with developmental disabilities and chronic medical conditions are vulnerable because of the choices we make as a state to not fund adequate supports, whether they be family-based, caretaking, medical, therapeutic or disability-oriented. The greatest challenge facing these Oklahomans is not the diagnosis but the lack of services and financial resources. If we insisted that our state human services, mental health, and Medicaid agencies were humanely funded, we’d see a sharp decline in the number of Oklahomans we classify as vulnerable. Instead, we’d have viable Oklahomans, making use of their supports, so they can exist as tax-paying, financially secure citizens.

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Highs and lows of Oklahoma’s 2016 legislative session

The 2016 session began with some high hopes and grave concerns given the state’s massive budget shortfall. Prior to session, OK Policy laid out our top priorities in the areas of budget and taxes, health care, education, criminal justice, economic opportunity, and voting and elections. A few of our priorities met with success, many did not, and there were more than a few surprises along the way.  Here’s our staff’s recap of the major highs and lows of the 2016 session in the issue areas in which we were most deeply engaged.

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‘Behind Smoky Doors’: Last-minute bills breed public distrust

by | June 2nd, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (7)

smoky doorEach year, the Legislature appropriates a sum of money to the Department of Education in the General Appropriations bill for “programs and activities.” This line-item covers contributions to teachers’ retirement, early childhood education, alternative education, reading sufficiency, remedial programming, and more. This year, in a budget that was heralded for “holding education harmless,” the programs and activities budget was slashed by 30 percent.

There was no press release announcing this cut, which will have serious consequences for public schools. No detailed summary was made available to the public explaining the change in funding. By the time the Department of Education uncovered the cut, the budget had already passed the Senate and was set for final passage in the House.

continue reading ‘Behind Smoky Doors’: Last-minute bills breed public distrust

Where next year’s shortfall starts: Budget counts on $600-$750 million in one-time revenues

by | May 27th, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (2)

Close-up Of Metal Chain Linked With Paper Clip

OK Policy’s analysis of the General Appropriations bill and budget documents released this week shows that far more than half of the additional revenues agreed to by legislative leaders and Gov. Fallin as part of the FY 2017 budget consists of non-recurring revenue that will not be available in future years. This reliance on one-time funding ensures that Oklahoma will remain mired in a deep budget hole going into FY 2018, even if energy prices recover over the coming year.

The Legislature is set to appropriate $6.778 billion for FY 2017.  The budget includes $1.046 million in revenue enhancements that have been added to the amount certified by the State Equalization Board in February. Of this amount, less than $200 million is clearly new recurring revenue from ending or limiting tax breaks and improving tax collections. The Legislature has also capped the rebate for economically at-risk wells, a move which boosts projected revenue collections for FY 2017 by $111 million but is less real new revenue than avoidance of revenue losses.  Additionally, there is $132 million in the budget that is transferred from the Cash Flow Reserve Fund. Previously, these transfers have been counted as one-time money, but under HB 3206, money from the Cash Flow Reserve Fund will become part of annually certified funds. Counting this revenue brings new recurring revenue up to $432 million.

continue reading Where next year’s shortfall starts: Budget counts on $600-$750 million in one-time revenues

Budget agreement leaves $243 million in Rainy Day Fund

by | May 24th, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (0)

The budget agreement announced today by legislative leaders and the Governor includes some $1.060 billion in additional revenue above what was certified by the Board of Equalization in February as available for the budget. This includes $200 million in transportation bonds, along with $153 million more in one-time funding diverted from state and county transportation funds. However, only $65.9 million is slated to come from the state’s Rainy Day Fund. The Legislature is opting to leave the Fund with a balance of $243 million, all of which could be appropriated this legislative session.

The Constitution (Article X, Section 23) allows the Fund to be spent in three main ways:

  • Up to three-eighths to make up for a shortfall in the current year’s collections.
  • Up to three-eighths if General Revenue collections for the upcoming year are forecast to be less than the current year’s collections.
  • Up to one-fourth through the appropriations process for an emergency.

RDF-May2016

After $150 million was used from the Rainy Day Fund last year, the Fund had a balance of $385 million at the start of  this year. With the state’s two successive revenue failures, a full 3/8th could have been appropriated as FY 2016 supplementals to soften the budget cuts for particular agencies. In March, the Legislature approved supplementals of $51 million for common education and $27.6 million for Corrections. The remaining $66 million went unspent, even in the face of deep and painful cuts enacted by the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Department of Human Services, and other agencies.

It now appears that of the remaining $308 million in the RDF, less than one-quarter will be used for FY 2017, even as the budget enacts deep and harmful cuts to many state agencies. Given the likelihood that the state is unlikely to make a quick exit from the current downturn, there is a strong case to be made for caution in depleting the Rainy Day Fund. However, the Fund’s rules mean that there is a real chance that the lion’s share of the Fund could not be used next year should revenues meet projections (no current year revenue failure) and should FY 2018 revenue projections exceed FY 2017 by even a small amount (no forthcoming year shortfall). Only the portion available upon declaration of an emergency would be available to help bolster the FY 2018 budget.

Over the final three days of session, we are likely to hear strong appeals for additional funding from those affected by continued cuts to state services, especially in the areas of mental health, human services, and higher education. Allocating a share of the $176 million that the Constitution makes available for addressing forthcoming year shortfalls and for emergencies makes sense and should get legislators’ strong consideration.

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