All articles by David Blatt

Budget road certain to be rocky

by | January 27th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Taxes | Comments (2)
Photo by _chrisUK.

Photo by _chrisUK.

As we look ahead to next year’s state budget, one thing is for certain: it’s going to be a very rocky ride.

Last month, the Board of Equalization certified $298 million less revenue for next year’s budget than was appropriated this year. As we discussed in this blog post, the initial certification assumes that tax collections will grow next year, despite low energy prices; the shortfall is due to the use of over $400 million in one-time funds from cash reserves and agency revolving funds to balance this year’s budget, as well as a quarter-point cut in the income tax that last year’s Legislature scheduled to take effect at the start of 2016.

continue reading Budget road certain to be rocky

The con-con con

by | January 26th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (0)

editing-constitutionA proposal that could lead to far-reaching and radical changes to America’s time-tested constitution is being pushed in states across the country this year. Oklahoma would be well-advised to resist jumping aboard this particular train.

In Oklahoma and other states, bills have been introduced calling for a constitutional convention, or “con-con,” to amend the U.S. Constitution in order to approve a federal Balanced Budget Amendment, among other possible constitutional changes. Under Article V of the Constitution, a convention to amend the Constitution must be convened if two-thirds of the states call for one. In U.S. history, no convention has ever been convened since the one that produced the Constitution in 1787. Instead, all 27 constitutional amendments have been approved first by a two-thirds vote in Congress and then ratified by three-quarters of the states. 

continue reading The con-con con

Higher Education: A sound investment towards Oklahoma’s economic prosperity (Guest Post: Michael Thomas)

by | January 20th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (0)

MichaelThomasMichael Thomas is one of four 2014-2015 OK Policy Research Fellows. Michael is a Master’s student in the Higher Education and Student Affairs program at Oklahoma State University. He works as a Graduate Research Assistant for the department of Graduate Studies, Outreach, and Research, focusing on the recruitment and retention of graduate students within the College of Education. He aspires to become a Professor of Higher Education Leadership and Policy.

The vitality of higher education is a fundamental and increasingly important determinant of a nation’s position in the world economy. Oklahoma is no stranger to this concept. In 2008, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education contracted with Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI) to analyze the economic contribution of Oklahoma’s higher education system on the state’s economy. Examining current and future contributions of higher education through the development of a single-region, 70-sector Policy Insight Model, REMI demonstrated that by 2048, increased earnings from college graduates will contribute $8.825 billion annually to state disposable income. As a result, economic activity will increase, leading to more economic growth for the region.

continue reading Higher Education: A sound investment towards Oklahoma’s economic prosperity (Guest Post: Michael Thomas)

One-year price tag for oil and gas tax breaks to exceed $500 million

by | January 20th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (0)

oil productionThe cost of tax breaks for the oil and gas industry will exceed $500 million this year, according to projections recently released by the Oklahoma Tax Commission. This is substantially more than the projections made a year ago, reflecting the growing shift of production to minimally-taxed horizontal wells. The tax break for horizontal production alone is now estimated at a whopping $379 million for FY 2015.

The Tax Commission presented forecasts of gross production tax revenues on oil and gas for FY 2015 and FY 2016 in mid-December. For FY 2015, the OTC projects the state will collect $590.5 million in gross production taxes based on an average oil price of $76.32 per barrel and an average natural gas price of $4.25 mcf. Of this total amount, $63.1 million will be collected at the 1 percent tax rate, which is the rate currently assessed on horizontal wells during the first years of production, and $5.6 million at the 4 percent rate assessed on deep wells.

continue reading One-year price tag for oil and gas tax breaks to exceed $500 million

Tax cut trigger shoots Oklahoma deeper into hole

by | January 5th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (3)

shootyourselfinthefootLast month, the Board of Equalization certified that revenues will grow enough next year to trigger a cut in the state’s top income tax rate. At the same time, the Board determined that the state will have nearly $300 million less available revenue for next year’s budget. How can both these things be true?

Last year, the Legislature passed a bill, SB 1246, to cut the top personal income tax rate to 5 percent from 5.25 percent. Out of concern that Oklahoma couldn’t balance its budget this year if the tax cut took effect immediately, the cut was deferred to January 1, 2016 and set to kick in only if the Board of Equalization projected that General Revenue (GR) for FY 2016 would be greater than the projected revenue for FY 2014 that was certified in February 2013.

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Five reasons NOT to donate to OK Policy

by | December 23rd, 2014 | Posted in OK Policy | Comments (0)

Close-up ScroogeTypically, when we reach out to ask you to contribute to Oklahoma Policy Institute, we list all the good reasons why you should support our work with a tax-deductible donation. But because we are a fair and nonpartisan organization, it’s become an end-of-year tradition for us to share a reminder that there are plenty of great reasons not to contribute to OK Policy as well. Here are five of them:

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New report shares ideas for repairing Oklahoma’s broken democracy

by | December 16th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Elections | Comments (5)

Electoral participation is a cornerstone of our representative democracy. The vote allows citizens to participate freely and fairly in the political process and ensures that elected officials stay accountable to their constituents.

percentage-voting-OK-and-USYet in Oklahoma we are seeing growing signs of the breakdown of electoral participation. For example:

  • In this year’s midterm elections, less than 30 percent of eligible voters made it to the polls to cast a ballot for Governor and other offices. This was the lowest turnout in at least 50 years and perhaps in state history.
  • In 65 of 101 seats for the state House of Representatives, the winner was decided without voters casting a ballot in the general election.
  • In primary runoff elections this fall, average turnout was 18 percent, and for the two statewide Democratic runoff contests, barely one in ten registered party members cast a ballot.
  • In the 2012 November Presidential election, Oklahoma’s voter turnout was just 52.4 percent, third worst in the nation.
  • Only 66 percent of voting-age citizens in Oklahoma are even registered to vote, the nation’s eighth lowest registration rate.

It hasn’t always been like this. As late as 2004, Oklahoma’s voter registration rate and turnout rate remained on a par with or just above the national average.

Many voices have lamented Oklahoma’s declining electoral participation, but often the only solution offered is to urge our friends, neighbors, and colleagues to be better citizens. But in reality, the electoral rules and practices established by Oklahoma’s state lawmakers and officials are part of the reason why electoral participation is so low. And there are many reforms Oklahoma could adopt that would help repair our broken democracy by boosting voter turnout and electoral competition.

A new OK Policy issue brief reviews the numerous signs of weakening electoral participation in Oklahoma and considers some of the factors that may be hindering Oklahomans from fuller participation. We then lay out a broad range of possible reforms, which include:

continue reading New report shares ideas for repairing Oklahoma’s broken democracy

Upcoming Event: State Budget Summit featuring E.J. Dionne

by | December 15th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget, OK Policy, Taxes, Upcoming Events | Comments (0)
Photo by Marcin Wichary.

Photo by Marcin Wichary.

Although Oklahoma is now several years removed from the worst of the fiscal crisis that accompanied the Great Recession, the gap between the cost of providing basic public services and the revenues we collect to pay for them seems to be growing. State agencies continue to be squeezed by budget cuts and funding shortfalls, tax collections are flat or declining, and ever greater challenges are looming on the horizon. What ideas and solutions can we bring to bear to address the fiscal gap?

These questions will be addressed on Thursday, January 29th as part of OK Policy’s 2nd State Budget Summit, titled “Mind the Gap: Sensible Budget Policy in Challenging Times”.  The event will run from 9:00 am – 3:00 pm at the Will Rogers Theater, 4322 N. Western Ave, Oklahoma City, OK 73118. Click here to buy tickets. The cost is $60, which includes morning refreshments and lunch; scholarships are available for students and those for whom cost would be an obstacle (to request a scholarship, send a brief email to info@okpolicy.org)

continue reading Upcoming Event: State Budget Summit featuring E.J. Dionne

Legislature’s wandering budget hands get slapped again

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

pickpocketFor the second time, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has struck down a provision of this year’s state budget, ruling that the legislature acted unconstitutionally when it pulled $5 million out of the State Health Department’s Trauma Care Assistance Fund to fund other government services.

In June, the A.G. ruled that the legislature had acted improperly when it diverted $7.9 million intended for the Oklahoma Higher Access Learning Program (OHLAP), also known as Oklahoma’s Promise, for other purposes. The college scholarship money was part of $191 million that the legislature redirected from nearly 30 different agency revolving funds and other state funds in an effort to balance the FY 2015 budget and avert even deeper cuts to services.  With the OHLAP money no longer available, officials decided to apply an across-the-board cut to all agencies in proportion to their funding from the FY 2015 General Revenue fund.

Back in June, we called attention to several other funding grabs by the Legislature to balance their budget. In the case of the Health Department’s Trauma Care Assistance Fund, we noted that this would result in a $3 million shortfall in payments to hospitals and other trauma care providers in FY 2015, and had also led the agency to further slash critical funding for community health centers and cut support for the cord blood bank.

continue reading Legislature’s wandering budget hands get slapped again

Now what?

by | November 12th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Elections | Comments (2)

Governor Mary FallinThis is an expanded and edited version of a column that appeared in the Journal Record

As expected, Oklahoma voters have re-elected Governor Mary Fallin to a second term. Backed by a strong Republican majority in the legislature, the Governor will have another four years to put her policies in place.

Yet even those voters who were paying attention during the campaign can be forgiven for lacking a clear sense of the Governor’s second-term agenda.

Last month, the Tulsa World provided Governor Fallin space for 600 words to make the case for her re-election. She wrote at length in praise of her accomplishments in her first term and against the policies of her opponent, Rep. Joe Dorman. But in 29 sentences, exactly one spoke to the future:

continue reading Now what?

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