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All articles by David Blatt

Meet the new additions to our staff and board

by | March 21st, 2017 | Posted in OK Policy | Comments (1)

Courtney Cullison

Oklahoma Policy Institute is pleased to announce the addition of Courtney Cullison to its staff and Susan Chambers, MD to its Board of Directors.

Courtney Cullison has been hired as a policy analyst focusing on issues of economic opportunity and financial security. Before coming to OK Policy, Courtney worked in higher education, holding faculty positions at the University of Texas at Tyler and at Connors State College in eastern Oklahoma.

A native Oklahoman, she received an Honors B.A. in Political Science from Oklahoma State University, and an M.A. and Ph.D. with emphasis in congressional politics and public policy from the University of Oklahoma. While at OU, Courtney was a fellow at the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center. As a professor she taught classes in American politics, public policy, and research methods and conducted original research with a focus on the relationship between representatives and the constituents they serve. Courtney can be contacted at clcullison@okpolicy.org.

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For the first time, lawmakers were found guilty of supplanting lottery funds for schools

by | March 15th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Education | Comments (5)

Along with all of their other budget challenges, lawmakers this session will need to allocate an additional $10.1 million for the Education Lottery Trust Fund as the result of a determination made last month that lottery funds had been used to supplant rather than enhance education funding this year.

Back in 2004, Oklahoma voters established the state lottery via two state questions. The first, SQ 705, created the Lottery Commission and specified how lottery funds would be allocated. The second, SQ 706, created the Oklahoma Lottery Education Trust Fund into which lottery funds are deposited and stated that this fund could be spent only on specified education-related purposes. To ensure that money raised through the lottery would be used to enhance education spending and not allow existing education dollars to be diverted elsewhere, SQ 706 included “supplantation” language. This language was added to the State Constitution as Article X, Section 41.D :

continue reading For the first time, lawmakers were found guilty of supplanting lottery funds for schools

“Small loan” bill would mean big debts for Oklahoma families

For many Oklahomans in a financial trouble, payday loans can seem like a quick and easy fix. Borrowers can take out a payday loan for up to $500, secured by a post-dated check, usually for a period of 12 to 14 days. Under Oklahoma’s deferred deposit lending act, payday lenders can charge $45 in fees for a $300 loan, which amounts to an APR (annual percentage rate) of 391 percent.

While some borrowers turn to payday loans for an emergency car repair or other one-time needs, the industry’s successful business model is built on repeated borrowing by customers facing chronic financial difficulties. Data from Oklahoma’s payday loan database revealed that a majority of all loans went to borrowers who took out twelve or more loans over the course of a year — or an average of more than one loan a month.1 Fifty-three percent of all borrowers took out seven or more loans in a year, compared to just 28 percent who took out three loans or less. The average customer who comes up chronically short of being able to pay their monthly bills paid $324 in fees to payday lenders in 2014.

continue reading “Small loan” bill would mean big debts for Oklahoma families

Taxing services shouldn’t be all or nothing

by | February 27th, 2017 | Posted in Taxes | Comments (1)

A centerpiece of Gov. Mary Fallin’s FY 2018 Executive Budget is her proposal to expand the sales tax base on services. As she explained in her State of the State address:

“As the economy in the United States has shifted from a manufacturing-based economy to a services-based economy, the way we impose taxes and collect revenue no longer reflects the current economy, but an outdated system that has not changed much since its inception.”

The Governor’s proposal, which is set out in detail in this spreadsheet, would expand the sales tax to all 164 services that are currently untaxed in Oklahoma. Based on current taxable sales, the sales tax expansion is projected to generate $940 million in new revenue in FY 2018, of which $840 million would be available for appropriation. Under the Governor’s budget plan, this additional revenue, along with increases in the cigarette tax and motor fuel taxes, would be enough to make up the state’s budget shortfall and allow for the elimination of the sales tax on groceries and the corporate income tax.  The tax would raise an additional $648 million for cities and $121 million for counties.

continue reading Taxing services shouldn’t be all or nothing

Budget Update: Key takeaways from the February Board of Equalization meeting

by | February 23rd, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Taxes | Comments (0)

The State Board of Equalization met on February 21st to approve revised revenue estimates for FY 2017 and FY 2018. This estimate will be binding on the Legislature as it develops the FY 2018 budget over the coming months.

Here are our main takeaways from the new certification:

continue reading Budget Update: Key takeaways from the February Board of Equalization meeting

Oklahoma bill would shed light on who pays taxes

by | February 20th, 2017 | Posted in Blog | Comments (2)

In her 2017 State of the State address, Gov. Mary Fallin called for the elimination of the state sales tax on groceries, saying that “this plan eliminates the most regressive tax on the books today.”

It’s widely accepted that taxing groceries is regressive, since grocery bills are a bigger part of the budget for low-income households than for wealthier households. But where’s the data that actually shows how  much Oklahomans at different income levels pay in sales tax on groceries? And what about plans to raise the excise tax on cigarettes and motor fuels that the Governor also proposed as part of her FY 2018 budget? What would be the impact on Oklahoma households across the income spectrum if those taxes were raised?  This kind of information about who pays taxes is critical for making well-informed decisions on tax policy, but it’s largely unavailable to most legislators.

continue reading Oklahoma bill would shed light on who pays taxes

Oklahoma’s wind subsidies are dwarfed by subsidies to the oil and gas industry

by | February 14th, 2017 | Posted in Taxes | Comments (4)

One certainty about the 2017 legislative session is that tax breaks for the wind industry are going to be a prime target for lawmakers looking for ways to address the state’s short-term budget gap and long-term structural budget deficit. Close to 20 bills have been filed that would limit or eliminate subsidies for wind producers, and Governor Fallin in her FY 2018 Executive Budget called for wind production to be taxed.

While it is true that subsidies for the wind industry have been rising, the reality is that they pale in comparison to those the state provides to oil and gas producers. Oklahoma’s standard tax rate of 7 percent on oil and gas production has been in effect since the 1970s, but over the years, various exemptions were put in place to subsidize different kinds of production. Now, under legislation passed in 2014, almost all new wells are taxed at just 2 percent for the first 36 months of production before reverting to the standard 7 percent rate. In addition, horizontal wells and deep wells drilled prior to July 1, 2015 are taxed at 1 percent and 4 percent respectively for 48 months. As more production is taxed at lower rates, the effective tax rate on all gross production in the state has plummeted from over 6 percent in FY 2012 to under 3.5 percent in FY 2015, according to data from the Oklahoma Tax Commission. 

continue reading Oklahoma’s wind subsidies are dwarfed by subsidies to the oil and gas industry

Tax cut triggers are anything but fiscally responsible

by | February 13th, 2017 | Posted in Taxes | Comments (0)

Ten states, including Oklahoma, have enacted tax cuts in recent years that are deferred to a future date based on state revenues reaching a certain level or rate of growth. A new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a national think tank, makes a convincing case that while tying tax cuts to “triggers” may seem fiscally responsible at first glance, triggers are likely to harm states’ ability to provide critical service for their residents.

Twice in the past decade, Oklahoma lawmakers have passed tax cuts triggered by future revenue growth. The first, approved in 2006, lowered the top income tax rate from from 5.5 to 5.25 percent and took effect in 2012. The second was passed in 2014 and lowered the top rate to 5.0 percent in 2016, with a second cut to 4.85 percent that could take effect in 2018. The Center on Budget’s report identifies several flaws with triggers, all of which apply to Oklahoma’s experience.

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Start here to be ready for Oklahoma’s 2017 legislative session

by | February 6th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, OK Policy | Comments (1)

Today is the first day of the 2017 legislative session. Governor Mary Fallin will kick things off with her State of the State address in the House chambers beginning at noon. You can follow her speech online here. Governor Fallin will also introduce her FY 2018 budget, which will include her proposals for filling the state’s $740 million budget hole.

Look for OK Policy’s response to the Governor’s budget later today, and later this week, we’ll share our 2017 legislative priorities and revenue options for balancing the budget. Here are even more resources that we think will be helpful for anyone who wants to be well-informed and effectively engaged over the four months of the legislative session:

continue reading Start here to be ready for Oklahoma’s 2017 legislative session

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

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