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DHS Director: Oklahoma budget cut scenarios range “from the terrible to the unthinkable”

OKDHS Director Ed Lake

Unless lawmakers find new revenues to close their budget shortfall, Oklahoma is looking at unprecedented cuts to the most basic services of state government, including those for the most vulnerable seniors, children, and people with disabilities. Even before next year’s budget, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) will run out of money in May to pay for in-home care of 25,000 seniors and individuals with severe disabilities unless the Legislature acts quickly to provide supplemental funds.

Yesterday, OKDHS Director Ed Lake sent a message to all employees of the agency stating that further cuts would threaten the elimination of entire programs serving very vulnerable adults and children. The cuts could even undo the progress made under court order to improve our child welfare system. Here is Director Lake’s message in full:

continue reading DHS Director: Oklahoma budget cut scenarios range “from the terrible to the unthinkable”

OK PolicyCast Episode 26: The GOP Health Plan

by | March 14th, 2017 | Posted in Healthcare, Podcast | Comments (0)

You can subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google PlayStitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

We speak with OK Policy health care analyst Carly Putnam about the new plan from the House GOP to replace the Affordable Care Act. We talk about how the bill does and doesn’t change the Affordable Care Act, what chance it has to pass, and how it could affect Oklahomans’ health care.

You can subscribe at the links above, download the podcast here, or play it in your browser:

In The Know: Teacher pay raise bill gives ‘false hope,’ Oklahoma Senate leader says

by | March 13th, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Check out OK Policy’s resources for the Legislative session, including the Legislative Primer and Online Budget Guide.

Today In The News

Teacher pay raise bill gives ‘false hope,’ Oklahoma Senate leader says: Legislative leaders appear to be far apart in their beliefs about whether a teacher pay raise will be funded this year. The Oklahoma House on Tuesday passed a pay raise bill, House Bill 1114, by Rep. Michael Rogers, R-Broken Arrow, with a total price tag of $316 million. It would phase in a teacher pay raise starting with $1,000 for fiscal year 2018, which begins July 1. A $1,000 raise would cost about $52 million, but the measure does not have a funding source. Additional raises would be $2,000 and then $3,000. [Tulsa World]

Budget Crisis Leaving Lawmakers At Odds: This week, state lawmakers passed a bill to give teachers raises without a plan to pay for it, and little was done to bridge the state’s nearly $900-million budget gap. “There has been no significant revenue streams brought before the Oklahoma House of Representatives in an attempt to fill a nearly $900-million budget hole,” said Representative Scott Inman (D) House Minority Leader. Senate Republicans say their GOP counterparts in the House are falsely raising teachers’ hopes. House Democrats suggested raising the gross production tax on oil and natural gas production. Oil execs say that’s not the answer, but they did lobby lawmakers to allow them to expand drilling. [News9] Lawmakers have asked for ‘crippling’ budget cut scenarios, state employees say [Fox25].

Cigarette tax debate burns on: Debate continues over Gov. Mary Fallin’s proposal to hike taxes on cigarettes, but both sides agree that doing so would lead some shoppers to jump state lines. A House bill that would implement the plan has passed out of committee and is waiting for a floor vote. Conservative organizations and industry representatives lament the measure for a handful of reasons, including the assertion that raising prices will shove some shoppers to neighboring states, all of which would have lower tax rates on cigarettes if the measure goes through. Economists and policy analysts who support the measure said there is no doubt some people will cross the borders for cheaper smokes. That’s not the question, they said. Scale is. [Journal Record] Considering the dire need for revenues to fix Oklahoma’s budget mess and the proven health benefits of taxes that discourage smoking, a cost-benefit analysis of HB 1841 shows low- and moderate-income families coming out ahead. [OK Policy]

continue reading In The Know: Teacher pay raise bill gives ‘false hope,’ Oklahoma Senate leader says

In The Know: House staff asks for 14.5 percent budget cut scenarios

by | March 8th, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Check out OK Policy’s resources for the Legislative session, including the Legislative Primer and Online Budget Guide.

Today In The News

Oklahoma House staff asks for 14.5 percent budget cut scenarios: Several state agencies have been asked to report how they would approach a 14.5 percent budget cut next year. In an email obtained by The Oklahoman, the state House’s deputy fiscal director asked agencies to send their reports to the House Appropriations and Budget subcommittee. Nicole McPhetridge wrote that revenue projections announced in February triggered the request. While speaking on a political news podcast this week, House Appropriation Chair Leslie Osborn invoked a 14.5 percent scenario where education funding remained the same while other agencies took cuts. [NewsOK] Oklahoma Treasurer Ken Miller says he’s cautiously optimistic after overall collections to the state treasury last month were slightly higher than those from the same month last year. [NewsOK]

Oklahoma House passes phased-in teacher pay raise measure: The Oklahoma House has overwhelmingly passed legislation that calls for a $6,000 raise for public school teachers over three years, although lawmakers have not figured out how to pay for it. The House voted 92-7 for the bill on Tuesday and sent it to the Senate. The bill by Republican Rep. Michael Rogers of Broken Arrow calls for a $1,000 raise next year, $2,000 the following year and $3,000 in the third year. [NewsOK] The main challenge for lawmakers is still figuring out how to pay for it. They can’t do that without some kind of tax increase. [OK Policy]

Federal Budget Knife Could Slash Into K-12 Programs: President Donald Trump’s push to drastically reduce domestic spending as a way to boost defense spending could have a significant impact on programs at the U.S. Department of Education, where the biggest streams of funding go toward low-income students and those with special needs. Early last week, Trump announced a proposal to increase defense-related spending by $54 billion in fiscal 2018, which begins in October, and to cut nondefense discretionary spending by a corresponding figure. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., the chairman of the House subcommittee that appropriates money for the Education Department, last week referenced the possibility of $18 billion to $20 billion in cuts to the portion of the budget that funds the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. [Education Week]

continue reading In The Know: House staff asks for 14.5 percent budget cut scenarios

The progressive case for increasing the cigarette tax

by | March 6th, 2017 | Posted in Taxes | Comments (1)

Out of all the revenue options that Oklahoma has to fix a deep budget hole, the one getting the most attention from legislative leaders is increasing the cigarette tax. Last year’s attempt to increase the cigarette tax received a majority of votes in the House, but it fell short of the three-fourths supermajority required by State Question 640 for any tax increase, with Democrats making up the biggest block of no votes.

The Republican leadership is trying again this year for a $1.50 per package increase in the cigarette tax with HB 1841, but to get it done they will need some votes from House Democrats. The biggest objection from Democrats is that a cigarette tax increase is regressive — taxing a larger share of income from the poorest Oklahomans — and would result in a troubling tax shift after recent income tax and gross production tax cuts that predominately benefited wealthy individuals and large corporations.

continue reading The progressive case for increasing the cigarette tax

Where teacher raises are needed most

by | March 1st, 2017 | Posted in Education | Comments (1)

If there’s one thing Oklahoma citizens and political leaders of both major parties agree on, it’s that our state’s teachers need a raise. Republican leaders in the House and the Senate both say a teacher raise is at the top of their priorities in the coming session, and Democrats in both chambers have filed bills to increase teacher salaries as well. Even the most vocal opponents of the SQ 779 teacher raise plan insisted that they believe teachers need a raise but disagreed with how SQ 779 would pay for it.

In her State of the State address to kick off this year’s legislative session, Governor Fallin laid out some parameters for a teacher raise. She said, “Let’s act on a permanent pay raise for our public school teachers. It is what the public and families want. The pay raise may need to be phased in and it may be targeted, but it must be done.”

Ideally, we could pay all teachers much higher salaries, but with Oklahoma staring at another large budget hole and legislators already expressing skepticism about Governor Fallin’s most ambitious revenue ideas, it seems unlikely that we can find the money for a significant across-the-board teacher raise this year. So if we need to aim for a targeted raise, how should it be targeted?

continue reading Where teacher raises are needed most

OK PolicyCast 25: How the criminal justice system really works

by | February 28th, 2017 | Posted in Criminal Justice, Podcast | Comments (0)

You can subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google PlayStitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

On this episode we speak with Jill Webb, an attorney with the Tulsa County Public Defender’s office. She gives us a tour of how the real criminal justice system is different from popular ideas about police and the courts, embodied by shows like Law and Order.

You can subscribe at the links above, download the podcast here, or play it in your browser:

In The Know: Tulsa jailers blocked nurse from giving dying inmate water

by | February 27th, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Check out OK Policy’s resources for the Legislative session, including the Legislative Primer and Online Budget Guide.

Today In The News

Tulsa jailers blocked nurse from giving dying inmate water: Ten hours after Williams entered holding cell No. 10, an inmate wheeled a gurney across the deserted booking area, past the doors Williams traveled through earlier that day. Minutes later, jail staff emerged from the cell pushing Williams on the gurney, paralyzed from a broken neck. Williams died from complications of a broken neck and showed signs of dehydration, a medical examiner’s report states. A 12-minute video recorded during his last days alive depicts him lying on the floor of a cell while detention staff tossed trays of food at his feet and placed a cup of water out of reach. One juror wiped tears from her eyes as the jury watched Williams attempt to dip his fingers into the cup of water. [The Frontier]

Seven things to know about SQ 780, 781: For more than a decade, Oklahoma has seen some of the highest rates of residents going to prison, many of whom are incarcerated for nonviolent crimes. Since 1991, Oklahoma has had the highest female incarceration rate per capita in the United States. Oklahoma also has the second highest imprisonment rate in the country, 78 percent higher than the national average in 2015. Additionally, Oklahoma incarcerates more black people per capita than any other state in the country. And more than half of the offenders in the Oklahoma Department of Corrections population have either a history of mental illness or current symptoms. [NewsOK]

Major Oklahoma school funding source in danger of being exhausted: Years ago, lawmakers set up a dedicated school funding source that was meant to operate outside of the politically motivated appropriations process. But as Oklahoma’s economy continues to flounder, the usually consistent source of school money has shown it’s at risk, too. The 1017 Fund automatically receives money directly from sales and income taxes. Other money comes from specialty license plate fees, some gaming revenue and tobacco sales. There’s also a cash reserve for when times get tough, but this year’s drop in overall state revenue will wipe that out, budget officials said last week. [NewsOK]

continue reading In The Know: Tulsa jailers blocked nurse from giving dying inmate water

In The Know: Many Oklahoma children show elevated lead levels; thousands more go untested

by | February 20th, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

Thousands of Oklahoma children go untested for lead: Although little data is available, the data that Oklahoma does have on lead provides a striking picture: Of the 316 ZIP codes where a sufficient number of children were tested for lead and the results reported to the health department, 106 of those ZIP codes have percentages of children tested for elevated blood lead levels that are at or higher than what was found in Flint, Michigan, the water lead crisis that grabbed national headlines and reminded the nation that lead is still a significant health issue that needs to be addressed. [The Oklahoman]

Rural schools feel especially challenged by budget pinch: Lisa Pitts takes a close look at a grassy hill on the campus of Ripley Public Schools and sees it’s not yet due for mowing. But with warmer temperatures expected in the coming weeks, the elementary principal knows the grass blades will soon start to rise and it will be up to her to break out the lawn mower. Those extra duties for Pitts include not only mowing the grass, but also cleaning toilets and painting hallways. Ripley’s high school principal does a lot of the school’s weed eating, basic maintenance and drives a school bus. The superintendent handles the plumbing. Even the head cafeteria worker has been known to take on the duties of a school nurse. [The Oklahoman]

OU reports decrease in out-of-pocket costs for a degree: Despite increases in tuition, the out-of-pocket cost to earn a degree from the University of Oklahoma has gone down by an average of $7,200 compared to two years ago, a new study shows. The decline was revealed in a study conducted by the OU Office of Business Analytics. The first-time study examined the cost of completing 125 credit hours — the amount required for most OU degree programs — for students who were admitted in 2009 through 2013. Spending cuts across campus and an increase in scholarships, including scholarships for middle-income students, have helped lower costs, Hathaway said. [NewsOK]

continue reading In The Know: Many Oklahoma children show elevated lead levels; thousands more go untested

The Weekly Wonk: Oil and gas subsidies, confronting an unequal justice system, a new podcast, and more

by | February 19th, 2017 | Posted in Weekly Wonk | Comments (0)

the_weekly_wonk_logoWhat’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk shares our most recent publications and other resources to help you stay informed about Oklahoma. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The Know. Click here to subscribe to In The Know.

This Week from OK Policy

This week, we relaunched the OK PolicyCast in an episode where Gene Perry and KJ McKee discussed all of Governor Fallin’s revenue ideas and other ideas Oklahoma Policy Institute has put forward to fix our state’s budget hole.

On the blog, David Blatt wrote about a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities showing that tax cut triggers are anything but fiscally responsible. He also wrote about how Oklahoma’s wind subsidies are dwarfed by subsidies to the oil and gas industry. Ryan Gentzler challenged lawmakers to confront racial disparities head-on as they reform the justice system. We featured a guest post from Oklahoma State Treasurer Ken Miller showing that across core services, Oklahoma underspends, and Steve Lewis discussed why Governor Fallin’s budget shows how bad Oklahoma’s fiscal health has gotten.

In his Journal Record column, David Blatt checked out the state of the debate on how to get the budget back into balance. We shared advocacy alerts with ways for citizens to take action to halt the next tax cut, to strengthen working family tax credits, to curb predatory lending, and to stop excessive court fees. We participated in a press conference in support of bills that would rein in predatory lending. Over at Together Oklahoma, KJ McKee shared ways to take action while staying sane.

OK Policy in the News

The Oklahoma City Free Press covered our press conference on predatory lending reform. The Ada News cited OK Policy’s work in calling for an end to the cost trap of wasteful criminal fines and fees. The Stillwater News Press reported OK Policy’s analysis of what services are being taxed in most our our surrounding states but not in Oklahoma, in light of Governor Fallin’s new proposal to tax all services. You can see our blog post from last year about this issue here.

continue reading The Weekly Wonk: Oil and gas subsidies, confronting an unequal justice system, a new podcast, and more

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