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Statement: Disappointing results and hope for the future in this year’s legislative session

Oklahoma Policy Institute released the following statement on the final results of Oklahoma’s 2017 regular legislative session:

If we look only at the bills that made it through the full legislative process to be signed by the governor, most Oklahomans would view this year’s legislative session as a disappointment. Lawmakers entered the session knowing they needed to confront big problems — like uncompetitive pay that is draining away our most skilled teachers and state workers; a failing, hugely expensive criminal justice system; long waiting lists for mental health treatment, at-home disability care, and other key health services; and a budget that every year falls further behind what’s needed to keep our state prosperous and safe. As the session limps to a close, lawmakers have failed to address any of these problems.

This failure is especially disappointing when we consider the promises made earlier in the year. Throughout legislative session, lawmakers repeated again and again that they would find funding to provide a teacher raise. Governor Fallin, legislative leaders, and experts in the community and law enforcement came together to develop a strong, well-thought-out agenda for criminal justice reform. Hundreds of advocates and lawmakers came to the table with practical revenue solutions to fund essential services and fix Oklahoma’s long-term budget outlook.

By these efforts, we came close to achieving big advances for Oklahoma families, only to crash against obstruction and gridlock in the final days of session. What emerged was a last-minute budget with more damaging cuts as well as legally questionable revenue measures. Most of the burden of this year’s budget shortfall was once again pushed onto low- and middle-income families while sparing the wealthiest households and corporate interests. The last chance for a teacher raise this year was derailed by the Senate’s refusal to cap itemized deductions for very wealthy households. This problematic budget was forced through with little time for Oklahomans to see what was in it or voice their concerns.

Amid these failures, we see an undercurrent of hope for Oklahoma’s future. This year, more than ever before, numerous informed, engaged Oklahomans regularly came to the Capitol or worked within their communities to advocate for better state policies. Popular outcry was key to stopping Oklahoma from moving backwards by allowing an expansion of predatory lending practices or rolling back the smart on crime reforms of State Question 780. Revenue ideas that had never been seriously considered before, despite years of failing budgets, were on the table in final negotiations. Legislative leadership ultimately failed to reach a bipartisan deal on the budget or prevent one member from derailing the work of the majority on criminal justice. But beneath that leadership failure is a rising group of lawmakers and regular Oklahomans who are eager to do better.

Better policies fell barely short of the finish line this year. We are excited to work with the lawmakers and other Oklahomans who are ready to carry that progress over the line, next year and beyond.

In The Know: Legislature limps toward finish line as Friday adjournment looms

by | May 26th, 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 is the deadline to apply for the 2017 Summer Policy Institute (SPI)! College and graduate students can apply here or preview the application here.

Check out OK Policy’s resources for the Legislative session, including Advocacy Alerts, the Legislative Primer, the What’s That? Glossary, and Online Budget Guide.

In The Know will take a break for Memorial Day and will return Tuesday, May 30.

Today In The News

Legislature limps toward finish line as Friday adjournment looms: Lawmakers on Thursday were limping toward adjournment following several long days. The Legislature must adjourn by 5 p.m. Friday. The Oklahoma House on Friday is expected to take up a $1.50 smoking cessation fee on cigarettes and the state’s $6.8 billion general appropriations bill. Both are expected to be controversial. Previous efforts to pass the $1.50 increase on cigarettes as a tax failed in the House [Tulsa World]. Capitol reporter Dale Denwalt provided live updates from the final days of the Oklahoma legislative session. Here’s a transcript for Thursday, May 24.

Proposed budget leaves Oklahoma services massively underfunded: After months of wrangling and stalled negotiations, legislative leaders finally introduced budget bills late Tuesday evening, just three days before the deadline to adjourn legislative session. Separate House and Senate versions of the General Appropriations (GA) bill were rolled out; however, the Senate refused to consider the House version of the budget, leaving the Senate’s bill, SB 860, as the only budget moving forward [OK Policy].

Governor criticizes committee chairman for holding up criminal justice reform bills: Gov. Mary Fallin called out a House committee chairman Thursday for bottling up criminal justice reform bills, saying it’s time to let lawmakers vote. “We are down to the final day and a half … and there are a lot of bills that are still yet to be heard,” Fallin said. “It is no secret that the public gave a pretty clear mandate this past summer on State Questions 780 and 781 that the public supports … criminal justice reform in our state.” [NewsOK]

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Proposed budget leaves Oklahoma services massively underfunded

by | May 25th, 2017 | Posted in Budget | Comments (1)

Note: This post was updated May 28th to reflect current information. The General Appropriation bill passed the Legislature and is awaiting action from Gov. Fallin.

After months of wrangling and stalled negotiations, legislative leaders finally introduced budget bills late Tuesday evening, just three days before the deadline to adjourn legislative session. Separate House and Senate versions of the General Appropriations (GA) bill were rolled out; however, the Senate refused to consider the House version of the budget, leaving the Senate’s bill, SB 860, as the only budget moving forward.

This budget appropriates $6.863 billion for FY 2018 — almost the same amount as FY 2017 after mid-year cuts and supplemental appropriations. Compared to the FY 2009 budget of eight years ago, this budget is 3.3 percent less in nominal terms and more than 15 percent less when adjusted for inflation. After inflation, the appropriations budget has shrunk by about $1.25 billion compared to FY 2009.

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In The Know: Critics: $6.8B Oklahoma Budget Bill May Be Unconstitutional

by | May 25th, 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.

The deadline to apply for the 2017 Summer Policy Institute (SPI) is this Friday! College and graduate students can apply here or preview the application here.

Check out OK Policy’s resources for the Legislative session, including Advocacy Alerts, the Legislative Primer, the What’s That? Glossary, and Online Budget Guide.

Today In The News

Critics: $6.8B Oklahoma Budget Bill May Be Unconstitutional: Republican and Democratic members complained Wednesday that a $6.8 billion spending plan that cuts most state agencies’ spending by about 5 percent has not been properly vetted and is likely unconstitutional. Rank-and-file legislators were given few details ahead of votes in House and Senate committees shortly before midnight on the general appropriations bill that did not include a customary summary of the 56-page measure [Associated Press].

House proposal would cut education funding: The proposed House bill that would appropriate money to state agencies for the fiscal year that begins July 1 would cut funding to several education agencies by nearly 5 percent. Photos of the revised version of House Bill 2400 were posted by state Sen. David Holt on Twitter. Six of 11 state agencies classified under education would receive a 4.87-percent cut, while nine out of 11 would have cuts above 3 percent [Journal Record]. Oklahoma’s per pupil funding of the state aid formula for public schools has fallen 26.9 percent after inflation between FY 2008 and FY 2017 [OK Policy].

Advocacy Alert: Tell lawmakers to vote down budget that breaks their promises: The legislative session began with promises to fix Oklahoma’s structural deficit, fund a teacher pay raise, and stop the reckless use of one-time funds that make our budget problems worse in future years. Unfortunately, lawmakers are now considering a budget deal that breaks all of those promises [OK Policy]. Our full statement is available here.

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Statement: Lawmakers should vote down budget that breaks their promises

The Save Our State Coalition, including Oklahoma Policy Institute, released the following statement in response to the budget plan unveiled by House and Senate leaders late last night:

The legislative session began with promises to fix Oklahoma’s structural deficit, fund a teacher pay raise, and stop the reckless use of one-time funds that make our budget problems worse in future years. The conclusion of the legislative session can only be seen as a failure to meet those promises.

The source of that failure is a decision to cater to a few powerful interests instead of investing in an economy that works for all. Lawmakers had sensible, broadly popular options to protect our communities, like restoring a moderate gross production tax and rolling back wasteful income tax cuts for the very wealthy. Instead of taking these options, they cobbled together a budget using legally questionable gimmicks and even more cuts that will be passed down to regular Oklahomans.

The results of this budget will be a continuing exodus of teachers from Oklahoma schools, larger class sizes and fewer educational opportunities, failing protections for public health and safety, and collapsing support for children, seniors, and Oklahomans with disabilities — in other words, more of the same, but worse.

Oklahomans want and deserve better. The bright spot coming out of this legislative session is that a record number of lawmakers and regular Oklahomans have grown aware of our state’s revenue problems and the decisions that are perpetuating them. Despite the attempt to rush through a budget with late-night, last-minute votes, more Oklahomans than ever are watching and getting involved.

Oklahomans deserve better, even at the cost of coming back into special session to do this right. Lawmakers should vote down this budget and come up with a responsible plan. If this budget does make it through the Legislature, Governor Fallin should uphold her promise to veto a budget that does not fund core services. Oklahomans are calling on lawmakers to come back with a plan that puts regular people over special interests.

In The Know: Oklahoma lawmakers advance $6.8 billion at midnight

by | May 24th, 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 Advocacy Alerts, the Legislative Primer, the What’s That? Glossary, and Online Budget Guide.

Today In The News

Oklahoma lawmakers advance $6.8 billion at midnight: Tuesday at the Oklahoma Capitol ended with leadership introducing two long-awaited budget bills. The proposals, each estimated to be $6.8 billion in spending for state agencies and programs, were introduced to House lawmakers at 11:14 p.m. One bill included a teacher pay raise and the other didn’t [NewsOK]. Legislators are attempting again to pass a last-minute budget without time for scrutiny [OK Policy].

Cigarette fee, auto-sale levy are proposed to close huge state budget hole: Lawmakers will attempt to pass a $1.50 fee on cigarettes in lieu of a tax in an effort to close the state’s budget hole, House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols said Tuesday. Echols, R-Oklahoma City, said he expects the Legislature to adjourn by Friday, thus avoiding a special session. The decision to run the cigarette levy as a fee signaled an end to protracted negotiations with House Democrats, who had sought to trade their votes on a cigarette “tax” for an increase in the gross production tax [Tulsa World].

Donations, Lobbying Reflect Influence of Oil and Gas Industry: Oklahoma’s budget hangs in the balance as Republicans and Democrats battle over how much to raise gross production taxes on oil and gas wells. But there’s a third party at the bargaining table: the oil and gas industry. Oil and gas companies, along with their trade groups, have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations to lawmakers over more than two years, with top Republican leaders at the forefront of budget talks taking in some of the largest amounts. Republicans received more than 90 percent of total donations [Oklahoma Watch]. See how much your legislator received from energy interests [Oklahoma Watch].

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Time to hit the brakes on SoonerCare privatization

by | May 23rd, 2017 | Posted in Healthcare | Comments (0)

Oklahoma’s efforts to privatize expensive care for the most fragile SoonerCare patients was contentious from the beginning. In 2015, HB 1566 directed the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which administers the state’s Medicaid (SoonerCare) program, to initiate requests for proposals for care coordination models for the program’s aged, blind, and disabled members.

This would be no small change. More than 100,000 SoonerCare members are aged, blind, or have one more disabilities, and while they make up less than 20 percent of Oklahoma’s Medicaid population, their care constitutes nearly half of its spending. These individuals tend to be very medically complex, with co-occurring chronic conditions and in-home care needs. As such, they are very sensitive to changes in their health care.

Lawmakers pushing for the transition were very clear that it was a cost-saving effort, leaving members and advocates concerned that their health needs would be overruled by budgetary concerns. These concerns increased when the Health Care Authority settled on an inflexible “fully capitated” care model, where private health insurance companies contracted by the state would receive a set per-member per-month payment and would be responsible for providing the full range of health care services to those on their plans.

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In The Know: Oklahoma lawmakers in late-night meeting advance bill for temporary oil, gas tax increase

by | May 23rd, 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.

The deadline to apply for the 2017 Summer Policy Institute (SPI) is this Friday! College and graduate students can apply here or preview the application here.

Check out OK Policy’s resources for the Legislative session, including Advocacy Alerts, the Legislative Primer, the What’s That? Glossary, and Online Budget Guide.

Today In The News

Oklahoma lawmakers in late-night meeting advance bill for temporary oil, gas tax increase: In dual committees that met after 11 p.m. Monday, the Oklahoma Legislature advanced a temporary raise in the gross production tax and rejected a bill targeting state agency “swag.” House Bill 2429 raises the oil and gas production tax rate to 4 percent on wells that are taxed at 1 percent. While new horizontal wells are taxed at 2 percent, some older wells drilled between 2011 and 2015 are taxed at the lower discount rate [NewsOK]. A full repeal of tax oil and gas tax breaks could bring more than $300 million in FY 2018 [OK Policy].

Oklahoma city business groups call for the Legislature to vote on criminal justice reform bills: Frustrated with a House committee chairman’s failure to call for votes on several criminal justice reform initiatives, leaders of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber and Tulsa Regional Chamber issued a joint statement Monday urging House leadership to get involved. “It is midafternoon on the day everyone was assured these bills would get the hearing they deserve, yet no meeting is scheduled,” Roy Williams, president & CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, and Mike Neal, president & CEO of the Tulsa Regional Chamber, said in a joint news release Monday [NewsOK]. Misguided budget concerns are endangering criminal justice reform [OK Policy].

Without deal, Oklahoma House advances bills with $200 million in revenue: House lawmakers have begun to advance revenue in a piecemeal fashion absent a deal on filling Oklahoma’s budget shortfall. The House budget committees originally were scheduled to meet in the early afternoon Monday, but leadership pushed back the meetings several times. The latest meeting time, for which there was no agenda, was scheduled at 9 p.m. as of press time. A special session call from Gov. Mary Fallin, although expected, had not yet materialized [NewsOK]. The revenue-raising bill is not a tax increase, legislators contended [Tulsa World].

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In The Know: No budget plan in place with week remaining in legislative session

by | May 22nd, 2017 | Posted in Blog, 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 Advocacy Alerts, the Legislative Primer, the What’s That? Glossary, and Online Budget Guide.

Today In The News

No budget plan in place with week remaining in legislative session: This week marks the final days of the Oklahoma legislative session, and lawmakers still do not have a budget plan in place. The House told members last week to be prepared to work throughout the weekend, including Sunday, but, lawmakers were not at the Capitol. Friday was the deadline to agree upon revenue-raising measures. Legislators did not agree upon a plan, so, starting Monday, Republicans and Democrats will engage in a concurrent special session, officials said. [KOCO] Oklahoma’s past accomplishments teach us how to build a better budget and a better future [OK Policy]

Budget compromise eludes lawmakers: Despite hours of negotiations behind closed doors, House Republicans and Democrats said Saturday afternoon that they appeared no closer to reaching a budget compromise. With less than week left to pass a balanced budget, House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, and House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, indicated that budget talks had collapsed again amid the ongoing disagreement about how to raise revenue to fill an $878 million shortfall. [CNHI] Amid budget deadlock, a reminder of what’s at stake [OK Policy]

Restore the oil, gas production tax: As a long-time resident of the great state of Oklahoma, I care passionately about our children and the vulnerable citizens in our state. I understand it is a difficult decision to decide how to raise OK revenue but what the House leadership (with the governor’s support) proposed includes a significant tax on the lower and middle income Oklahomans with little impact on the wealthy oil and gas companies. [Carolynn MacAllister/Stillwater News Press] How much new revenue will ending oil and gas tax breaks bring in? [OK Policy]

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The Weekly Wonk: Gross production tax must be part of budget deal

by | May 21st, 2017 | Posted in Blog, 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

Executive Director David Blatt explained why raising the gross production tax must be a part of the state’s budget plan and shared a memo that explained how much revenue various gross production tax options would raise. OK Policy issued a statement responding to the budget plan announced earlier this week that left out an increase in gross production tax rates.   Blatt’s Journal Record column argued that we should adopt criminal justice reforms now to save money in the future.

Policy Director Gene Perry wondered if legislators would again pass a last minute budget without time for consideration or scrutiny. Perry also argued that a focus on spending, rather than the real people that benefit from that spending, is leading lawmakers astray.  Finally, Perry reminded us that spending cuts have very real consequences for many Oklahomans – real people and real lives are at stake.

OK Policy in the News

OK Policy data was referenced by Wayne Greene in his Tulsa World editorial arguing that the gross production tax should be restored to 7%. Perry was interviewed by Governing Magazine for a piece about the declining adherence to democratic norms at the state and national level. 

Policy Analyst Carly Putnam was quoted by The Oklahoman in a story about SB 478, a bill that would allow out-of-state companies to sell insurance policies in Oklahoma as long as those policies meet minimum coverage standards. Policy Analyst Ryan Gentzler contributed to a story by NBC News about the lack of success in states that have adopted a strict tough-on-crime stance toward drug crime.

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