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‘Complete Streets’ can be a path to a healthier, more prosperous Oklahoma

complete-streets-presentation-3-638Elizabeth Armstrong was a Fall 2015 OK Policy intern. She is pursuing a Master’s degree in Geography at Oklahoma State University where she also works as a Graduate Research Assistant.

In ways far more important than many Oklahomans realize, the way we live today in Oklahoma depends greatly on the choices of past generations about how to construct our transportation and community infrastructure. Today our choices are no less important for future generations. If we want healthy, growing communities that are attractive to tomorrow’s most skilled workforce, we can’t make these decisions in the same ways we have in past decades.

One hopeful example of how a city is attempting to set a more future-looking, citizen-oriented path for development is Stillwater’s “Complete Streets” initiative with direct input from the newly formed Bicycle and Pedestrian Citizen Advisory Committee.

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In The Know: Still-declining revenue forces deeper cuts to state agencies starting in March

by | February 10th, 2016 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (1)

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

Still-declining revenue forces deeper cuts to state agencies starting in March: State agencies were notified Monday that declining state revenues will result in deeper cuts than originally expected. “As you are aware, a revenue failure has already been declared and monthly general revenue allocations to agencies were reduced by three percent for the remainder of fiscal year 2016 beginning in January,” Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger said in an email to agency directors and finance officers. “Please be advised that the three percent reduction to monthly general revenue allocations must be deepened beginning in March” [Tulsa World]. A mid-year revenue failure was declared in January [OK Policy].

Lost storefronts, local taxes and the clicking explosion: Oklahoma is a red state again, but this time it’s something much different than partisan politics. And potentially much more devastating. According to a recently released study from Civic Economics and the American Booksellers Association, the red shows how Amazon has negatively affected Oklahoma and other states in lost sales tax and overall tax revenue. If you want to look beyond the oil industry downtown, you might find how Amazon and other online retailers are potentially creating more turmoil than imagined [Joe Hight / Journal Record]. Read the full report: Amazon and Empty Storefronts.

Oil plunge threatens schools, other services in US producer states: From Alaska to Oklahoma, crowded classes, suspended art programs and longer school commutes give students and parents a taste of the downside of cheap gas as oil-producing states scramble to plug budget holes blown by tumbling crude prices. Spending on education, healthcare and other services is either being cut or faces cutbacks in about half a dozen states that have relied on oil taxes for a sizeable part of their revenues and most did not prepare for oil diving as deep as $30 a barrel [Reuters]. The state budget deficit is not just oil prices [OK Policy].

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What’s driving Oklahoma’s prison population growth?

by | February 9th, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Criminal Justice | Comments (7)

Oklahoma has the second highest incarceration rate in the country, up from fourth highest in 2012, with approximately 1,310 out of every 100,000 of our citizens incarcerated in 2014. The state appropriated $485 million to the Department of Corrections in FY 2016, but even that amount was not enough to cope with increasingly overcrowded and understaffed prisons. Meanwhile, the state’s prison population continues to grow.

With criminal justice reform again on the agenda in 2016, it is important to understand what is behind the growth in the prison population. A review of the report that provided the foundation for Oklahoma’s 2012 effort at criminal justice reform, the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, provides some important insights into what is needed to cut incarceration rates – and challenges some common misconceptions.

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In The Know: Oklahoma state agencies give raises despite executive order

by | February 9th, 2016 | 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

Oklahoma state agencies give raises despite executive order: Thousands of Oklahoma state employees were given raises last year, despite dire warnings of an approaching budget shortfall and a salary freeze ordered by the governor. State agencies also promoted more than 1,000 employees and hired several thousand to fill vacancies, even though those types of employment actions were included in the freeze — with notable exceptions [NewsOK].

Education savings accounts called vouchers by another name: Proponents call it an educational savings account to benefit both urban and rural families who want more choices for their children’s schooling. But opponents say it is simply a voucher with just another name to take dollars away from public schools. Authors of the legislation will not be caught calling it a voucher bill [Tulsa World]. The Executive Director of the United Suburban Schools Association argued yesterday that school vouchers don’t promote equality or higher standards for Oklahoma children [Sandra Park / Oklahoman]. OK Policy has argued that tax-funded vouchers for private schools would undermine our common goal of providing for public education.

Oklahoma’s teen birth rate is declining, but it’s ranked 49th in U.S.: Efforts throughout the state to reduce birth rates among teenagers are showing positive results but not enough to move Oklahoma forward in state-by-state comparisons. In fact, it’s moving backward. The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that Oklahoma dropped one spot to 49th in the number of births to teens ages 15 to 19 with a rate of 38.5 per 1,000 teens. Only Arkansas has a higher rate at 39.5 [Tulsa World].

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Oklahoma has a chance to improve protections for pregnant workers

Pregnant woman working in clothes store

In 2005, Tashara Persky was working as the lead store clerk at an Oklahoma Dollar General Store. When she informed her supervisor that she was pregnant and that her doctor had told her not to lift more than 15 pounds, she was forced onto medical leave and then fired. She sued in federal court, but a judge with Oklahoma’s Western District Court ruled that this firing did not count as unlawful discrimination because Persky was fired due to the lifting restriction rather than the pregnancy alone.

Under federal law, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 requires that “women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes.”  Unfortunately, as the example of Tashara Persky shows, this law still leaves many women vulnerable to discrimination. Pregnant women can be forced to choose between their job and their health — between following a doctor’s orders for the safety of their child and bringing home money to provide for that child — even when employers could accommodate those women at little to no expense.

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In The Know: Two biggest factors in local schools’ ability to sink or swim

by | February 8th, 2016 | 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

Two biggest factors in local schools’ ability to sink or swim: News headlines about midyear state funding cuts for public schools have all been million-dollar totals and political debate over root causes and potential solutions. But the impact on local school districts is already beginning to trickle down in the form of employee layoffs, eliminated teacher positions, hiring freezes and canceled purchase orders. Districts that began the year the most cash-strapped and that rely the most on funding from the Oklahoma State Department of Education are having a much more difficult time keeping their budgets in the black amid midyear cuts expected to reach at least $67 million [Tulsa World].

School board leaders support penny sales tax hike proposal: When I was asked to join the committee supporting “Oklahoma’s Children — Our Future,” a penny sales tax proposal for public education, I didn’t hesitate to say YES! For the People is about solutions, and a long-term funding plan for education is one of the key recommendations. A funding plan is also one of OSSBA’s top legislative goals. I’m sure you’ve heard criticism of the proposal by now. No plan is perfect. OSSBA’s board of directors voted to endorse the proposal, but only after lively discussion. Still, the decision was unanimous [Mike Mullins / Tulsa World].

State revenues plunge in January: The oil bust drove down tax receipts by more than 13 percent last month, the largest drop in over five years, state Treasurer Ken Miller said Friday. January tax collections of $985.4 million were down by almost $150 million compared to a year ago. It is the first double-digit percentage reduction in monthly gross receipts since the treasurer’s office began tracking them in March 2010 [NewsOK].

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Weekly Wonk: Top priorities for 2016; reactions to Gov. Fallin’s budget; & more…

by | February 6th, 2016 | 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, OK Policy shared our top priorities for the 2016 legislative session in the areas of budget and taxes, health care, voting and elections, economic opportunity, education, and criminal justice. We released a statement that Governor Fallin’s recurring revenue proposals are a good starting point for closing the state budget hole, but there are more sensible revenue options that should be considered. We also released the 2016 Legislative Primer, our popular guide to Oklahoma’s legislative process in a concise, user-friendly format.

In his Journal Record column, David Blatt discussed why this may be the year Oklahoma commits to a smarter approach on criminal justice. A guest post by Rogers State University student Andrew Hocutt described his proposal for boosting the minimum wage that was awarded Best Legislation in the Senate by the Oklahoma Intercollegiate Legislature. Steve Lewis’s Capitol Update summarized 20 measures that have been filed to change Oklahoma’s judicial system this year. Policy Director Gene Perry spoke on a panel at Rose State College about “America’s Love/Hate Relationship with Liberty.” Video of the panel is on YouTube.

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No less than 20 measures filed to change Oklahoma’s judicial system this year (Capitol Updates)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol. You can sign up on his website to receive the Capitol Updates newsletter by email.

One might assume that with a near $1 billion budget deficit for next year added to revenue failures in the current fiscal year demanding their attention, legislators would have little inclination to consider non-budget structural changes to state government. One would be wrong. There have been no less than 20 measures filed in the House and Senate to make changes in the way Oklahoma’s Judicial Branch works. A short summary of the bills demonstrates the direction some legislators want to take the state.

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In The Know: No chance for teacher pay raise, House minority leader says

by | February 5th, 2016 | 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

No chance for teacher pay raise, House minority leader says: The state expects to have at least $900.8 million less to allocate in crafting the fiscal year 2017 budget. To close the hole, Fallin has suggested the review of sales tax exemptions, an increase in the cigarette tax and applying the sales tax to services, among other things. Meanwhile, the state is facing a teacher shortage. Inman, D-Del City, said tax increases would require a supermajority in both houses of the Legislature, which is unlikely to happen [Tulsa World].

Plan to fund Oklahoma teacher pay increase draws opposition: Millions of dollars in property tax money dedicated to school building funds could be diverted to teacher salaries under a proposal supported by the governor. There is up to $200 million in unused building funds that could theoretically be applied to teacher salaries if legislation was passed to permit this, said John Estus, a spokesman for the state Office of Management and Enterprise Services. House Minority Leader Scott Inman criticized the building fund proposal, saying it “would shift the tax burden for educational support from a state tax base to local property owners, such as Oklahoma farmers and ranchers” [NewsOK].

Tahlequah Public Schools prepares for $2 million cut for next year: Students and educators across the state are looking at major changes for the 2016-2017 school year as the state braces for one of its biggest budget shortfalls in history. “Our district will prepare for $1.5 million to $2 million less in state aid for the upcoming school year,” said Lisa Presley, superintendent of Tahlequah Public Schools. “When you hear $1.5 million, that equals 30 people in our district. If there are retirements, some teaching vacancies will have to be filled and others will not” [Tahlequah Daily Press].

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Here are our top priorities for Oklahoma’s 2016 legislative session

Over 1,700 bills and resolutions have been introduced for the 2016 legislative session, along with an equal number of measures from last session that remain alive and could still be considered this year. Despite the  plethora of legislation, there is little doubt that this session will be dominated by debates over how to address the state’s massive budget shortfall, which is at $901 million and is likely to grow even larger when the Board of Equalization certifies new projections in mid-February.

For OK Policy too, budget and tax issues will be of highest concern over the coming months. But we will also pay close attention to many other issue areas where there may be opportunities for policy gains or threats of serious setbacks. Last fall, our staff went through a multi-step process to identify our top priorities for 2016, identifying those issues that were of the greatest importance to Oklahomans while also fitting within our organization’s mission, expertise, and ability to make a difference. We came up with  some two dozen issues in six areas: budget and taxes, education, criminal justice, health care, voting and elections, and economic opportunity. In December, many of you took the time to complete a survey and offer feedback on our issues, which has helped us further hone our plan for the session.

Here is a brief summary of our 2016 policy priorities. We will be writing more about many of these issues in the coming weeks.

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