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Lawsuit could upend budget process (Capitol Updates)

by | May 22nd, 2015 | Posted in Capitol Updates | Comments (0)

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.

Although the lengthened legislative week included Friday, legislators considered few bills in committee or on the floor last week.  The most notable were passage in the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget of bills providing for a $25 million bond issue each for the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum (AICCM) in Oklahoma City and the OKPOP museum in Tulsa.  The AICCM bill also included provisions transferring operation of the museum and ultimately ownership when the bonds are fully paid to Oklahoma City.  Apparently both projects were sliced and diced to a bare bones budget.  Personally, I’m glad to see them happen, and I’m glad to see a few pennies of my tax dollars go to make them happen.  The American Indian Cultural Center measure has been sent to Governor Fallin, while OKPOP failed on the House floor, though it could be brought up for reconsideration [Update: The House has reconsidered and approved funding for OKPOP].

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In The Know: Legislation prohibiting drilling bans sent to Gov. Fallin

by | May 22nd, 2015 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Bills that would prohibit cities and counties from banning oil and gas drilling within their borders and regulate release of police body camera footage have been sent to the Governor. The Senate approved a $25 million bond plan to complete the Native American Cultural Center and Museum and sent it to the Governor for her signature, although a similar bill to fund an Oklahoma pop culture museum failed hours later. The bill may still be revived on reconsideration before the legislative session ends. The Tulsa World’s Editorial Board urged the Legislature to pass a bill that would treat the operation of watercraft under the influence much like driving under the influence. Oklahoma Watch discussed a bill that would cut the number of end-of-instruction tests from seven to four without reducing the requirement that students pass four tests in order to graduate.

Some health care providers are speaking out against a recommendation from the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to cut the reimbursement rate for nurse practitioners, physician assistants and other midlevel providers treating Medicaid patients. The Health Care Authority had few other options to cope with the funding it will receive in next year’s budget, which is below what the agency said it would need to maintain existing services. The CDC reports that Oklahoma has seen a significant decline in the number of adults who smoke cigarettes since 2011. The full report is available here. DHS is moving forward with plans to close the emergency shelter for children in state custody, although advocates are concerned that there aren’t enough foster homes available to house the children removed from the shelter.

High water from recent heavy rains has stopped barge traffic at the Port of Catoosa. Climate scientists report that those same rains, along with predictions for a wet summer, could spell the end of the state’s four-year drought. The Number of the Day is 62 percent – the percentage of female inmates at Eddie Warrior Correctional Center who currently have a mental illness. In today’s Policy Note, The Los Angeles Times reports on new research showing that at least 17 million more people in the US have gained health insurance since the Affordable Care Act’s major coverage expansion began.

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In The Know: State budget passes House, heads to Senate

by | May 21st, 2015 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

The Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a $7.14 billion general appropriations bill late Wednesday night after rural Republicans and Democrats blocked its passage for over an hour. The bill now heads to the Senate. The Tulsa World wrote that the the bill is “full of ironies and outrages,” and chastised the Legislature for not taking a more sensible approach to building the budget. Oklahoma Watch wrote that agencies facing cuts will be able to tap into their revolving funds to help cushion the blow. At the State Capitol yesterday, members of the OK Policy team liveblogged discussion and debate about the budget. The budget deal only manages to cover vital services by using millions in one-time revenues that will create another budget hole next year.

Gov. Fallin has signed a bill ending a pair of tax exemptions for new wind farms constructed after 2016. Writing in the Journal Record, Executive Director David Blatt said that the wind power exemption was targeted not because of its actual cost, but because it was an easy target. The Legislature overrode Gov. Fallin’s veto on a bill that will change the way salaries are set for state officers. The Senate education committee approved a bill that would modify the third grade retention law. A new national ranking of states for senior health shows that Oklahoma has improved slightly, but remains among the five worst states in the US.

Two years after a devastating tornado, Moore’s housing boom has slowed. The Tulsa County District Attorney has asked to be recused from an investigation into the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office to avoid any perception that his defense of the office in the past would  affect the investigation. Southwest Oklahoma cities that have struggled with drought for years are reconsidering water rationing following massive rainfall. The Number of the Day is $1,004 – the median annual property taxes paid by Oklahomans in 2013. In today’s Policy Note, The Atlantic explains how segregation continues to impact childhood outcomes.

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FY 2016 Budget Live Blog

by | May 20th, 2015 | Posted in Budget | Comments (1)

Today we’re at the State Capitol looking into the state budget deal announced yesterday. Here’s our initial statement on the budget, a list of the proposed appropriations, and a summary of the budget agreement.

See below for live updates as we uncover more about the budget and analyze what it means for Oklahomans.

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In The Know: Budget deal gives flat funding for common ed, cuts for colleges

by | May 20th, 2015 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. 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.

Legislative leaders and Governor Fallin have reached a budget agreement for next year that provides flat funding to common education flat and cuts appropriations for colleges and universities by $24.1 million. OK Policy released a statement calling on lawmakers to reject the budget and demand a balanced plan that includes sustainable revenue options. The budget would cut most state agencies by up to 7.25% while using up hundreds of millions in one-time revenues that will immediately create another large budget hole for next year. You can see a list of all of the proposed appropriations here and a summary of the budget agreement here.

While the Department of Agriculture’s appropriations have dropped by more than 25 percent since 2008 and would see another $1.2 million cut in the proposed budget, Oklahoma House members spent much of yesterday complaining about rules that would increase fees for the Department’s testing services by about $200,000. Lawmakers ultimately approved those rules and more than 300 others while disapproving three, including one that would include harassment based on sexual orientation in the definition of a hostile work environment for alcohol wholesalers.

Today OK Policy will be live blogging our analysis of the budget from the state Capitol. You can follow our updates here. On the OK Policy Blog, we described some of the ways that under-investment by the state is harming Oklahoma families and the economy. A $25 million bond proposal to build a museum of popular culture in Tulsa has cleared the Oklahoma Senate, one day after the same bill failed when a senator said he mistakenly pressed the wrong button. 

University of Oklahoma President David Boren issued a statement defending his position as a member of the Continental Resources Board of Directors, after Bloomberg News reported that the company’s CEO Harold Hamm tried to get OU researchers fired for linking earthquakes to the oil and gas industry. Stillwater officials continue to refine new regulations for oil and gas drilling inside city limits as they wait for the Legislature to finalize a bill that would stop cities from banning drilling. The deaths of 9 oilfield workers who inhaled fumes from chemicals, including one in Oklahoma, have prompted federal officials to warn about the dangers around crude production tanks.

The Oklahoma chapter of The National Alliance on Mental Illness celebrated its 30-year anniversary, looking back at efforts to advocate in the Legislature for Oklahomans affected by mental illness. With more rain expected this week, Oklahoma is on track for its wettest month ever recorded.

The Number of the Day is $74.3M – the overall decrease in funding for state services in Oklahoma’s fiscal year 2016 budget proposal compared to this year. In today’s Policy Note, The American Prospect examines what the contrast between Minnesota and Wisconsin tells us about the best policies for achieving high wages and economic growth.

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STATEMENT: Lawmakers should reject unbalanced budget deal

Oklahoma Policy Institute released the following statement in response to a state budget deal announced today:

Lawmakers faced a difficult task with a $611 million budget hole. Even so, this budget proposal ignores sensible revenue options by allowing a tax cut to go forward that was never meant to happen in these conditions and failing to do anything about wasteful tax breaks, such as the double deduction for state income tax.

The result is a budget that does not keep up with rising costs for common education and health care and continues to ratchet down support for the arts, economic development, state parks, and other areas that are already at least 20 percent below pre-recession funding levels. Oklahomans can expect continued teacher shortages and larger class sizes, higher fees and tuition, and less access to medical care, among the many bad consequences of this budget.

The budget deal barely maintains some vital services only by using up hundreds of millions in one-time revenues that will immediately dig another large budget hole for next year. Oklahoma will not be able to kick this can down the road much longer. Legislators should reject this budget and demand a balanced plan that includes sustainable revenue options.

The real damage of budget cuts, and the latest bad excuse for tax cuts

by | May 19th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Taxes | Comments (1)

Photo by Geraint Rowland / CC BY-NC 2.0

Photo by Geraint Rowland / CC BY-NC 2.0

Lawmakers are planning a budget for next year that from most reports looks likely to cut funding for most state agencies while refusing to halt a scheduled tax cut or reign in tax breaks. As some pre-budget spin in defense of these decisions, The Oklahoman editorial board and the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs have pointed to $40 million spent on “swag, advertising, and memberships” as evidence that Oklahoma can afford to reduce taxes further even during a budget shortfall.

It’s worth noting that the source of the $40 million figure is never shared, nor is what they specifically mean by “swag, advertising, and memberships,” even when they put it in quotation marks. But if we take them at their word that this is unnecessary spending, that’s still not an argument to cut taxes again. We can just as easily find examples of how severe under-investment by the state is harming Oklahoma families and the economy.

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In The Know: House votes to cap motor vehicle tax revenue going to education

by | May 19th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. 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 House Appropriations and Budget Committee passed a dozen bills to cap how much funds are transferred off-the-top to education, roads, tourism, and other services. Since the early 2000s, just over a third of motor vehicle tax revenues have been automatically transferred to local school districts, but HB 2244 caps that amount to never exceed what schools get this fiscal year, with the rest going to the General Revenue Fund. With two months left in the fiscal year, schools have so far received $230.7 million from automatic motor vehicle tax transfers.

The House approved an additional $25 million to complete the long-delayed American Indian Cultural Center in Oklahoma City, while a bill to provide $25 million for a museum of popular culture in Tulsa failed in the Senate by one vote. But the author of the measure, Senate Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, indicated he would seek another vote. Sen. Bryce Marlatt, R-Woodward said he accidentally changed his vote to no seconds before the vote was closed, and he intends to vote for it when Senate President Pro Tem Bingman brings it up for another vote.

An investigation by The Frontier found that for the past five years, state and federal auditors have repeatedly criticized the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office for lax oversight of inmate trust accounts — but those warnings prompted little change and some of the funds went missing. The Oklahoma attorney general’s office has elected not to pursue charges after reviewing a state audit that examined allegations of criminal wrongdoing in a private contract awarded for demolition work on the Tar Creek Superfund cleanup site.

On the OK Policy Blog, research fellow Cassidy Hamilton looks at the pros and cons of vote-by-mail elections. Legislation to make municipalities pay if they adopt ordinances which restrict the development of oil and gas has been granted a conference committee hearing in the Oklahoma House. A former Norman high school student pleaded no contest to rape, a crime that led hundreds of his fellow students to walk out in November and demand punishment for incidents they said were not being taken seriously. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison with eight years of the sentence suspended.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of renting households in Oklahoma whose total rent consumes more than half of the household’s income. In today’s Policy Note, The Atlantic examines how the gap between the richest and poorest in the U.S. has grown so wide that fewer Americans are calling themselves middle class.

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Should Oklahoma adopt all voting-by-mail elections? (Guest Post: Cassidy Hamilton)

by | May 18th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Elections | Comments (0)

Cassidy Hamilton is one of the 2014-2015 OK Policy Research Fellows. Cassidy graduated magna cum laude with a degree in Economics and is currently pursuing a Masters of Public Administration at the University of Oklahoma. She has also contributed a blog post on infant mortalityvote-by-mail.

Last year, Oklahoma was ranked 49th in the nation in voter engagement in a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Less than half of eligible Oklahomans voted in the 2012 presidential election and only three-fourths of eligible Oklahomans are even registered, putting Oklahoma 46th nationally in voter registration.

To address our state’s poor voter participation, State Senator David Holt introduced a package of ten bills that if enacted, would fundamentally restructure Oklahoma’s election process. These bills ranged from SB 313, which would establish and allow online voter registration, to SB 310, which would transition Oklahoma to conduct its elections entirely by mail by 2020.

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In The Know: Email reveals oil CEO tried to get university quake scientists dismissed

by | May 18th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. 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.

In an e-mail obtained via a public records request, a University of Oklahoma dean said that oil tycoon Harold Hamm was pushing the university to fire scientists who were investigating links between earthquakes and the oil and gas industry. An oil wastewater disposal well near the epicenter of Oklahoma’s largest recorded earthquake was drilled too deep, which some say contributes to earthquakes. The well’s owner, New Dominion, has sought state approval to make it shallower, but they still deny any connection between their wells and earthquakes. New Dominion faces at least two lawsuits over the earthquake, and one of them is before the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

KFOR examined the legal costs paid by taxpayers of defending numerous bills passed by the Legislature that were later ruled unconstitutional. The Tulsa World warned against a bill that would eliminate income taxes for people moving into Oklahoma counties where population has been declining. A very similar tax break in Kansas has not increased migration to declining counties. The Legislature sent to Governor Fallin a bill to eliminate a property tax exemption for new wind farms beginning in 2017.

Legislative leaders and the governor’s office are still trying to hash out a budget that is expected to make more cuts to nearly every state agency. On the OK Policy Blog, Steve Lewis wrote that lawmakers have shuffled money around while slashing taxes for years, and now we’re seeing the real costs come out in damage to education, health, mental health, social services and public safety. The Senate voted to override Gov. Fallin’s veto of a bill that would decouple the pay of statewide elected officials from that of judges.

Oklahoma Watch reported that a large percentage of Oklahoma’s incarcerated women show symptoms of PTSD due to emotional and sexual abuse. Preliminary results show that 14.6 percent of third graders, or 7,311 students, are at risk of repeating the third grade after scoring “unsatisfactory” on the state’s reading exam. The okeducationtruths blog looked at how media and the state Department of Education differed in portraying the results.

Eleven Republicans with presidential aspirations will be in Oklahoma City this week for the Southern Republicans Leadership Conference. A U.S. Supreme Court decision could make Oklahoma’s numerous licensing boards vulnerable to criminal and civil antitrust actions because they are dominated by existing members of the industry they are regulating. Oklahoma Policy Institute announced that Andrew Tevington, who was a top advisor to former Governor Henry Bellmon, and Felicia Collins Correia, who served 25 years as CEO of major non-profit organizations in Tulsa, have been elected to our Board of Directors.

The Number of the Day is 63.4% – the percentage of managed honeybee colonies lost in Oklahoma from 2014 to 2015. It was the worst loss in the nation. In today’s Policy Note, CityLab looks at how cities and states have shot far past Congress in successfully raising the minimum wage.

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