Will we avoid balancing the budget with a blunt axe? (Steve Lewis Capitol Updates)

by | March 6th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Capitol Updates | Comments (0)
axe

Photo by brittgow.

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.

While much of the noise surrounding the legislative session has centered on the “hoodie” bill, AP history courses, and anti-gay legislation much of the work of legislators is going on in discussions behind closed doors.  Faced with a $611 million budget gap, leaders are compiling a list of responses to put “on the table” for discussion.  Presumably these ideas will be presented to the full membership at some point for a broader discussion and some vote counting.

continue reading Will we avoid balancing the budget with a blunt axe? (Steve Lewis Capitol Updates)

Up Against The Wall, or how I pay the state to lock up my brother (Guest post: Camille Landry)

camille_landryCamille Landry is a writer, activist, and social justice advocate who lives in Oklahoma City.  This post is part of our “Neglected Oklahoma” series, which tells the stories of Oklahomans in situations where the basic necessities of life are hard to come by.  These are real people and their stories are true (names have been changed to protect privacy).

“My brother is doing 11 years in the state penitentiary.” There’s more bitterness than grief in Caryn Louis’s voice. “It’s not just losing somebody you love. The prison system punishes the entire family in lots of ways. Every little thing that my brother needs to make it through his sentence costs money and most of this money comes out of the pockets of inmates’ families and friends,” Ms. Louis said. “The state is punishing the families of the people it locks up.”

It is a not-so-well-kept secret that corporations that service prisons and corrections agencies profit by shifting considerable expenses to inmates’ families.  Inmates cannot pay these costs themselves. People who enter the criminal justice system are overwhelmingly poor. Two-thirds of the people detained in prisons report annual incomes under $12,000 prior to arrest. Prison jobs pay $14.45 per month. Portions of that sum are deducted for such things as child support payments and court costs.

jail-visit-1Research shows that family involvement helps combat recidivism and aids reintegration of offenders upon their release. It also results in calmer inmates — but the high costs associated with visits and phone calls puts them out of reach for many Inmates’ families. “My brother is a 3-hour drive away. I can only afford to see him a few times a year.” Most Oklahoma inmates come from Oklahoma and Tulsa counties and most of the correctional facilities are far away from those cities. “If you don’t have a good car and the money for a road trip, you just don’t get to visit,” she said.

continue reading Up Against The Wall, or how I pay the state to lock up my brother (Guest post: Camille Landry)

In The Know: 857 corrections officers needed, says Department of Corrections Director Patton

by | March 5th, 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.

Speaking to a Senate Appropriations Committee, Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton told committee members that it would take nearly 900 additional corrections officers to fully staff state prisons. Patton said that while state prisons are staffed at 67 percent, the prisons are operating at 116 percent capacity, creating security concerns. State Superintendent of Schools Joy Hofmeister said that it’s important for the state to be transparent accountable about results in the classroom, but suggested that the current A-F report card system is an “unreliable measure,” and said that the state could develop its own system to measure school performance.

The Tulsa World’s Editorial Board praised legislators for committing to fund the Pinnacle Plan despite the state’s budget crisis. Writing in his Journal Record column, Executive Director David Blatt made the case for a higher minimum wage in Oklahoma. The OK Policy Blog shared a plan for boosting education funding, modeled on a system that allocates tax revenues for the upkeep of state highways and bridges.

The Senate passed two bills scrutinizing the effectiveness of tax credits, and  a Senate panel passed a measure that could lead to the end of end-of-instruction exams. The House approved a measure to legalize switchblades but passed on ones that would have created a new toll collection system and would have required candidates for governor and lieutenant governor to run jointly. A House resolution that would have allowed Oklahoma wineries to ship wine to visitors is on hold, and the House declined to pass an amendment that would have given retired firefighters a cost-of-living pension increase.

KGOU spoke to Oklahoma AP history teachers about how the course is taught in the state. Surplus Vision 2025 tax collections will be used to fund park improvements in Sand Springs, building updates in Collinsville, and a new water tower in Glenpool, according to the Tulsa County Vision Authority. The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahomans age 18-64 who receive Social Security disability assistance. In today’s Policy Note, PBS examines how bitterly cold temperatures push some Americans toward the poverty line.

continue reading In The Know: 857 corrections officers needed, says Department of Corrections Director Patton

Education vies for funding down the road

by | March 4th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (0)

school-children-roadHow do you boost support for education in a year when the state faces a massive budget shortfall? Several bills to provide teacher pay raises have gained initial committee approval, but these bills are unlikely to make it into law given the grim budget situation. The best chance for success for education advocates seems to be a proposal by House Speaker Pro Tem Lee Denney (R-Cushing) that provides a multi-year $600 million increase in education funding, but not for another three years. Yet even this proposal is far from a sure thing.

HB 1682 creates the Securing Education Excellence Fund. The bill is designed to increase funding for common education by $59.7 million annually beginning in fiscal year 2019. The funding increase would come from income tax revenue that is take off-the-top before legislators appropriate budgets for other state services.

continue reading Education vies for funding down the road

In The Know: Energy industry pressured Oklahoma geologists to say silent on link between earthquakes and drilling

by | March 4th, 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.

Emails obtained through an Open Records request by EnergyWire reveal that despite long-held suspicions that the state’s earthquake surge was linked to oil and gas activity, the Oklahoma Geological Survey stayed silent amid pressure from oil company executives. Meanwhile, only 8 out of about 100 earthquake insurance claims filed in the state last year were paid because insurance companies are excluding coverage for “man-made” earthquakes. The Journal Record shared an infographic showing how much Oklahoma’s major energy companies have cut their spending plans for 2015.

Oklahoma would become the first state to allow the execution of death row inmates using nitrogen gas under a bill overwhelmingly approved by the House. Oklahoma is considering legislation to make it easier for terminally ill patients to get access to experimental drugs and procedures. On the OK Policy Blog, we discussed how red states like Mississippi and Georgia have already gone way beyond Oklahoma in their reforms to reduce incarceration.

Three rural Oklahoma communities have received about $1 million in state grants for water system improvements that will save about 16.7 million gallons of water a year. Tulsa voters passed by a wide margin a state record-setting $415 million school bond package for Tulsa Public Schools. News9 reported on Oklahoma City Superintendent Robert Neu’s confrontation with the Legislature over school voucher and other legislation that he says will harm public schools.

Tulsa World columnist Ginnie Graham wrote that listening in on legislative debates uncovers too many false statements presented as facts. Journal Record Editor Ted Streuli wrote that what he got for his state and local taxes was a bargain even before Oklahoma’s scheduled income tax cuts. The Number of the Day is how many Oklahomans would see their health insurance premiums increase by an average of $208/month if the Supreme Court throws out subsidies provided under the Affordable Care Act. In today’s Policy Note, the New York Times examined how black college graduates continue to have a tougher time finding jobs than whites with the same education.

continue reading In The Know: Energy industry pressured Oklahoma geologists to say silent on link between earthquakes and drilling

Where states are taking real action against mass incarceration

by | March 3rd, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Criminal Justice | Comments (0)
Photo by Andrew Scott.

Photo by Andrew Scott.

With the deadline recently passing for bills to make it out of their initial committees, we can take a look at which criminal justice reform proposals are still alive. While no proposals have emerged to undertake comprehensive sentencing reform, each of these bills addresses the issue in smaller ways:

  • HB 2168 allows Oklahomans with a felony record to obtain job licenses for professions that do not substantially relate to their crime (see a fact sheet about this bill here). 
  • HB 1518 allows courts to deviate from mandatory minimum sentences when they are not in the interest of justice and doing so would not endanger the public (see our blog post about a previous version of this bill here). 
  • HB 1574 changes mandatory life without parole sentence for some drug trafficking convictions to twenty years to life imprisonment. 
  • SB 112 allows offenders convicted of crimes that require them to serve 85 percent of their sentence to earn credits for good behavior before reaching 85 percent. A similar House bill (HB 1117) has been approved by committee but was severely weakened by amendment that applies it only to inmates sentenced in 2016 or later. 
  • SB 211 reduces the maximum sentence for an offender committing a non-violent crime within ten years of a previous conviction to 20 years instead of life.

While each of these proposals could help on the margins, they appear hugely inadequate next to the crisis situation in Oklahoma’s overcrowded, understaffed prisons. At this rate, Oklahoma is not likely to avoid a federal lawsuit or other intervention that forces us to spend tens of millions more taxpayer dollars on incarceration.

continue reading Where states are taking real action against mass incarceration

In The Know: Legislators continue resistance to smart on crime reforms

by | March 3rd, 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. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

NewsOK reported on how Oklahoma legislators are continuing their resistance to smart on crime reforms. The chairs of the Legislature’s budget writing committees said court-ordered reforms of Oklahoma’s child welfare system will be funded for the 2016 fiscal year despite a budget hole of $611 million. The directors of ten different state health agencies would be fired effective Jan. 1, and the governor would have the authority to appoint their successors under a bill narrowly passed by a Senate committee on Monday. The bill’s author Sen. Nathan Dahm said he won’t push for the bill to become law this year.

On the OK Policy Blog, we discussed the Legislature’s proposal to get better oversight over the state’s numerous business tax breaks. A bill that would reduce the amount of tax subsidies paid to wind producers in Oklahoma has been unanimously approved by the state House. KGOU shared the audio from a panel at OK Policy’s State Budget Summit that gave an economic check-up of Oklahoma. Oklahoma City Public Schools is hosting a series of community conversations on the future of the district at eight sites starting Monday. Tulsa voters will today decide the fate of a $415 million school bond package. The okeducationtruths blog continued a series making a case for replacing Oklahoma’s End of Instruction high school tests with the ACT.

Faced with a huge budget hole after income tax cuts, Kansas is considering hiking property taxes on farmland by $200 million statewide. NewsOK explained how every American who has health insurance through their employer receives a federal tax subsidy for that insurance. An Oklahoma City man is dead after being pepper sprayed and repeatedly tased by police. The Number of the Day is the year in which Oklahoma’s population is projected to be majority non-white. In today’s Policy Note, Slate explains how unaccountable, overzealous prosecutors have played a big role in the rise of mass incarceration.

continue reading In The Know: Legislators continue resistance to smart on crime reforms

Proposal aims to get a grip on Oklahoma’s business tax breaks

by | March 2nd, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (0)
Panelists discuss tax credit reform at OK Policy's State Budget Summit.

Panelists discuss tax credit reform at OK Policy’s State Budget Summit.

Oklahoma’s more than 70 business incentives are one of the primary ways the state attempts to create jobs and encourage businesses to locate and expand in Oklahoma. These tax credits, tax exemptions, and cash rebates also have a significant cost. Each year they reduce the revenue that could otherwise be used for public services by hundreds of millions of dollars.

Policymakers have struggled to determine which incentives are working, which are not, and how the state can make sure it’s getting a strong return on taxpayer dollars. Oklahoma has no formal, ongoing method to measure the effectiveness of its incentives. Though legislators have made attempts to review these programs over the years, lawmakers found that an absence of data, direction, and agency coordination stymied their progress. But a new effort aims to provide the evidence they need to evaluate tax incentive programs and invest in those that work.

continue reading Proposal aims to get a grip on Oklahoma’s business tax breaks

In The Know: Health insurance for 100,000 Oklahomans hinges on Supreme Court case

by | March 2nd, 2015 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (1)

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.

An upcoming US Supreme Court case could threaten health insurance for nearly 100,000 Oklahomans who bought insurance on the federal exchange. In NewsOK, Ruth Marcus explained why the court challenge distorts the meaning of the law and endangers states’ rights. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt wrote an op-ed defending the court challenge. An ongoing legal fight between OU Medical Center and Oklahoma County over who should pay for jail inmates’ emergency medical care is now in the hands of the state Supreme Court. A Tulsa County Undersheriff accused Mayor Dewey Bartlett of “malicious and unethical” behavior for questioning whether the Sheriff’s Office could be trusted to provide accurate financial information for a jail audit.

A bill that would require doctors to check a patient database before writing prescriptions for highly addictive drugs could be strengthened, but key legislators think the measure probably will sail through unchanged. The Oklahoma Board of Education has decided students can continue to sell unhealthy snacks at school fundraisers, granting schools the ability to set local exemptions to the federal Health, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The chief financial officer for Kaiser-Francis Oil Co. and OK Policy board member Don Millican argued in the Tulsa World that Oklahoma should ban smoking in public places.

Critics challenged Oklahoma Gas & Electric’s petition to charge $1 billion more from its customers, which would raise utility rates by as much as 20 percent by the end of 2019. Public Radio Tulsa examined battles in other state over a ‘Right to Farm’ proposal that could appear on Oklahoma’s ballot in 2016. More than 150 Oklahoma Muslims came to the Capitol Friday for the first Oklahoma Muslim Day. About 50 interfaith supporters helped escort the Muslims past 20 protesters chanting anti-Islamic slogans. The Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department has released a 75-page guide and website highlighting the state’s black history and culture.

Tulsa and Oklahoma City Chambers of Commerce leaders said embarrassing bills by the Oklahoma Legislature that have made the national news are hurting efforts to recruit business to the state. In the Tulsa World, Wayne Greene wrote that Oklahoma’s State Constitution is out of date in many ways, but a proposed constitutional convention dominated by state legislators could be even worse. The okeducationtruths blog shared arguments for replacing Oklahoma’s End of Instruction tests with the ACT.

A new study shows Oklahoma City is part of a new national trend where a half century of job growth in sprawling suburbia is coming to an end while employment is surging downtown. Chesapeake Energy Corp. shares plunged 10% Wednesday as the company told investors that it would scale back its rig operations to 2004 levels. Because of falling oil prices, SandRidge Energy is cutting the number of its drilling rigs from 32 to 7. The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahoma students beginning college in 2012 who stayed in state, the 8th highest in the nation. In today’s Policy Note, the Washington Post examines why most companies are rewarding shareholders instead of investing in the real economy.

continue reading In The Know: Health insurance for 100,000 Oklahomans hinges on Supreme Court case

The Weekly Wonk March 1, 2015

by | March 1st, 2015 | Posted in Blog | Comments (0)

the_weekly_wonkThe Weekly Wonk is a summary of Oklahoma Policy Institute’s events, publications, blog posts, and coverage. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The KnowClick here to subscribe to In The Know.

This week on the OK Policy Blog, we discussed what Gov. Fallin’s goals for the state government tell us about current conditions in Oklahoma, from health coverage to incarceration. We shared State Treasurer Ken Miller’s suggestion that the state avoid making tax cuts it can’t pay for. We also explained what the Rainy Day Fund is and how it could be used to alleviate this year’s budget hole.

In his Capitol Update, Steve Lewis explained how cutting taxes when energy prices were high may have left the state coffers little to work with now that energy prices are falling. Outreach Specialist Kara Joy McKee suggested seven ways to get your legislators’ attention.

On the OK PolicyCast, we talked with OK Policy staffer and Oklahoma Assets Network Coordinator Kate Richey about her research into payday lending in Oklahoma and how it can trap families in a vicious cycle of debt. Oklahoma Assets will host a Town Hall Forum on predatory lending in Oklahoma at the OU Faculty House in Oklahoma City on March 4. You can find out more and RSVP here.

In his Journal Record column, Executive Director David Blatt discussed how the double whammy of a sagging economy and misguided tax policies have left the state struggling to meet basic needs. Blatt and Jonathan Small of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs discussed the state’s budget hole at KOSU’s monthly On Tap.  Al Jazeera America spoke with Blatt about dwindling education funding in Oklahoma. The Tulsa World described Legislative Liaison Damario Solomon-Simmons’ mentoring program

Weekly What’s That?

Franchise Tax

Oklahoma levies a franchise tax on all corporations or associations doing business in the state. Corporations are taxed $1.25 for each $1,000 of capital invested or otherwise used in Oklahoma up to a maximum levy of $20,000 (foreign corporations are additionally assessed $100 per year). Read more here.

Look up more key terms to understand Oklahoma politics and government here.

continue reading The Weekly Wonk March 1, 2015

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