The Weekly Wonk December 21, 2014

by | December 21st, 2014 | 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, we released a new report examining why Oklahoma’s democracy is broken and how we can fix it. You can download the full report here, download an executive summary, or watch an animated video summarizing the report. In this week’s episode of the OK PolicyCast, we interviewed Executive Director David Blatt about the report and reviewed the major headlines of the week. You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunesStitcher, or RSS.

More of our work on elections in Oklahoma is available here. A guest blog post from OK Policy research fellow Ryan Gentzler explains why the school funding problem is even worse than we thought. A new blog post discusses how Oklahoma lawmakers passed a “work requirement” for food assistance that imposed no actual new requirements, while stripping out funds for job training and education that could have actually helped the unemployed find work. In his weekly Capitol Update, Steve Lewis shares how committee appointments reveal who the most influential legislators will be next year.

On January 29th, OK Policy will host our second annual State Budget Summit, titled “Mind the Gap: Sensible Budget Policy in Challenging Times.” The keynote address will be delivered by columnist E.J. Dionne, whose work appears in the Washington Post, NPR and other publications. Tickets may be purchased here.

Writing in this week’s Journal Record column, Executive Director David Blatt discussed increasing calls for wind industry tax credit reforms. Oklahoma Watch quoted OK Policy in a discussion of an Affordable Care Act grant won by the state. KFOR included OK Policy’s statement in their coverage of the triggered tax break for the wealthy. Ballot Access News shared our report on repairing Oklahoma’s broken democracy. In our Editorial of the Week, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs’ Michael Carnuccio argued in favor of sensible criminal justice reform.

continue reading The Weekly Wonk December 21, 2014

OK PolicyCast Episode 17: Tax Cut Trigger and a Bad News Budget

by | December 19th, 2014 | Posted in Podcast | Comments (0)
Hefner Canal guard dog "Otto the Great" and the canal's new resident donkey.

Hefner canal guard dog “Otto” and the canal’s new resident donkey.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunesStitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

Each week the OK PolicyCast brings you the most important news about Oklahoma and what it means. This week, we speak with OK Policy Executive Director David Blatt about the latest predictions for Oklahoma’s state budget, a tax cut that was triggered from 2016, and what it all means for regular Oklahomans. Also in this episode, we share the headlines, some recommended reading, and our closing good news of the week.

Download the episode here or play it in your browser:

This week’s recommendation: Natural gas: The fracking fallacy

The committee chair shuffle (Steve Lewis Capitol Updates)

by | December 19th, 2014 | Posted in Capitol Updates | Comments (0)
Steve Lewis

Steve Lewis

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.

We move inexorably toward the next legislative session as some important milestones occurred last week.  The first, the deadline for making a bill request passed last Friday, December 12th.  That means any member of the House or Senate who plans to introduce a bill next session was required to identify his or her idea for legislation and make the bill drafting request to legislative staff.  The request is given a number, and the member now has until December 29th to submit suggested language for the bill.

The other important events were appointment of committee chairs and vice-chairs for the upcoming session by the House Speaker and Senate President Pro Tempore. 

continue reading The committee chair shuffle (Steve Lewis Capitol Updates)

In The Know: AG Pruitt joins lawsuit against Colorado marijuana law

by | December 19th, 2014 | 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.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt announced Thursday that he would be joining his counterpart in Nebraska in asking the Supreme Court to declare Colorado’s legalization of marijuana unconstitutional. The people of Colorado had voted to legalize and regulate marijuana sales n 2012. We’ve written about how Oklahoma’s marijuana laws are among the harshest in the US before. State leaders have approved a tax cut for the state’s wealthiest, after projections showed that revenues were high enough to trigger the cut. OK Policy released a statement arguing that allowing the tax cut to trigger is supremely irresponsible. We’ve previously noted that 41 percent of Oklahomans will see no change to their taxes at all. State officials report that falling gas prices will not have a significant effect on the budget of the current fiscal year, although there are concerns that it could impact next year’s budget.

A new post on the OK Policy Blog reveals that the state’s school funding situation is even worse than many previously believed, because our public schools are more dependent on state revenues that those in other states. The State Board of Education has voted to award the contracts for the state’s end-of-instruction, science and social studies assessments to one of three bidders. Board members voted without knowing the name of the vendor, and the name will not be released until the final contract is in place. Superintendent Janet Barresi said that it will be difficult for schools to make mid-year budget adjustments following a state aid miscalculation. Writing in the Journal Record, Oklahoma Observer editor Arnold Hamilton discussed the legislative outcry following Supt. Barresi’s decision to create a $90,000/year position for her counsel’s husband, and argued that the practice is more common in the legislature than the outcry would suggest.

In federal court on Thursday, the former general counsel for the state Department of Corrections testified that political pressure played a key role in the decision to procure and use an untested drug cocktail in the botched execution of Clayton Lockett. A former Tulsa Police officer has been bound over for trial on charges of first degree murder and shooting with intent to kill. The man had shot at his daughter, and shot and killed her boyfriend, Jeremy Lake.

The Tulsa World’s Editorial Board argued that a state Supreme Court decision in favor of an executive privilege exemption to the Open Records Act had torn “a giant hole” in the state’s most important transparency statute, because it makes it more difficult for the public to hold the Governor’s office accountable. Hundreds of residents turned out for a public meeting on an oil drilling plan for Lake Hefner. Pedestal Oil Co. Inc. plans to drill multiple wells 600 feet from a park near the lake. The state Department of Health says that a total of six people have died of influenza in the current flu season, and nearly 140 people have been hospitalized. We’ve written about the importance of getting a flu shot before. The Number of the Day is the cost of a bear hunting license for Oklahoma residents in the 2014-2015 hunting season. In today’s Policy Note, Slate discusses America’s dismal college dropout rates.

continue reading In The Know: AG Pruitt joins lawsuit against Colorado marijuana law

Oklahoma school funding: Even worse than you thought (Guest post: Ryan Gentzler)

by | December 18th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (1)

Ryan Gentzler is an OK Policy Research Fellow, a Master of Public Administration student at the University of Oklahoma, and a Research Associate with the Early Childhood Education Institute.

In October, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities published an update to its study of cuts to state aid to public K-12 schools since the recession, showing that Oklahoma has widened its lead in making the largest cuts in the nation. From 2008 to 2015, we’ve slashed state aid to schools by 23.6 percent, or $857 per student. But the situation is even worse than it appears at first glance. Oklahoma’s public schools are more dependent on state revenues than those in many other states. As a result, school funding in Oklahoma is more vulnerable to economic downturns and to fiscal decisions that erode the state’s revenue base.

continue reading Oklahoma school funding: Even worse than you thought (Guest post: Ryan Gentzler)

Statement: Allowing tax cut to trigger is supremely irresponsible

by | December 18th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Press Releases, Taxes | Comments (1)

Oklahoma Policy Institute Executive Director David Blatt released the following statement in response to Oklahoma’s latest revenue estimates that under current law will trigger a tax cut in 2016:

It is supremely irresponsible to move forward with an income tax cut that will do little to nothing for most Oklahoma families at the same time as we face a nearly $300 million budget shortfall for next year. Under this tax cut, 41 percent of Oklahomans will not see any tax reduction, and the average tax cut for middle-income families will be just $30.

Between repeated tax cuts and ballooning tax breaks for businesses, Oklahoma has gutted services crucial for a good education system, public safety, and a strong economy. With the collapse of gas prices and a continuing drought threatening two of our state’s major industries, now is exactly the wrong time to increase the size of our budget hole with a tax giveaway that will go mostly to the already wealthy.

Going forward, Oklahoma urgently needs to review and rein in unnecessary tax breaks, and lawmakers needs to develop a more honest and transparent budget that funds core services by finding responsible revenue options, not one-time revenues and budget gimmicks.

In The Know: Oklahoma revenue projections sufficient to trigger tax cut

by and | December 18th, 2014 | 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.

State finance officials announced that Oklahoma’s revenue projections have increased enough over the last year to trigger an income tax cut in 2016. The tax cut will go into effect even though officials are expecting more budget cuts to most state services next year. OK Policy previously analyzed how the tax cut would affect Oklahomans – 41 percent of Oklahomans will not see any tax reduction, and the average tax cut for middle-income families will be just $30. An error in the way state aid has been calculated for public schools across Oklahoma since 1992 is expected to cause as much as $18 million to be redistributed between school districts for the current fiscal year.

The Oklahoman editorial board argued that the state should not take away transportation funding to protect the budgets of other state services next year. Due to off-the-top transfers from the income tax, transportation has received large funding increases in recent years even while most state agencies absorbed funding cuts of over 20 percent. David Blatt’s Journal Record column examined the push to roll back tax breaks for the wind industry in Oklahoma. On the OK Policy Blog, we showed Oklahoma lawmakers passed a “work requirement” for food stamps that effectively did nothing, while stripping out funds for job training and education that could have actually helped the unemployed find work.

A Florida anesthesiologist testified that Clayton D. Lockett, whose botched execution in April led to a moratorium on the death penalty in Oklahoma, was most likely conscious, in intense pain and feeling the equivalent of “liquid fire” from the inappropriate use of drugs used to kill him. A prison warden who was supposed to be solely in charge of Oklahoma’s execution protocol testified Wednesday she had no role in drafting the protocol used to carry out a botched execution. Citing “tremendous need”, a Kentucky-based company plans to build a 72-bed mental health hospital in Oklahoma City.

The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality says a gauge containing radioactive material has been stolen from the parking lot of an Oklahoma City hotel. An official said the amount of radiation in the gauge likely would not deliver a lethal dose, but would be a health risk. State and local law enforcement authorities are working to eradicate feral swine that were illegally brought to the Oklahoma Panhandle and released and later tested positive for pseudorabies. The Number of the Day is the average premium increase of health insurance plans purchased on Healthcare.gov in Oklahoma if Attorney General Pruitt’s lawsuit against the health care law is successful ($75/month to $277/month). In today’s Policy Note, Wonkblog discusses evidence that the huge health care gap between whites and minorities is starting to narrow.

continue reading In The Know: Oklahoma revenue projections sufficient to trigger tax cut

The ‘work requirement’ that wasn’t

by | December 17th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Poverty, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (1)

Welfare as it exists in the minds of many Americans bears little resemblance to welfare as it exists in reality. The nation’s ‘welfare’ cash assistance program was functionally dismantled in the mid-1990s, but especially in Oklahoma, leaders still lean heavily on the specter of nanny state budget bloat and the work-shy freeloader. Even some twenty years after welfare was gutted, most voters either don’t know that the program was essentially eliminated or they have long since forgotten. This has made it easy for ambitious politicians to campaign on an ‘anti-welfare’ agenda while their actual proposals receive little scrutiny.

STATE OF THE STATEOklahoma legislators recently targeted a nutrition assistance program called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), formerly food stamps, citing a disdain for ‘welfare’ and a commitment to the value of hard work. Oklahoma’s former House Speaker T.W. Shannon introduced HB 1909 in 2013 with a familiar refrain:

continue reading The ‘work requirement’ that wasn’t

In The Know: Oklahoma Supreme Court says Governor can withhold details from public

by and | December 17th, 2014 | 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 Supreme Court osided upheld a district court’s decision letting Governor Fallin withhold from the public records related to her decision-making process. The Tulsa World reported that Devon Energy’s political action committee and executive chairman have poured nearly $1 million since 2006 into the campaign funds of GOP candidates for state offices, including the maximum allowed contribution to Attorney General Scott Pruitt even though he faced no opponent. A new OK Policy report looks at the evidence that democracy is broken in Oklahoma and lays out several reforms that could fix it. You can download the full report here, download an executive summary, or watch an animated video summarizing the report.

The Obama administration announced Tuesday it had chosen Oklahoma to receive an Affordable Care Act grant of up to $2 million to develop innovative models for delivering health care. Despite Department of Corrections efforts to release inmates to make room for offenders from the county jails, the prison system remains significantly over capacity, understaffed, and badly in need of repair. The Enid News & Eagle wrote that Oklahoma needs to reform the prison system soon or risk the federal government taking over and mandating expensive changes. Tulsa World business columnist John Stancavage examined how cheap gas may cost the state economy down the road. A Community Action Project program providing education and job opportunities to low-income parents with young children celebrated its first participants’ graduation from a Registered Nurse program. On the OK Policy Blog, we previously discussed why it’s so important to expand policies that help parents.

The U.S. Geological Survey says groundwater levels are rapidly declining in an aquifer that serves parts of Oklahoma and seven other states. The Oklahoma Water Resources Board approved a plan to conduct a $1.4 million study of ways to conserve and manage water in southwest Oklahoma’s Upper Red River Basin. The Oklahoma City utilities department plans a public meeting Thursday on a proposal by a private company to drill for oil and natural gas near Lake Hefner. The Number of the Day is the percentage of women who entered the state correctional system in 2013 with a moderate to high need for substance abuse treatment. In today’s Policy Note, Nature discusses evidence that estimates of abundant natural gas reserves in the United States may be wishful thinking.

continue reading In The Know: Oklahoma Supreme Court says Governor can withhold details from public

New report shares ideas for repairing Oklahoma’s broken democracy

by | December 16th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Elections | Comments (5)

Electoral participation is a cornerstone of our representative democracy. The vote allows citizens to participate freely and fairly in the political process and ensures that elected officials stay accountable to their constituents.

percentage-voting-OK-and-USYet in Oklahoma we are seeing growing signs of the breakdown of electoral participation. For example:

  • In this year’s midterm elections, less than 30 percent of eligible voters made it to the polls to cast a ballot for Governor and other offices. This was the lowest turnout in at least 50 years and perhaps in state history.
  • In 65 of 101 seats for the state House of Representatives, the winner was decided without voters casting a ballot in the general election.
  • In primary runoff elections this fall, average turnout was 18 percent, and for the two statewide Democratic runoff contests, barely one in ten registered party members cast a ballot.
  • In the 2012 November Presidential election, Oklahoma’s voter turnout was just 52.4 percent, third worst in the nation.
  • Only 66 percent of voting-age citizens in Oklahoma are even registered to vote, the nation’s eighth lowest registration rate.

It hasn’t always been like this. As late as 2004, Oklahoma’s voter registration rate and turnout rate remained on a par with or just above the national average.

Many voices have lamented Oklahoma’s declining electoral participation, but often the only solution offered is to urge our friends, neighbors, and colleagues to be better citizens. But in reality, the electoral rules and practices established by Oklahoma’s state lawmakers and officials are part of the reason why electoral participation is so low. And there are many reforms Oklahoma could adopt that would help repair our broken democracy by boosting voter turnout and electoral competition.

A new OK Policy issue brief reviews the numerous signs of weakening electoral participation in Oklahoma and considers some of the factors that may be hindering Oklahomans from fuller participation. We then lay out a broad range of possible reforms, which include:

continue reading New report shares ideas for repairing Oklahoma’s broken democracy

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