Medicaid on the chopping block

by | April 16th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (0)

Download the TogetherOK fact sheet: SoonerCare Cuts Threaten Oklahoma’s Health

Photo by Eric Tastad used under a Creative Commons license.

Photo by Eric Tastad used under a Creative Commons license.

Just prior to the start of the legislative session we ran a blog  post titled “Avoiding devastating health care cuts will require hard choices.” Two-and-a-half  months later, as legislative leaders begin to look in earnest at crafting a budget deal, the budget outlook for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services continues to look grim. Lawmakers have not yet done anything to stave off cuts that would create serious hardship for Oklahomans.

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5 things you should know about Oklahoma taxes

by | April 15th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (0)

Photo by Martha Soukup used under a Creative Commons license.

Photo by Martha Soukup used under a Creative Commons license.

It’s tax day — the annual event when procrastinators, or those who just like to live on the edge, rush to get their tax returns filed before the midnight deadline. If your return is safely filed, or if you just want another excuse to procrastinate, here are 5 things in 5 charts that everyone should know about Oklahoma taxes.

1. Oklahoma state and local taxes are among the lowest in the nation

Trying to compare taxes between states can get very complicated very fast. State and local governments have different kinds of taxes at different rates kicking in at different income levels. One state may have higher sales tax rates, but it may be applied to a much smaller base if groceries or other common purchases are exempt. Property taxes often have numerous exemptions and caps, and they can fluctuate based on the housing market.

But we do have one way to more easily compare overall taxation — we can look at the total taxes paid as a percentage of personal income. This shows that as of 2011, Oklahomans’ paid the 48th lowest taxes in the nation out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Oklahomans paid about 8.4 cents in taxes per dollar of income, ahead of only Alabama, Tennessee, and South Dakota. Even before the tax cut that took effect in January 2012, we paid less than all of our neighboring states.

continue reading 5 things you should know about Oklahoma taxes

In The Know: Gov. Mary Fallin signs minimum wage hike ban

by and | April 15th, 2014 | 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 or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

Download today’s In The Know podcast here or play it in your browser:

Today you should know that Governor Mary Fallin has signed a bill that bans cities in Oklahoma from increasing the minimum wage or vacation and sick-day requirements. A petition in Oklahoma City has been seeking to allow citizens to vote on increasing the citywide minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. The Journal Record editorial board wrote that Governor Fallin’s push to cut taxes while Oklahoma faces budget shortfalls is unwisely focused on ideology over practicality.

The OK Policy Blog discussed how Oklahoma’s lack of adequate budget planning is hurting our ability to make wise decisions for our future. A total of 57 current legislators, and one Claremore man who was the only one to file for an open seat, with take office without an election challenge this year. Tulsa World editor Mike Jones wrote that low turnout in primaries and non-presidential years is leading to government by radicals.

The standardized testing system in Oklahoma schools appears to be avoiding as many glitches as last year, but in at least one Broken Arrow middle school, students are unable to log on. KGOU reported on how junior high kids who attended the elementary schools that were destroyed in Moore tornadoes last year are struggling to find resources to help them deal with the trauma. Yesterday the National Weather Services issued its first tornado warning in Oklahoma since May 31, beating a record for the longest amount of time between tornado warnings.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health is beginning a series of public forums on health for minority communities in Oklahoma. The first will be Monday at Morton Comprehensive Health Services in Tulsa. The Health Department is also hosting a community meeting tomorrow at the Community Service Council to learn what Tulsa residents believe are their most critical health needs. NewsOK reporter Carla Hinton spoke with same-sex couples in Oklahoma about the importance of a right to marry.

The number of people in Oklahoma seeking treatment for heroin and opiate use has increased in recent years, but the drug still accounts for a small percentage of narcotics cases. The City of Tulsa is offering the public a chance to get rid of potentially dangerous expired, unused and unwanted medications at a drug-take-back event on April 26. The House approved a bill to prohibit sex offenders from entering a neighborhood, town, county or state park.

The Number of the Day is the median hourly wage for food preparation and serving workers in Oklahoma City. In today’s Policy Note, the Washington Post reports on new projections showing the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of insurance coverage will cost $104 billion less than projected over the next decade, and premiums will be cheaper than previously thought.

continue reading In The Know: Gov. Mary Fallin signs minimum wage hike ban

Sex, forecasting and fiscal planning (okay, no sex)

by | April 14th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (0)

crystal ballTwice a year,  the seven members of the State Board of Equalization – six statewide elected officers and the Secretary of Agriculture – get together to certify how much revenue the legislature will have to appropriate for the upcoming fiscal year. The Board is presented with revenue estimates that come from the Oklahoma Tax Commission based largely on a forecasting model operated by Oklahoma State University economic professor Dan Rickman.  The Board certifies an initial estimate in December, which is used to develop the Governor’s Executive Budget. They make a revised estimate in February that becomes binding on the legislature.

This year, it had been widely expected that the February estimates would see an increase from December. Instead, the estimates were down, due to a steep drop in projected collections from the corporate income tax. After prolonged questioning of Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger, Attorney General Scott Pruitt voted against certifying the revised estimates, while Treasurer Ken Miller made clear that he was voting yes with great reluctance.

continue reading Sex, forecasting and fiscal planning (okay, no sex)

In The Know: Races for state superintendent, governor draw most candidates

by and | April 14th, 2014 | 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 or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

Download today’s In The Know podcast here or play it in your browser:

Today you should know that races for governor and state superintendent have drawn 7 candidates each. A 20-year-old is running for House District 91 in Oklahoma City, becoming the youngest candidate ever to run for the Oklahoma House. He is one of 6 candidates who filed to run for the open seat being vacated by term-limited Rep. Mike Reynolds. 

State lawmakers are considering tinkering with the way Supreme Court justices and appellate court judges are selected. The current system of a Judicial Nominating Commission chosen by the governor and the State Bar Association was created after a bribery scandal rocked Oklahoma’s Supreme Court 50 years ago. Lawmakers have proposed taking power to elect commission members away from the Bar Association and giving it to legislative leadership.

Oklahoma Republican Representative Doug Cox spoke to Rolling Stone about why he thinks his party has failed on women’s issues. On the OK Policy Blog, former House Speaker Steve Lewis compared his memories of the 1990 rally for education with what he saw at the recent rally on March 31. Don Millican, the Kaiser-Francis Oil Co. CFO and an OK Policy board member, wrote in the Tulsa World that Oklahoma is flying blind without any long-range fiscal planning for state budgets.

The state Ethics Commission is investigating the association that regulates high school athletics for possibly violating lobbying disclosure rules. In an interview with Oklahoma Watch, Oklahoma City physician Hal Vorse said prescription drug abuse is one of the major public health issues of our time. The legal fight over Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage will be heard in a federal appeals court this week.

Advocates of people with disabilities will rally at the state Capitol on Thursday for Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day. OK Policy previously discussed the nearly decade-long waiting list for Oklahomans with developmental disabilities to get at-home care from the state. The Tulsa World published a profile of teacher Sherri Knight, who is going into the Tulsa Jail to help young prisoners get an education. Oklahoma’s Quapaw Tribe has become the first Native American tribe in the country to lead the cleanup of a federal hazardous waste site, on land that is part of the Tar Creek Superfund Site.

A new Web-based platform to which state health care providers can connect to share medical records of patients and provide better transitional care is scheduled to go live April 22. The city of Tulsa will avoid laying off employees this fiscal year, but a fund set aside for future natural disasters may be needed to balance the upcoming budget. Accidents in state construction areas are up by 170 percent since 2004, with 17 people killed in work zone fatalities in 2013.

The Number of the Day is how many candidates for the Oklahoma House and Senate are running unopposed in 2014. In today’s Policy Note, a report by the Pew Research Center examines how two big demographic transformations are changing America.

continue reading In The Know: Races for state superintendent, governor draw most candidates

Weekly Wonk April 13, 2014

by | April 13th, 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 Know. Click here to subscribe to In The Know.

We’re accepting applications to our second annual Summer Policy Institute! Over 50  highly qualified undergrads and graduate students from across Oklahoma will become better informed on state policy issues, build relationships with officials, policymakers, and other students, and prepare for future work and study in policy-related fields. The application deadline is May 30th.

This week, we released results of a a poll indicating that Oklahoma voters strongly oppose tax breaks to oil and gas companies for horizontal drilling. OK Policy Executive Director David Blatt called for an end to such tax breaks in The Oklahoman. We’ve written about the topic before.

In a guest post, former Speaker of the House Steve Lewis compared his memories of the 1990 rally for education with what he saw at the recent rally on March 31. We reviewed a 2005 measure ensuring dedicated funding for the state’s road systems by allocating funds directly from income tax collections, and praised a proposal that would build funding for public schools via a similar measure (HB 2642).

We reported that Oklahoma’s Community Health Centers are struggling to stay afloat since the state’s fund covering uncompensated care ran out seven months early. OK Policy intern Haley Stritzel examined the Earned Income Tax Credit and called for its expansion.

The Oklahoman’s editorial board took issue with some of our suggestions for filling the budget hole. In his Journal Record column, Blatt argued that a single test isn’t sufficient in determining whether students should be held back. 

Numbers of the Day

  • 24.6 percent - Percent of African-American children in Oklahoma who have asthma, more than twice the rates for white (7.9), Hispanic (7.5), or American Indian (10.3) children.
  • 109 - Number of earthquakes of magnitude 3 or higher in Oklahoma so far this year, matching the total for all of 2013.
  • 64 percent - Percentage of Oklahoma voters in a recent poll who opposed providing tax breaks to oil and gas companies for using horizontal drilling.
  • 419  - The number of Oklahoma candidates who filed for state or federal office on Wednesday. Filing continues through 5pm on Friday.
  • 113,000 - Number of Oklahomans with a serious mental illness or substance abuse disorder who are uninsured.

Policy Notes

Education rallies, then and now (Guest Post: Steve Lewis)

by | April 11th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (0)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1989-1991 during the time of HB 1017. He currently practices law in Tulsa.

NOW: The crowd at the Rally for Education, March 31, 2014

NOW: The crowd at the Rally for Education, March 31, 2014

I don’t know how much was accomplished by the education rally at the Capitol last week, but I hope it was a success.  From inside the Capitol, I stood at the window a few times to look outside and walk down memory lane.  I was there in 1990 when the teachers came to the Capitol to demonstrate for HB 1017.  Several people asked me how this rally for education compared to the 1017 march.  Truthfully, they were quite different because the circumstances were different.

continue reading Education rallies, then and now (Guest Post: Steve Lewis)

In The Know: Parents and students anxious as third-grade reading tests start

by | April 11th, 2014 | 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 or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

Download today’s In The Know podcast here or play it in your browser:

Today you should know that Oklahoma parents and students reported high levels of anxiety going into statewide testing on Thursday. Third grade student performance on the language arts exam determines whether they will advance to fourth grade. House Democrats accused Senate Republicans of obstructing passage of a bill (HB 2625) that could have prevented students from being held back based solely on the results of the test. The Tulsa World reported that friction between House and Senate members is slowing down the Oklahoma legislative process, with each chamber accusing the other of mismanaged priorities.

A Tulsa World editorial took state legislative leadership to task for prioritizing road maintenance over school funding (HB 2642). House Democratic Leader Scott Inman urged the House to take up a vote on whether to provide funding to complete the American Indian Cultural Center & Museum in Oklahoma City (SB 1651). A bill banning e-cigarette sales to minors has cleared the House. The Oklahoma oil industry staged a “rally for rigs” at the state Capitol on Wednesday, where attendees urged lawmakers to retain horizontal drilling tax breaks. Nearly two-thirds of voters favor ending the tax break.

Oklahoma Watch speculated that reinstated work requirements for able-bodied recipients without dependents may be pushing Oklahomans off food stamps. An OK Policy blog post explained proposals by President Obama and Congress to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, citing its success as a poverty-fighting tool and alternative to welfare. A new report found that despite recent gains, Oklahoma still lags behind the national average for children with health insurance coverage. The state DHS director said that too many children are going into state custody because inexperienced workers fear making mistakes and possibly allowing children to be harmed. Oklahoma is the 11th worst state for equal pay between men and women, according to the American Association of University Women. Their report says that women in Oklahoma make on average about 76 cents for every $1 earned by men.

State health officials reiterated that prescription drug abuse is a growing epidemic in Oklahoma. Lawmakers may have reached a compromise on a bill designed to deter ‘doctor shopping’ by requiring doctors to check patients’ prescription history in state database of controlled substance prescriptions at least once every year. We’ve written about Oklahoma’s biggest drug problem before. Heroin addiction in Oklahoma is on the rise, according to state authorities. A medical marijuana advocacy group is filing an application for a petition to bring the issue to a statewide vote.

A swarm of earthquakes shook central Oklahoma late Wednesday and early Thursday. The largest had a reported magnitude of 4.1. State parks ceded to Native American tribes for management following cuts to the tourism department’s budget several years ago initially struggled in the transition, but are now thriving. Three conservation groups have filed suit to force full protection of the lesser prairie-chicken, a species native to Oklahoma, under the Endangered Species Act.

The Number of the Day is the number of Oklahomans with a serious mental illness or substance abuse disorder who are uninsured. In today’s Policy Note, the Orlando Weekly reports how a young mother of three died of a treatable condition because her state refused to accept federal funding to expand health coverage.

continue reading In The Know: Parents and students anxious as third-grade reading tests start

We should expand America’s most successful anti-poverty program

by | April 10th, 2014 | Posted in Poverty & Opportunity, Taxes | Comments (0)
Photo credit: www.lendingmemo.com

Photo credit: www.lendingmemo.com

This post is by OK Policy intern Haley Stritzel. Haley is a University of Tulsa student pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies.

In his budget plan for next year, President Obama has proposed expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Legislation has also been introduced in Congress to improve and strengthen the tax credit. Adopting these proposals would be a sensible move to reduce poverty while bolstering the economy.

The EITC benefits low and moderate-income families by offsetting federal payroll and income taxes. This tax credit is refundable, meaning that if the credit exceeds how much a worker owes, the worker will receive the leftover credit as a tax refund. The size of the tax credit depends on marital status, number of dependent children, and annual income. It increases with annual income up to a maximum level, about $37,900 to $51,600 for families with children, and then phases out at higher income levels. The average EITC benefit for families with children was $2,905 in 2011.

continue reading We should expand America’s most successful anti-poverty program

In The Know: Sen. Sparks out as choice for minority leader after backing tax break for wells

by and | April 10th, 2014 | 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 or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

Download today’s In The Know podcast here or play it in your browser:

Today you should know that Senator John Sparks has been replaced as minority leader-elect after a column was published under his name backing continuation of the rapidly growing tax break for horizontal wells. Sen. Randy Bass is now set to replace Sen. Sean Burrage, who is not seeking re-election. Read more about the tax break for horizontal drilling here.

Gov. Fallin and all five members of the Oklahoma congressional delegation seeking re-election were among the hundreds of candidates who filed for state or federal office on Wednesday. Democratic state Rep. Joe Dorman of Rush Springs and Richard Prawdzienski, a Libertarian-leaning independent from Edmond, also filed to run for governor on the first of a three-day filing period. You can see a list of all candidate filings so far here. Since announcing his Senate candidacy just after this legislative session began, former House Speaker TW Shannon has missed 305 of 385 votes in the House.

The OK Policy Blog explained what’s in a bill (HB 2642) that would create automatic off-the-top funding increases for education in future years and may redirect spending from transportation. David Blatt’s Journal Record column discussed efforts to give decisions over whether children repeat the third grade back to parents and educators. Oklahoma Senators Coburn and Inhofe are asking that the U.S. Department of Education stop tying federal grants to the implementation of Common Core standards.

A House committee passed a bill that would change how Oklahoma appoints judges. Under the bill, lawyers on the Judicial Nomination Commission would be appointed directly by legislative leaders instead of being elected by the Oklahoma Bar Association. A bill to use $40 million from the state’s unclaimed property fund to help pay for the completion of the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City was approved in House Committee. The committee also approved a $160 million bond issue to repair the state Capitol. Wayne Greene discussed a pending court decision that could increase Oklahoma’s $188 million budget shortfall by another $450 million.

Governor Fallin is asking for federally subsidized loan assistance for businesses that have been damaged by the temporary closure of the bridge that links Lexington and Purcell. Bounty hunters will be licensed to carry weapons, pursue fleeing felons into private homes and wear “bail enforcer” badges under new rules approved by the state. An Oklahoma appeals court is denying a request for stays of execution by two inmates who are scheduled to die this month with a new three-drug procedure developed by the state.

The federal government paid 35 Oklahoma physicians more than $1 million each last year to treat patients in the Medicare program. Oklahoma Watch and the OU journalism school have won a $35,000 grant for a project focused on poverty in Oklahoma City. The Number of the Day is 419. That’s how many Oklahoma candidates filed to run for state or federal office on Wednesday. Filing continues through 5pm on Friday. In today’s Policy Note, the National Priorities Project lays out the differences between budget proposals by President Obama, House Republicans, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

continue reading In The Know: Sen. Sparks out as choice for minority leader after backing tax break for wells