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The politics of revenue raising matters for health care and teachers (Capitol Update)

by | February 24th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates, Education, Healthcare | 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.

There are couple of big issues starting their trek through the legislative process, and the way they ultimately get handled will affect the state’s long-range structural challenges. The first challenge concerns raising the cigarette tax and dedicating the proceeds to health care agencies. In the last several years, legislative and executive leaders have blamed the general revenue shortfall on too many revenue sources being taken “off the top” for some specific purpose, thus never reaching the general revenue fund.

The current cigarette tax proposal increases the tax by $1.50 per pack and specifically directs where the money must be spent. This is the same as taking it off the top. The only difference is the revenue goes to the general revenue fund, but it is required by law to be spent for a specific purpose. This limits the flexibility of future legislatures to appropriate the money where it may be more urgently needed without changing the law.

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In The Know: Department of Education facing over $50 million in budget cuts

by | February 24th, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-r elated 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.

Check out OK Policy’s resources for the Legislative session, including our Legislative Primer and Online Budget Guide.

Today In The News

Department of Education facing over $50 million in budget cuts: Funding for education in Oklahoma took another hit as the State Board of Education revealed several shortfalls in their projected budget. During its regularly scheduled meeting Feb. 23, the board revealed that the Education Reform Revolving Fund was $39 million short. Added to $11.1 million in cuts the State Board of Equalization announced on Tuesday, the education department must now cut over $50 million from its budget [FOX25]. Where should I start? How about by telling you what these cuts mean to one district with 14,300 students [okeducationtruths]. However you count it, Oklahoma’s per pupil education funding is way down [OK Policy].

Department of Corrections announces hiring freeze after state revenue failure: While the state is facing another revenue failure, an Oklahoma agency says it is implementing a hiring freeze to deal with the potential cuts to funding. Earlier this week, the Oklahoma Board of Equalization confirmed a revenue failure in the state after learning about an $878 million shortfall. On Thursday, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections announced a hiring freeze that is effective immediately for the majority of the agency [KFOR]. Even with positive and important criminal justice reforms passing in the Legislature and in the ballot box last year, the Oklahoma prison population is on track to grow by 25 percent – about 7,200 inmates – in the next ten years [OK Policy].

Dishonest politicians attack voter decisions to ease prison costs and overcrowding: In November, voters overwhelmingly approved State Questions 780 and 781 because they know Oklahoma incarcerates too many nonviolent, low-level offenders. …Voters in November loudly and clearly approved these significant reforms for our criminal justice system. The changes take effect in July but, unfortunately, this legislative session has already seen misguided efforts by legislators to gut the voter’s wishes before they even take effect [Kris Steele / Tulsa World].  HB 1482 would ignore the evidence and the will of the voters by reinstating felony charges for drug possession across virtually all of Oklahoma City and Tulsa and large parts of the rest of the state [OK Policy]. 

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Budget Update: Key takeaways from the February Board of Equalization meeting

by | February 23rd, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Taxes | Comments (0)

The State Board of Equalization met on February 21st to approve revised revenue estimates for FY 2017 and FY 2018. This estimate will be binding on the Legislature as it develops the FY 2018 budget over the coming months.

Here are our main takeaways from the new certification:

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In The Know: Oklahoma Senate panel OKs repeal of income tax cut trigger

by | February 23rd, 2017 | 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.

Check out OK Policy’s resources for the Legislative session, including our Legislative Primer and Online Budget Guide.

Today In The News

Oklahoma Senate panel OKs repeal of income tax cut trigger: An Oklahoma Senate committee has approved legislation to repeal the trigger for a cut in the state’s individual income tax rate. The Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday voted 32-4 for the bill [SB 170] and sent it to the full Senate for a vote. Legislation passed in 2014 provided a mechanism to reduce Oklahoma’s top tax rate from 5 percent to 4.85 percent when tax collections increase by about $100 million annually, enough to cover the cost of the tax cut [Associated Press]. Halting the next tax cut is one of our 2017 Legislative priorities [OK Policy].

Ongoing budget collapse is destroying the foundations of state government: For the second consecutive year, the state budget has failed. Tax receipts clearly won’t be enough to fully fund the spending plan approved by the Legislature last year, the state Equalization Board learned Tuesday. That triggered $34.6 million in across-the-board state budget cuts to put the budget back in balance [Editorial Board / Tulsa World].

Don’t Reverse Voters’ Will on Criminal Justice Reform: Oppose HB 1482: Last year Oklahomans voted by a large margin to approve SQ 780, which changed drug possession charges from felonies to misdemeanors punishable by no more than 1 year in jail. Voters also approved SQ 781 to direct the savings from reduced incarceration into county mental health and addiction treatment. Oklahoma voters’ choice aligns with plentiful research and experience showing felony charges and incarceration are costly and ineffective… HB 1482 would ignore the evidence and the will of the voters by reinstating felony charges for drug possession across virtually all of Oklahoma City and Tulsa and large parts of the rest of the state [OK Policy]. We formally endorsed the State Question HB 1482 would undo [OK Policy].

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Justice Reform Task Force recommendations could be the solution Oklahoma desperately needs

by | February 22nd, 2017 | Posted in Criminal Justice | Comments (1)

Photo used under a Creative Commons license.

Just before the start of the legislative session, the Justice Reform Task Force released a report that details the crisis in our state’s corrections system and recommends policy changes to deal with the crisis in a safe and effective manner. If passed and implemented, their proposals could be the solution that Oklahoma’s criminal justice system desperately needs to support the rehabilitation of people convicted of crimes and relieve a prison system that’s bursting at the seams. Positive reforms made it through the Legislature and through the ballot box last year, and the Task Force recommendations show us how to build on that success.

In previewing the Task Force, we pointed at the budgetary constraints facing the committee and speculated that they might look at reforms that were passed in 2012 but implemented poorly; modify or eliminate sentencing enhancements; expand geriatric and medical parole; and establish incentives for agencies to divert offenders away from prison. Their 27 recommendations, many of which are legislative proposals for 2017, incorporate some of these ideas but go much further, addressing the front door, the back door, and the trap door of incarceration.

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In The Know: Oklahoma Faces Another Revenue Failure, Agencies To See Mid-Year Budget Cuts

by | February 22nd, 2017 | 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 Faces Another Revenue Failure, Agencies To See Mid-Year Budget Cuts: The Oklahoma Board of Equalization declared a revenue failure for the current fiscal year, which will result in mid-year appropriations cuts to state agencies. State agencies will receive across board cuts of 0.7 percent between March and June of this year. In total, agencies will be cut by $34.6 million. Preston Doerflinger, the Director and Secretary of Finance, Administration and Information Technology, said the situation is dire and more revenue is needed. “I need you, members, I beg you to have an appreciation for the seriousness of the situation we have before us,” Doerflinger told the board members [KOSU]. Public schools are bracing for additional cuts [NewsOn6].

Will Oklahoma pass the cigarette tax bill? Maybe, leaders say: The level of support for a bill that would raise Oklahoma’s cigarette tax by $1.50 per pack changes every day, leading to concerns about the future of funding for state health services, leaders say. House Bill 1841, authored by Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, would provide more than $200 million in cigarette tax money for several health-related state agencies. The bill passed 17-10 out of the House appropriations and budget committee Feb. 13 and awaits a vote in the full House [NewsOK]. Legislators are divided on the issue [Woodward News].

Economic calamity awaits if we fail to act: In this young legislative session, we have witnessed a polarization in the executive branch. Gov. Mary Fallin’s call to recast our archaic 20th-century tax code for the 21st century was bold. The $1 billion in proposed new taxes went too far, and frightened our citizens and business community. In a theatrical move to signal his political opposition, Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb quit the cabinet offering no alternative plan for tackling the real budget mess we face. Do we cut or invest? I’m a pragmatist. I believe the answer is in the middle [Rep. Leslie Osborn / NewsOK].

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Even doctors depend on the Affordable Care Act (Guest post: Sabine Brown)

by | February 21st, 2017 | Posted in Healthcare | Comments (1)

Sabine Brown is a political activist, physician assistant, and mother of two.

One in three Oklahomans have a pre-existing condition that could have been used to deny them health insurance coverage prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). My husband, Eric, is one of those Oklahomans.

When my husband was a small child, he was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma. He was treated at St. Jude’s hospital in Memphis. Although his treatments and back and forth trips from Oklahoma City were rough, he has good memories of the staff that took care of him. One memory that stuck with him is a doctor who wrote an order for him to have pizza every day when that was the only food he would tolerate during chemotherapy treatments. The experience ultimately inspired him to become a doctor himself.

Eric started medical school in 2003, which coincided with the time he could no longer be on his parent’s insurance plan. He started filling our applications for private insurance. The rejections letters rolled in. No one would accept him because of his previous cancer diagnosis.

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In The Know: Fallin picks Mike Hunter to succeed Pruitt

by | February 21st, 2017 | 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

Fallin picks Mike Hunter to succeed Pruitt: Gov. Mary Fallin has appointed Mike Hunter to succeed former Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who officially joined President Donald Trump’s administration last week. Hunter has served just a few months as secretary of state under Fallin and before that, spent about a year working as a top attorney and administrator in Pruitt’s office. He also worked for Republican Gov. Frank Keating as an adviser and secretary of state [NewsOK].

Preliminary figures show Oklahoma revenue failure likely: Oklahoma revenue officials are likely to declare a revenue failure when a state board meets Tuesday to certify the amount of money lawmakers have to appropriate next year. Preliminary figures from the Office of Management and Enterprise Services indicate that collections by the general revenue fund are projected to fall 5.7 percent below estimates for the fiscal year ending June 30. Finance officials are forced to declare a revenue failure when collections fall more than 5 percent below estimates [Associated Press].

Oklahoma Senate Panel Passes Education Savings Account Bill: Legislation creating education savings accounts for Oklahoma public school students has been approved by a state Senate panel in spite of critics who say it will siphon money away from public schools. The Senate Committee on Education voted 9-7 Monday to send the measure to the Senate floor for a vote. The measure by Republican Sen. Rob Standridge of Norman is one of several bills filed in the 2017 Oklahoma Legislature to create education savings accounts [Associated Press].

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Oklahoma bill would shed light on who pays taxes

by | February 20th, 2017 | Posted in Blog | Comments (2)

In her 2017 State of the State address, Gov. Mary Fallin called for the elimination of the state sales tax on groceries, saying that “this plan eliminates the most regressive tax on the books today.”

It’s widely accepted that taxing groceries is regressive, since grocery bills are a bigger part of the budget for low-income households than for wealthier households. But where’s the data that actually shows how  much Oklahomans at different income levels pay in sales tax on groceries? And what about plans to raise the excise tax on cigarettes and motor fuels that the Governor also proposed as part of her FY 2018 budget? What would be the impact on Oklahoma households across the income spectrum if those taxes were raised?  This kind of information about who pays taxes is critical for making well-informed decisions on tax policy, but it’s largely unavailable to most legislators.

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In The Know: Many Oklahoma children show elevated lead levels; thousands more go untested

by | February 20th, 2017 | 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

Thousands of Oklahoma children go untested for lead: Although little data is available, the data that Oklahoma does have on lead provides a striking picture: Of the 316 ZIP codes where a sufficient number of children were tested for lead and the results reported to the health department, 106 of those ZIP codes have percentages of children tested for elevated blood lead levels that are at or higher than what was found in Flint, Michigan, the water lead crisis that grabbed national headlines and reminded the nation that lead is still a significant health issue that needs to be addressed. [The Oklahoman]

Rural schools feel especially challenged by budget pinch: Lisa Pitts takes a close look at a grassy hill on the campus of Ripley Public Schools and sees it’s not yet due for mowing. But with warmer temperatures expected in the coming weeks, the elementary principal knows the grass blades will soon start to rise and it will be up to her to break out the lawn mower. Those extra duties for Pitts include not only mowing the grass, but also cleaning toilets and painting hallways. Ripley’s high school principal does a lot of the school’s weed eating, basic maintenance and drives a school bus. The superintendent handles the plumbing. Even the head cafeteria worker has been known to take on the duties of a school nurse. [The Oklahoman]

OU reports decrease in out-of-pocket costs for a degree: Despite increases in tuition, the out-of-pocket cost to earn a degree from the University of Oklahoma has gone down by an average of $7,200 compared to two years ago, a new study shows. The decline was revealed in a study conducted by the OU Office of Business Analytics. The first-time study examined the cost of completing 125 credit hours — the amount required for most OU degree programs — for students who were admitted in 2009 through 2013. Spending cuts across campus and an increase in scholarships, including scholarships for middle-income students, have helped lower costs, Hathaway said. [NewsOK]

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