The Weekly Wonk March 29, 2015

by | March 29th, 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 wrote that lawmakers are pushing another unproven tax break, with no idea what it will cost. We fact-checked a legislator and found that no, school consolidation would not boost teacher salaries. We explained that Kansas is considering expanding health coverage to low-income residents, and discussed why Oklahoma should do the same.

Steve Lewis shared what’s left for the legislative session, now that we’ve reached the halfway point. Lorraine Minnite of Rutgers University discussed that while voter fraud in the US is a myth, the myth is dangerous because it’s too often used to restrict access to voting.

In his Journal Record column, Executive Director David Blatt wrote in praise of the teachers who will rally for better education funding at the Capitol on Monday. In the Tulsa World, Blatt described seven things Oklahoma can do to balance its budget without damaging health, safety or economic well-being, and policy analyst Carly Putnam explained why Governor Fallin should drop her opposition to affordable health insurance if she’s serious about making Oklahoma a healthier state. OK Policy staffer and Oklahoma Assets Network coordinator Kate Richey was quoted in a NewsOK article on payday lending. Oklahoma Watch quoted Policy Director Gene Perry in an article on the Quality Jobs Program.

Upcoming Events:

  • Together Oklahoma will hold a general meeting on Thursday, April 2nd, at the Ralph Ellison Library in Oklahoma City to discuss what we can do to improve the budget situation.
  • A forum hosted by the Scholars Strategy Network will discuss balancing public engagement and an academic career on  April 6 at 6pm in the Associate’s Room in OU’s Oklahoma Memorial Union.
  • The University of Tulsa will host Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Researcher, for his lecture “Inequality in American Society – Should We Blame the Market?” on April 9 at 7pm in the Chapman Lecture Hall.
  • Oklahoma Assets Network will present “Who Pays More? A Town Hall Forum on Predatory Lending in Oklahoma” on April 15th at 6:30pm at the OU Faculty House.

Weekly What’s That:

Board of Equalization

The State Board of Equalization was established in 1907 by the Oklahoma Constitution. The Board is responsible for providing an official estimate of how much revenue will be available for the Oklahoma Legislature to budget for the coming year. Read more.

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

continue reading The Weekly Wonk March 29, 2015

What’s left for the legislative session at the halfway point (Steve Lewis Capitol Updates)

by | March 27th, 2015 | Posted in Capitol Updates | Comments (0)
Photo by Becky McCray.

Photo by Becky McCray.

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.

There’s not a lot to report from the legislature this last week. It was spring break in schools so most committee meetings were cancelled and little floor action was scheduled. This is a new, more family friendly tradition that has developed in the past few years allowing legislators time with their families while the kids are out of school. Not long ago spring break was just another week in the legislative process. I think the common school date for spring break has made this possible.

The next legislative deadline will be April 9th in the Senate and April 10th in the House to pass bills out of their assigned committees. Many of the bills that got the controversial headlines at the beginning of the session didn’t make it through the process in their own house of origin. However, some of those bills, because they are hot-button issues or because of the author, made it to the other side where they’ll have to be dealt with. I’ve often wondered how they get rid of good-sounding bad bills in Nebraska where there’s only one legislative body.

continue reading What’s left for the legislative session at the halfway point (Steve Lewis Capitol Updates)

In The Know: Bill banning automatic dues deduction for teachers to go before Governor.

by | March 27th, 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.

A bill that would ban school districts from automatically deducting union dues from teachers’ paychecks (HB 1749) passed the Senate on Thursday and will next go before the Governor. We’ve previously argued that the bill is a funny way to support education. Because Tulsa Public Schools cancelled classes on Thursday following severe weather, the  district has reversed its decision to cancel classes on Monday to allow faculty and staff to attend Monday’s education rally at the Capitol, although TPS Superintendent Keith Ballard said that principals will work with staff members to allow a few per school to attend. School leaders are bracing for possible budget cuts this year, which they warn could lead to larger class sizes and fewer programs. We’ve shown before that Oklahoma’s school funding situation is even worse than you thought.

A guest post on the OK Policy Blog argues that voter fraud in American elections is a myth, and that the real threat to elections is that the myth of voter fraud is used to make voting more restrictive. A bill that would ban texting while driving has passed out of committee and is headed for the full Senate. A Senate panel also approved a bill that would prevent insurance companies from making it harder for patients to access proton radiation cancer therapy. A bill that would regulate homebuilders and commercial contractors passed a Senate committee, but some lawmakers complain that it invites government intrusion into business, even though the Oklahoma State Home Builders Association wants the bill. Morton Comprehensive Health Services has reversed a January decision and will now accept new uninsured patients, although the state funding problem that had prompted the January decision has not yet been solved. You can read more about how funding cuts threaten the state’s community health centers.

State officials have expanded the number of counties included in earthquake “areas of interest” and are now requiring companies to prove that their disposal wells are not too steep. StateImpact reports that a major oil storage hub in Cushing is nearly full, because the oil industry is storing crude oil rather than selling it at low prices. Experts estimate that a record 54 million barrels of oil are stored at the Cushing hub. Samson Resource Co., a Tulsa oil and gas giant, is laying off nearly 200 Tulsa workers and 270 company-wide.

OU journalism students and Oklahoma Watch, have launched “Talk With Us: Poverty in Oklahoma City Neighborhoods,” a  mobile video project. The project is available at talkwithus.net. The Number of the Day is the percentage of 25-34 years olds in the Oklahoma City metro area with a 4-year degree in 2012, up from 24.4% in 2000. In today’s Policy Note, NPR reports that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is preparing to unveil new rules to regulate payday lenders.

continue reading In The Know: Bill banning automatic dues deduction for teachers to go before Governor.

The misleading myth of voter fraud in American elections (Guest Post: Lorraine Minnite)

by | March 27th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Elections | Comments (0)

Lorraine Minnite is Associate Professor of Public Policy and Director, Undergraduate Urban Studies Program at Rutgers University – Camden. She is a member of the Scholars Strategy Network Working Group on Expanding and Protecting the Right to Vote. This is an edited version of a 2014 brief for the Scholars Strategy Network and is reposted with permission. Sources for all data and claims asserted in this post are available on request.

I VotedAre fraudulent voters undermining U.S. elections? The simple answer is no. Rather, the threat comes from the myth of voter fraud used to justify rules that restrict full and equal voting rights.

A concerted partisan campaign to erect more restrictive voting rules is apace in many states. Thousands of changes to state election codes have been proposed since the contested presidential election of 2000. Far fewer have been signed into law, but those put in place – such as rules that people have a certain kind of photo identification card available from specific government offices – are making it more difficult for many citizens to cast ballots, including longtime voters as well as new ones.

continue reading The misleading myth of voter fraud in American elections (Guest Post: Lorraine Minnite)

In The Know: Fallin emails undercut lawsuit against Obamacare

by and | March 26th, 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.

A Huffington Post examination of more than 50,000 previously released emails from the Governor’s Fallin’s office, as well as record requests from multiple states and the Department of Health and Human Services, found that state officials did not once consider that if they chose not to run their own health care exchanges, their citizens would not be eligible for the tax credit subsidies. Nearly 100,000 Oklahomans could lose access to affordable health care if a Supreme Court case claiming the subsidies are only available on state exchanges succeeds. In a Tulsa World op-ed, OK Policy analyst Carly Putnam wrote that if Governor Fallin is serious about her goal of improving Oklahoma’s health, she needs to stop opposing affordable health insurance. On the OK Policy Blog, Carly discussed how Kansas is considering accepting federal funds to expand health coverage as a way to reduce the state’s budget shortfall.

The Tulsa World reported that after years of doing just about all it could to restrict voting, the Oklahoma Legislature is now trying to encourage it. Several of the proposals moving through the Legislature to encourage voter participation were recommended by OK Policy’s report on repairing Oklahoma’s broken democracy. A bill to move Oklahoma’s 2016 presidential primary back a month was laid over after running into stiff opposition in a House committee. A Senate panel on Thursday is now expected to take up a measure banning texting while driving.

The Senate Appropriations Committee questioned Oklahoma’s $2.9 million support for Amtrak service between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth. The Oklahoman editorial board defended the scheduled $59.7 million increase in roads funding next year that will bring Oklahoma’s annual off-the-top funding for roads to $472 million. NewsOK reported that numerous proposals from Democratic lawmakers died without getting a hearing in Republican-controlled committees, including a bill that could have produced $150 million in federal funds for Native American health care at no cost to the state.

Together Oklahoma is asking Oklahomans to contact lawmakers and ask them to halt an income tax cut scheduled for next years that is adding tens of millions to the state’s already large budget shortfall. A Together Oklahoma general meeting will be held next Thursday in Oklahoma. In the Journal Record, David Blatt encouraged Oklahomans to join the March 30 rally at the capitol in support of public education and good teachers. Tulsa World columnist Ginnie Graham wrote that if you don’t rally for education, then at least write a letter or make a call.

A review website ranked the Tulsa Union high school cafeteria fourth best out of nearly 4,000 districts across the country. The Delaware Tribe of Indians’ Tribal Council passed legislation to increase the minimum wage for the tribe’s employees to $1.25 more than the federal minimum. As earthquakes continue to surge in Oklahoma and seismologists warn of more frequent and more damaging shaking, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission is issuing new orders to companies operating wells in seismically active regions of the state. A former University of Oklahoma student captured on video leading a racist chant apologized Wednesday at a joint event with African-American community leaders.

The Number of the Day is the value of ornamental fish sold in Oklahoma in 2012. In today’s Policy Note, Mother Jones discusses how Utah has decreased the number of homeless by 72 percent—largely by finding and building apartments where they can live, permanently, with no strings attached.

continue reading In The Know: Fallin emails undercut lawsuit against Obamacare

Kansas is considering expanding health coverage. Oklahoma should, too.

by | March 25th, 2015 | Posted in Healthcare | Comments (0)
Photo by  Theophilos Papadopoulos used under a Creative Commons license.

Photo by Theophilos Papadopoulos used under a Creative Commons license.

It’s no secret that Kansas’s budget is in crisis. Following years of tax cuts and fiscal mismanagement, the state finds itself in a $600 million budget shortfall. The state is scrambling to fill the gap, including across-the-board budget reductions and further cuts to public schools that the Kansas Supreme Court has already ruled are constitutionally underfunded.

If you think this sounds familiar, you’re right. Oklahoma is in a similar situation – a $611 million budget hole, agencies facing devastating budget cuts, and a public education system badly in need of an infusion of funds.

However, unlike Oklahoma, Governor Brownback and the Kansas legislature are showing signs of being willing to consider the full range of options available to them. This includes boosting the state budget by working with the federal government to expand health coverage to the state’s low-income uninsured.

continue reading Kansas is considering expanding health coverage. Oklahoma should, too.

In The Know: Questions surround state subsidies aimed at saving jobs

by and | March 25th, 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.

An Oklahoma Watch investigated a state program that makes payments to private companies supposedly to save jobs, but a lack of transparency makes it virtually impossible for the public to verify claims that the jobs were really in danger of leaving Oklahoma. One company receiving these Quality Jobs payments is a long-time Enid employer. The extension of the Quality Jobs program to subsidizing existing companies began at the request of lobbyists for Tronox Inc., a spinoff of the Kerr-McGee Corp. that was created to take billions of dollars in legal liability for toxic waste sites off Kerr-McGee’s books before declaring bankruptcy. An OK Policy report previously examined the growing cost and lack of oversight of the Quality Jobs program.

Tulsa Public Schools has joined dozens of other school districts across the state in canceling classes on March 30 to allow teachers and other staff to attend an education rally at the state Capitol. On the OK Policy Blog, we found an Oklahoma senator’s press release about school consolidation and teacher salaries does not pass a fact check. A new study on payday lending in Oklahoma has uncovered evidence that high-interest lenders target economically distressed communities by opening storefronts in poorer areas and near military installations. Oklahoma Assets Network is hosting a town hall forum with the author of the study on April 15.

An OCU law professor wrote that a bill to put a two-year deadline for inmates to file petitions for post-conviction relief in Oklahoma would be great news for criminals who escape apprehension because an innocent person mistakenly has been arrested and convicted. Oklahoma would become the nation’s first state to allow the use of nitrogen gas to execute death-row inmates under legislation that has been approved by the House and is moving through the Senate. The Tulsa World reported that Oklahoma’s hospital network is in a precarious financial position due to various federal and state budget cuts to Medicare and Medicaid and the state’s refusal to accept expanded federal funding for Medicaid.

The author of a bill that changes a state program to ensure life insurance beneficiaries get payments complained the measure may die in committee because Senate Appropriations Chair Clark Jolley is predisposed against it. The Tulsa World wrote that we should be suspicious of ideas from the insurance industry to “improve” the program. Over the past decade, the Oklahoma Lottery Commission has collected about $500,000 in back taxes and unpaid child support from lottery winners. A request to put a monument to Lord Hanuman, a Hindu deity, on the Oklahoma Capitol grounds is still on hold.

The Number of the Day is the share of the vote cast by young people (between 18-29) in Oklahoma in 2012. In today’s Policy Note, the New York Times examined how a growing number of states are pre-empting the power of local governments, often at the request of industry lobbyists.

continue reading In The Know: Questions surround state subsidies aimed at saving jobs

Fact Check: Would school consolidation boost Oklahoma teacher salaries?

by | March 24th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (7)

truth-o-meterIn a recent press release, Sen. Kyle Loveless (R-Oklahoma City) made some claims about how much Oklahoma might be able to improve teacher salaries through school consolidation. He said, “The state of Oregon has the exact same population as Oklahoma but more students and yet has only 200 school districts. I don’t find it a coincidence that their average teacher pay is $12,000 more than Oklahoma’s.”

Sen. Loveless is right that it’s not a coincidence, but he’s missed the mark on the reason why.

continue reading Fact Check: Would school consolidation boost Oklahoma teacher salaries?

In The Know: Oklahoma veterans agency chief investigator fired, accused of being fake police officer

by and | March 24th, 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 chief investigator at the Oklahoma Veterans Affairs Department has been fired and is facing prosecution after authorities concluded he is a fraud. The only state facility for incarcerated juvenile girls could close this summer if additional funding isn’t obtained by the Office of Juvenile Affairs. Tulsa city and county officials seem to be inching closer to a jail agreement, but officials are still negotiating over which inmates should be the first to be released when the jail reaches capacity. The Tulsa World praised the package of criminal justice reform measures moving though the Legislature.

On the OK Policy Blog, we discussed how despite talk of the need for greater scrutiny of tax incentives, lawmakers are pushing another unproven tax break with no idea what it will cost. While still negotiating the language, the Oklahoma House of Representatives Common Education Committee kept alive education reform measures that would replace state-mandated end of instruction tests and extend a moratorium on automatic retention of third graders. Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard announced Monday that he will be seeking school board approval to cancel classes on March 30 to allow teachers and other staff to attend an education rally at the state Capitol. 

A Senate committee approved legislation to prohibit the use of all tobacco products in public schools and make them tobacco free. Inside Higher Ed examined issues surrounding the University of Oklahoma’s treatment of American Indian students. The Cherokee Nation is distributing checks totaling $4 million from tribal car tag sales to 106 school districts. A bill that would require doctors to check a patient database before writing prescriptions for highly addictive drugs is one step away from the governor’s signature after passing a Senate committee.

The Journal Record editorial board argued that accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid would be good for business in Oklahoma. An OK Policy report previously examined the Medicaid expansion’s track record in other states. A man is preparing to take the matter to court after the Oklahoma Tax Commission denied a personalized license plate supporting gay rights with the message “LGBTALY,” claiming it is sexual in nature. Legislation that authorizes public schools to implement programs intended to help prevent child sexual abuse has been approved by an Oklahoma Senate committee, though lawmakers added protections for parents who opt their children out of this training program. Six years after the Legislature approved a Ten Commandments monument on the state Capitol, the state is still fighting legal action.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahoma City metro residents who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. In today’s Policy Note, NPR reports on why Americans with low incomes pay a price in poor health.

continue reading In The Know: Oklahoma veterans agency chief investigator fired, accused of being fake police officer

Lawmakers pushing another unproven tax break with no idea what it will cost

by | March 23rd, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (2)
Photo by Ken Teegardin.

Photo by Ken Teegardin.

There’s lots of talk at the Capitol this year about the need for greater scrutiny and control of tax incentives. As we’ve discussed, bills authored by the House Speaker and Senate Pro Tem would evaluate all incentives on a regular basis and collect data on their fiscal and economic impact. Yet at least one measure that would create a new tax incentive of unknown cost and effectiveness is rushing through the Legislature.

HB 1747, authored by Rep. Tom Newell, has been labelled the Rural Opportunity Zone bill. As a way to lure new residents to struggling rural areas, it creates a five-year exemption from all state income tax for anyone moving from out-of-state to a county that is projected to lose population between 2016 and 2075. The bill references a 2012 report by the Oklahoma Department of Commerce that identifies 25 counties, mostly in the Western half of the state, that are expected to see their population decline in the coming decades (see map).

continue reading Lawmakers pushing another unproven tax break with no idea what it will cost

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