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The down low on taxing downloads

by | April 28th, 2016 | Posted in Taxes | Comments (0)

Online shopping concept.One of the recurring revenue options that Gov. Mary Fallin laid out in her FY 2017 Executive Budget involved “modernizing the sales tax.” This was presented as something of a catch-all category described as “keeping the same low rates and applying them in ways that better reflect today’s commerce and consumer behaviors.” For the Governor, the biggest components of sales tax modernization are broadening the sales tax to include more services, which we discussed here,  expanding collections on Internet sales, and eliminating sales tax exemptions. Another component of the Governor’s plan, which has received little attention, is “applying the sales tax to items delivered electronically.”

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In The Know: Public schools told to anticipate new state funding cuts up to $17 million

by | April 28th, 2016 | 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

Public schools told to anticipate new state funding cuts up to $17 million: The Oklahoma State Department of Education on Wednesday notified school districts across the state that yet another shortfall in state revenue collections will likely cause their budgets for the current year to suffer. The Common Education Technology Revolving Fund, one of six sources of revenue that are combined to provide schools with state aid, has only received $26.5 million with two more months left in the fiscal year. That is $20 million, or 44 percent, shy of the $47.4 million expected [Tulsa World]. Oklahoma continues to lead the nation for the largest cuts to general school funding since the start of the recession [OK Policy].

Budget crisis: Proposal would cut 142 Tulsa Public Schools teaching positions, increase class sizes: A proposal that would cut 142 Tulsa Public Schools teaching positions and significantly increase class sizes to reduce the district’s budget by $8 million next year was announced on Wednesday. At a special meeting, the Tulsa school board learned the details of the plan for the first time in preparation for a vote set for 6:30 p.m. Monday. Chief Financial Officer Trish Williams said the school-staffing reductions are unavoidable, given that the school district has to reduce its 2017 fiscal year budget by $13.5 million to $20 million [Tulsa World].

#DoSomethingOK: Oklahoma’s massive budget shortfall means that lawmakers face stark choices this year. They can choose devastating cuts to Oklahoma public schools, health care, and other essential services. Or they can shore up the state’s finances and invest in a stronger economy and brighter future for Oklahoma [Together OK].

Fallin Signs Off On Criminal Justice Reform Package: Governor Mary Fallin signed into law four criminal justice reform bills Wednesday. Each bill is aimed at scaling back Oklahoma’s sentencing practices. The legislation comes as a result of Fallin’s Oklahoma Justice Reform Committee that met during the fall of 2015. HB 2751 raises the property crime threshold for a felony to $1000 from $500. HB 2479 lowers mandatory minimum drug sentences. HB 2472 allows district attorneys more discretion to file certain crimes as misdemeanors instead of felonies, and HB 2753 widens eligibility for community sentencing and drug courts [KGOU]. Raising the felony theft threshold is smart — and overdue [OK Policy]. Governor Fallin’s new, inclusive approach to criminal justice reform is bearing fruit [OK Policy].

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Oklahoma’s costly lack of foresight in not funding mental health care (Guest post: Tiara Blue)

by | April 27th, 2016 | Posted in Budget, Healthcare | Comments (3)

Tiara Blue is an instructor at Murray State College in Tishomingo and a contributing writer for NonDoc.

Tiara Blue

Tiara Blue

Foresight. I underlined this word twice in my notes for the late Professor J. Rufus Fears’ “Ancient Rome” course. I was just a sophomore at the University of Oklahoma, but in that lecture, Fears said something that has resonated with me all my life: The difference between a mediocre leader and a leader of true greatness is not money, prestige, or charisma. It’s foresight, the ability to recognize problems on the horizon and create solutions that are good, not only in the short term, but in the long term as well.

In the midst of Oklahoma’s budgetary crisis, it seems that Professor Fears’ hallmark of leadership is lacking at our state capitol.

This was never more clear to me then March 25, when the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health announced that its already anemic budget had been reduced by $22.8 million, or figuring in the loss of federally matched funds, a total of $40 million. Overnight, 73,000 Oklahomans found their access to mental health service reduced or eliminated.

Oklahoma has a long history of not caring enough to invest in mental health treatment. Mentally ill people are lower on the totem pole because politicians don’t view mental health as a politically expedient cause. Politicians do not care because they believe the public does not care.

I am here to tell you why you should.

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In The Know: Oklahoma Senate gives final OK to balanced budget convention

by | April 27th, 2016 | Posted in Blog, 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 Senate gives final OK to balanced budget convention: The Oklahoma Legislature has given final approval to a resolution formally asking Congress to call a national convention to consider adding a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Senate voted 30-16 on Tuesday to approve the House-backed joint resolution despite concerns of some members that a national convention could be expanded to consider issues beyond the federal budget. The Florida-based Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force has targeted Oklahoma and six other statehouses this year to push the measure [KFOR]. We wrote last year that a convention could lead to far-reaching and radical changes to America’s time-tested constitution.

Budget crisis: Tulsa school board reduces 102 administrative positions: The Tulsa school board approved the elimination or defunding of 175 administrative positions and the creation of 73 new ones late Monday for a net reduction of 102 positions. It was the first time the Tulsa school board heard Superintendent Deborah Gist’s detailed proposal to reduce next year’s budget by reorganizing a host of administrative positions. “I recognize the decisions you have tonight affect people’s lives and services we provide to students,” Gist said [Tulsa World]. The Tulsa World Editorial Board wrote that the state is shirking its duty to fund schools. Deep cuts to school budgets are among the effects of our unprecedented budget crisis.

Gov. Mary Fallin signs bill clarifying court-ordered mental health treatment: Gov. Mary Fallin on Tuesday signed the Labor Commissioner Mark Costello Act, a new law that clarifies language regarding when a judge can court order an Oklahoman to outpatient mental health treatment. Under the new law, Oklahomans diagnosed with mental illnesses who have repeatedly been unable to follow their treatment plans could be court ordered to take their medicine, among other treatment options. It’s a process known as assisted outpatient treatment [NewsOK]. The Legislature is sending mixed signals on mental health and incarceration this year.

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This program helps hungry kids and saves administrative costs, but participation lags in Oklahoma

by | April 26th, 2016 | Posted in Education, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

school lunch 2Oklahoma is among the worst in the nation for uptake of a program that ensures low-income students have access to school meals, according to a new report. By not adopting this program, schools are passing up an effective way to reduce administrative costs while ensuring that more Oklahoma kids have reliable access to nutritious meals.

The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) allows high-poverty schools, groups of schools, or school districts to offer breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge. In the 2015-2016 school year, only 15 percent of eligible districts participated in Oklahoma, versus 37 percent nationwide, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Among individual schools that were eligible, 21 percent participated in Oklahoma, less than half the national average of 51 percent.

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In The Know: Muskogee County to refund $50,000 raised for Asian orphans, students that was seized in traffic stop

by | April 26th, 2016 | 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

Muskogee County to refund $50,000 raised for Asian orphans, students that was seized in traffic stop: The Muskogee County District Attorney on Monday said he dismissed criminal charges and a civil asset forfeiture case in which law enforcement seized $53,000 from a man during a Feb. 27 traffic stop. Eh Wah, who lives in Dallas and is originally from Myanmar, told authorities the money was for a Thai orphanage and a nonprofit Christian school in Myanmar [Tulsa World]. The Washington Post reported the story of the seizure on Monday. We’ve written about why civil asset forfeiture, the legal tool used by the Muskogee County Sheriff’s Department to seize the money, should be stopped in Oklahoma.

New budget plans would go after low-income parents to fix state’s revenue problems: Oklahoma’s massive budget shortfall means that lawmakers face stark choices this year. They can choose devastating cuts to Oklahoma public schools, health care, and other essential services. Or they can shore up the state’s finances and invest in a stronger economy and brighter future for Oklahoma. The second course is the most reasonable, but to save our most important public investments, the money will have to come from somewhere [OK Policy].

One in 10 Oklahoma kids have parent in jail or prison during childhood: One in 10 Oklahoma children have had a parent in jail or prison at some point in their childhood, according to statistics released Monday by The Annie E. Casey Foundation. Oklahoma is one of eight states with 10 percent or more of children who fit into this category, a statistic that takes in 5.1 million young people across the nation. Former House Speaker Kris Steele and other advocates for children gathered Monday at the state Capitol to discuss the problem of parental incarceration, to urge a continuation of criminal justice reforms and to encourage efforts to aid young people [NewsOK].

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New budget plans would go after low-income parents to fix state’s revenue problems

stressed out momOklahoma’s massive budget shortfall means that lawmakers face stark choices this year. They can choose devastating cuts to Oklahoma public schools, health care, and other essential services. Or they can shore up the state’s finances and invest in a stronger economy and brighter future for Oklahoma.

The second course is the most reasonable, but to save our most important public investments, the money will have to come from somewhere. Oklahoma has numerous good revenue options to fill the hole, like stopping this year’s tax cut for top earners or reining in tax breaks for businesses and special interests. Unfortunately, state leaders have decided to target a very different kind of tax program. They are threatening our state’s most important broad-based tax credits for families that work hard for low pay.

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In The Know: Director says DHS must be ready for ‘unprecedented cuts’

by | April 25th, 2016 | 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

Director says DHS must be ready for ‘unprecedented cuts’: In an email to agency employees and contractors, Oklahoma Department of Human Services Director Ed Lake said “many cuts detrimental to clients, employees and our partners will have to be implemented.” The state agency was hit with a $45 million deficit early this year and faces a projected $46 million shortfall headed into the next fiscal year. In total, DHS is bracing for an estimated $150 million shortfall through a combination of state and federal funding reductions, Lake said [NewsOK]. You can read the full letter here.

Budget woes threaten to derail home health: An Illinois River diving accident more than three decades ago left Jerry Spencer paralyzed from the chest down. Spencer, who lives alone, is one of an estimated 23,000 disabled or elderly Oklahomans who could qualify for placement in a nursing home, but chooses to live at home. It’s possible because they have access to home health care services through the state’s Medicaid ADvantage program, which is funded through a federal-state partnership. But the state’s $1.3 billion shortfall and expected budget cuts to accompany that threaten to derail the program [Claremore Daily Progress].

Democrats struggle to be heard in state Legislature: They introduced a resolution declaring a “leadership disaster.” They invited the governor, legislators and the public to a bipartisan meeting to ensure the budget isn’t written in a “backroom deal.” They found a way to gum up the works and keep lawmakers in session until 11 p.m. Thursday. Democrats are trying hard to stay relevant during an election year in which they hope to pick up seats in the Republican-dominated House and Senate. [NewsOK]

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The Weekly Wonk: Cuts are not inevitable, lawmakers have their sights on the wrong credits, and more…

by | April 24th, 2016 | Posted in Weekly Wonk | Comments (0)

the_weekly_wonk_logoWhat’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk shares our most recent publications and other resources to help you stay informed about Oklahoma. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The Know. Click here to subscribe to In The Know.

This Week from OK Policy

On the OK Policy Blog, Executive Director David Blatt wrote that the Governor’s new budget proposals show that cuts are not inevitable. Last week, we shared a menu of options for the budget emergency. Blatt’s Journal Record column argued that the real choice legislators face is closing the budget gap or doing nothing. An op-ed by Policy Director Gene Perry in The Oklahoman warned of lawmakers’ plans to go after tax credits for low-income parents and workers to fix the state’s revenue problems instead of reversing recent tax cuts for the wealthiest.

Steve Lewis’s Capitol Update suggested that the closing weeks of the legislative session could bring the greatest test for this generation of lawmakers. Policy Analyst Ryan Gentzler illustrated why raising the felony theft threshold is smart and overdue. A guest post by Oklahoma AFL-CIO President Jimmy Curry explained how worker benefit denials are keeping Oklahoma’s unemployment rate artificially low. A guest post by Christiaan Mitchell detailed how education funding cuts hurt more than just our children.

OK Policy in the News

Blatt spoke to Rich Fisher on Studio Tulsa about Governor Fallin’s recent budget recommendations and the Health Care Authority’s proposal to extend health coverage. The Journal Record covered an Incentive Evaluation Commission meeting where Blatt presented. Gentzler spoke to KWGS about criminal justice reform measures that passed successfully out of the legislature. Policy Analyst Carly Putnam talked with Oklahoma Watch’s Warren Vieth about proposed Medicaid cuts

The blog okeducationtruths cited OK Policy data while pushing back against the suggestion that education vouchers could alleviate the budget crisis. The Tax Justice Blog included OK Policy’s recent poll showing that most Oklahomans prefer an income tax increase over funding cuts in a roundup of state tax news. The Oklahoman cited OK Policy in a piece on mental health funding

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Closing weeks of session may bring the greatest test for this generation of Oklahoma legislators (Capitol Updates)

by | April 22nd, 2016 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates | Comments (2)

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.

The filing period for legislative offices kept many members on edge last week. Filing, together with the leadership’s beginning to reveal to the general membership the budget discussions they’ve been having now for several months, made for an interesting start to the six-week dash to the finish. Also, Governor Fallin offered up a “revised budget” with various elements for legislators to consider. And as if that weren’t enough on the plate, the plan by the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority to expand Medicaid through Insure Oklahoma came into sharper focus. The $1.50 per pack cigarette tax increase has been suggested to pay the state’s match for the “Medicaid Rebalancing Act” as well as to hold provider cuts down.

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