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Lawmakers get a Mulligan to fix the budget (Capitol Update)

by | August 18th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates | 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.

Those who are golfers, which I’m not, are familiar with a Mulligan. But you don’t have to be a golfer to enjoy the benefits of a Mulligan. The term is now widely used to describe any “do-over,” or second chance after initial failure. The Supreme Court has given the Legislature a Mulligan to write an adequate and balanced state budget. The Court did so by assuming original jurisdiction of the measures that produced revenue for this year’s budget, and by ruling as quickly as a decent respect for giving all sides a chance to make their legal arguments would allow. The fiscal year has barely begun, so if the Legislature will act with the same dispatch as the Court, the damage will be limited.

I suspect the rulings on the other measures will come quite quickly, possibly this week, so legislators and the governor will know the size of the budget hole their initial failure has created. The deficit is at $215 million now, mostly affecting health care agencies, and could go higher depending on the Court’s rulings. Without the cigarette fee revenue, the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority will lose $70 million, 7 percent of its appropriation; the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services will lose $76 million, 23 percent of its budget; and the Department of Human Services will lose $69 million, a 10 percent cut.

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With the doomsday clock ticking, how might the state’s budget emergency be solved?

by | August 14th, 2017 | Posted in Budget | Comments (1)

Last week’s Supreme Court’s ruling that struck down a $1.50 per-package smoking cessation fee passed by lawmakers in May has created a genuine state emergency. Without quick and decisive action, Oklahoma faces unimaginable cuts to health care and other protections for our state’s most vulnerable citizens. However, if they can overcome partisan differences and ideological rigidity, our leaders have an opportunity to not only resolve this crisis, but to come out of it with even stronger investments in Oklahoma families and communities.

Where We Are and How We Got Here

To recall, the Legislature approved the smoking cessation fee in the final hours of the 2017 session as part of a last-ditch effort to pass a budget that filled most of the state’s nearly $1 billion budget shortfall.  After negotiations to produce a bipartisan agreement broke down, Republican leaders gambled that the smoking cessation fee, along with the partial removal of a sales tax exemption on motor vehicles, were not subject to the Constitution’s supermajority requirements for “revenue bills” and could be passed with a simple majority using only Republican votes.

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Statement: Lawmakers must go back to special session and finish job of funding core services

by | August 10th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Press Releases & Statements | Comments (7)

The SOS Coalition, which includes Oklahoma Policy Institute and 20 other organizations, released the following statement on today’s Oklahoma Supreme Court decision that threw out a cigarette fee and created a $214 million hole in the budgets of SoonerCare ($70 million loss), the Oklahoma Department of Human Services ($69 million loss), and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services ($75 million loss):

“This ruling confirms that the Legislature did not complete its job this year of crafting a balanced budget that pays for the core services Oklahomans expect and need.

Governor Fallin shouldn’t wait a single minute to call a special session and instruct the Legislature to find additional revenue, fix the broken budget, undo cuts to core services, and invest in education. The Save our State Coalition has issued a blueprint for a better budget that does just that, and we urge lawmakers to take it seriously.

Countless Oklahomans whose lives depend on state services are waiting for our Legislature to do the right thing. If the Legislature does not find new revenues to replace those rejected by the Court, the consequence will be unimaginable cuts to health care and other protections for our state’s most vulnerable citizens — with the greatest harm on children, seniors, and people with severe disabilities.”

You can read the court decision here, find our pre-decision analysis of the Supreme Court case here, see Governor Fallin’s statement about the decision here, read the Save Our State Coalition’s Blueprint for a Better Budget here, and see other revenue options for a better budget here.

Please contact your two legislatorsHouse Speaker Charles McCall, and Senate President Mike Schulz and tell them it is their duty to go into special session and find the revenues to prevent even more cuts to the core state services that Oklahomans expect and need.

Back to work for lawmakers? It depends on the Supreme Court’s definition of a revenue bill

by | August 10th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Taxes | Comments (0)

NOTE: This post was written prior to the Supreme Court’s decision striking down the smoking cessation fee included in SB 845. Click here for the Court’s decision. Here is the statement from the Save Our State coalition, of which OK Policy is a member.

The fate of this year’s state budget is in the hands of Oklahoma’s nine Supreme Court justices. This week, the Court heard oral arguments in challenges to four bills enacted by the Legislature earlier this year. The bills, which were intended to generate a combined $329 million needed to balance the FY 2018 budget, were passed by simple majorities in the final days of the legislative session after efforts to garner bipartisan, supermajority support for tax increases broke down. If the Court strikes down one or both of the two largest revenue measures, it would create a huge hole in a state budget that is already massively underfunded and almost certainly force Governor Fallin to call legislators back into special session.

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Internal politics at work in ouster of Rep. Leslie Osborn (Capitol Update)

by | July 28th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates | Comments (0)

Rep. Leslie Osborn and Speaker Charles McCall

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.

Internal legislative politics is one of the most fascinating but obscure phenomena in our representative government. It mostly occurs behind closed doors, only occasionally breaking into public view. And those involved — members of the legislative body — normally see no advantage in telling the whole story. Internal politics happens in private phone calls, private one-on-one or small group meetings, in casual social or political conversations that are intended to be kept quiet, and usually are, even by those who disagree with the final decision. Almost everything in life happens for more than one reason, so it’s not difficult to obscure the more important aspects of an internal political debate.

An example of internal House politics came into full public view last week when Speaker Charles McCall (R-Antlers) replaced Rep. Leslie Osborn (R-Mustang) as Chairwoman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee. The Speaker’s spokesman said the replacement of Rep. Osborn had “nothing to do” with the fact that she directly and publicly disagreed with the Speaker and Majority Leader Mike Sanders (R-El Reno) about the way DHS director Ed Lake and his staff chose to deal with the shortage of DHS funding. On the other hand, Rep Osborn said, “It is a sad day when we cannot have an honest conversation about the major financial and budget issues we face as a state,” strongly suggesting that her public disagreement with the Speaker is the reason she was fired.

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In dispute between Republican leaders over DHS funding, here are the facts

by | July 19th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (10)

Rep. Leslie Osborn and House Speaker Charles McCall

It’s been an eventful week for the Oklahoma Legislature, especially considering they are not even in session. The week began with House Speaker Charles McCall and Majority Leader Mike Sanders blasting the Oklahoma Department of Human Services for making cuts to services for seniors, foster families, and in-home support for people with developmental disabilities. Three days later, three Republican legislators, including House Appropriations and Budget Chair Leslie Osborn, spoke out in defense of the agency, laying out why the cuts could not have been avoided given insufficient funding to cope with rising needs. The next day, Speaker McCall removed Osborn from her position as Appropriations and Budget committee chair.

Although the Speaker’s office said Rep. Osborn’s public disagreement was “absolutely not” the reason for her ouster, they gave no other reason for the decision, and the timing makes it hard to believe it was unrelated. While we don’t know what internal politics of the House Republican caucus may have contributed to these events, we can look at the facts of the dispute over the DHS cuts.

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Oklahoma already led the nation in cuts to K-12 education. Now we lead in cuts to higher ed too.

by | July 11th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Education | Comments (4)

For several years now, Oklahoma has led the nation in cuts to state aid funding of K-12 schools by reducing state aid per student 26.9 percent since 2008. That’s almost twice as much as the next worst state, Alabama. The results are clear. Many of our state’s best teachers are leaving for other states, nearly one in five of the state’s school districts are going to 4-day weeks, class sizes are growing, arts, athletics, and STEM programs are being cut, and more.

These problems have gotten attention in state and national media — so much that Governor Fallin says she is having trouble convincing businesses to come to Oklahoma because of them. Less attention has gone to higher education, because even though higher education funding also saw deep cuts, those cuts weren’t leading the nation.

That has changed, according to a new report from researchers at Illinois State University. Over the past five years, Oklahoma has cut state funding for higher education by 17.8 percent, the most in the nation. As with K-12 funding, our cuts have been much deeper than the next worst state (Louisiana with 11.5 percent cuts). We are one of only seven states that didn’t increase funding over this period and one of only three states that cut funding by more than 10 percent.

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The Republican governor candidates competing for the ‘no-tax’ vote (Capitol Update)

by | June 30th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates, Taxes | 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.

Gary Richardson

Republican gubernatorial candidate Gary Richardson announced last week that he will file a lawsuit challenging three of the measures that produced enough revenue during the legislative session to get the Legislature adjourned by the mandated last Friday in May. I think it was a smart political move by Richardson, who is attempting to consolidate the formidable anti-tax wing of Republican primary voters behind his candidacy. In his announcement for governor last February, soon after the Legislature went into session, Richardson said, “The current budget crisis in Oklahoma proves to me that Oklahoma isn’t a poor state but a state run poorly. It’s important that the people of Oklahoma have a Governor who will make the right decisions to get our state out of this budget crisis without raising taxes.”

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Child abuse prevention and at-home care for seniors are latest services at risk due to shrinking state government (Capitol Update)

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.

Even with the legislature adjourned, there seems to be no dearth of activity emanating from Oklahoma City. The State Supreme Court has set oral arguments on the constitutional challenge to the cigarette “fee” for August 8, to be heard by the entire court. I haven’t seen the pleadings in the case, but oral arguments are usually among the last things to happen before an appellate court makes its decision. This must mean the Court decided to assume original jurisdiction and rule on the case quickly. Given the importance of the funding to the recently-passed budget and the havoc that would be created if the fee were implemented, then held unconstitutional, it’s a good thing to get the ruling before the fee is set to go into effect on August 25th.

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Highs and lows of Oklahoma’s 2017 legislative session (Part 1)

by | June 12th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Education, Taxes | Comments (0)

At the start of session, OK Policy laid out our top priorities in the areas of budget and taxes, health care, education, criminal justice and economic opportunity. As the session developed, we achieved some victories with good bills and helped stop even more harmful bills from becoming law. And there were plenty of disappointments in the form of promising legislation that died along the way.

Here are our staff’s recaps of the major highs and lows of the 2017 session in the issue areas where we were most deeply engaged. In part one, we share recaps of what happened with budget, tax, and education polices. In part two, we discuss what happened with health care, criminal justice, and economic opportunity policies.

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