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There will be some revenue bills passed, but the question is how much? (Capitol Update)

by | April 21st, 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.

The work of the standing committees is finished for this session. Bills now have one week to pass the floor of the opposite chamber to remain alive. At the same time, the appropriations and budget process is in full swing from now to the end of session. It’s complicated this year — as it has been for the past several years — because the budget cannot be balanced without revenue increases or unacceptable budget cuts. So, at this point, having taken no action on either, legislators have no idea how much money they are working with. How much revenue can be generated must be settled first before the budget picture can become clear.

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Fog has yet to clear on state budget (Capitol Updates)

by | April 14th, 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.

Nine weeks down and seven weeks to go in this session, and the fog has yet to begin clearing on the FY-18 budget outlook. House appropriations Chair Leslie Osborn sent a shot over the bow recently when she asked agencies to report what they would do with a 14.5 percent budget cut. The results reported by most agencies were unacceptable by most any measure. But there still exists no public proposal by legislative leadership for a package of revenue measures that would come close to closing the budget gap.

It seems clear that a deal has been made to end the 10-year, fifty one-hundredths of one cent ($0.0050) tax credit earned on every kilowatt of electricity produced by wind facilities going into production after July 1, 2017. The credit is a refundable tax credit, which means it’s money that is paid directly out of the state treasury, and it has cost more than was ever anticipated. This, however will have no impact on the FY-18 budget so it will be no help in solving the budget gap. The budgets it will affect will occur in FY-19 and beyond.

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Another shoe to drop on state finances? (Capitol Update)

by | April 7th, 2017 | 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.

I have a feeling there may be another shoe to drop when it comes to the state’s finances. Last week it came to light that the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) has been borrowing money from the Rainy Day Fund to pay the state’s monthly obligations. And they have done so to the point that the Rainy Day Fund is totally depleted. OMES is the finance office for state government through which the money flows, and it is under the direct control of the governor.

Those in charge at OMES say they had the authority to do this, and it’s all okay so long as the money gets put back by the end of the fiscal year. That’s because the money is supposed to be available to appropriate. 3/8ths of the money is should be available for appropriation in next year’s budget because next year’s certification of funds is less than this year’s. Another 3/8ths should be available for immediate appropriation if there is a revenue failure, not to exceed the amount of the revenue failure. And finally, the last 1/4th of the fund should be available if the governor and Legislature by 2/3rds vote to declare an emergency.

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Lawmakers are finally starting to look at revenue options (Capitol Update)

by | March 31st, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Updates | Comments (1)

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.

Last week saw a flurry of bills meet the deadline for floor passage in their house of origin. With so many bills and last-minute amendments jammed into one week, it’s difficult even for legislators to keep up with what happened. But generally, legislators peeled away another layer of the onion and now have until April 13th to get bills out of committee in the other house. Then, by April 27th Senate Bills must pass the House floor and House Bills must pass the Senate floor.

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As we near halfway point of legislative session, still waiting for solutions on big issues (Capitol Update)

by | March 24th, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Updates | Comments (0)

“Hourglass” by Jamie is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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.

This past week was spring break week for most of the state’s schools, so the Legislature worked a short week. The goal was to give legislators more time with family and a chance to get away for a few days with the kids if it worked out for them.

It’s hard to get away during session, and most members don’t want to miss roll call votes. Missed votes are always good fodder for opponents in the next election. Many of these early votes aren’t the final vote on a bill because they’ll likely be amended in the other chamber and come back for another vote for final passage, but even so an absence counts as a missed vote.

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Legislature’s timid approach to a teacher raise doesn’t bode well for schools (Capitol Update)

by | March 17th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates, Education | 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.

I watched the House floor debate on HB 1114 by Rep. Michael Rogers (R-Broken Arrow) raising the minimum salary schedule for Oklahoma teachers by $6,000 over the next 3 years. The raises would be $1000 next year followed by $2000 and $3000 respectively in the next two years. The bill contained no funding, but Rep. Rogers said funding would be considered by separate measures later in the session.

It was gratifying to listen to all the debaters-for and against-recognize both that teachers should be paid more money and that operational expenses for courses, textbooks, technology, and many other aspects of funding for schools also needs more money. Those who debated against the bill did not debate against the need for teacher raises but against passing a bill only for teacher raises and with no funding.

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Missed opportunities for criminal justice reform this session (Capitol Updates)

by | March 9th, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Criminal Justice | 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.

Legislators missed an opportunity with three bills that are now dormant for this session to make significant reforms in the criminal justice system. The bills were SB 364 and SB 369 by Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, and HB 1730 by Rep. Meloyde Blancett, D-Tulsa. The bills were casualties of the legislative deadline requiring bills to be passed out of the committee to which they were assigned in their house of origin by last Thursday. None of the three bills received a hearing in committee.

SB 364 and HB 1730 mirrored each other and would have reformed the bail bond system for pretrial detention. Many Oklahoma courts operate on a schedule-based bail system. A monetary bond is set based on the accused’s alleged offense with little or no consideration given to the accused’s personal circumstances. Thus, bond has the opposite effect than that for which it was intended. People who have no money stay in jail even though they are at little risk of failing to appear for court or being a danger to someone or the community. People who should remain in jail are released because they have the money to get out, free to abscond or hurt someone.

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Lawmakers have time to fix this budget crisis, if they choose to (Capitol Updates)

by | March 3rd, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates | Comments (1)

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.

The reaction to Lt. Governor Todd Lamb’s resignation from the governor’s cabinet over opposition to her proposal to add the sales tax to services has been overdone. Lamb, who’s planning a governor’s race next year, wanted to separate himself from an unpopular tax proposal, and to some extent, from a governor who might become a liability in next year’s election. Without some dramatic action, Lamb likely felt that his 8-year association with Governor Fallin as her Lt. Governor would hurt his chances in a competitive race.

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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 (1)

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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Governor’s budget shows how bad Oklahoma’s fiscal health has gotten (Capitol Update)

by | February 17th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates, Taxes | Comments (1)

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.

Looking at Governor Fallin’s FY-18 budget proposal makes one realize how poor the fiscal condition of the state is. If the Legislature and the governor were to dedicate themselves to doing everything necessary to work our way out of the current budget dilemma, it still would take years. Our recent practice of patching things together with tax cuts and budget cuts, robbing various funds, borrowing, and betting on the come that there will be a quick turnaround in the Oklahoma economy has only dug the hole deeper. At least the governor and many in the Legislature have concluded that will no longer work.

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