In The Know: Lawmakers drop health insurance exchange bill

by | March 9th, 2012 | Posted in Blog, In The Know | Comments (0)

In 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. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to gperry@okpolicy.org. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that legislative leaders postponed consideration of a health insurance exchange bill until after the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the Affordable Care Act.  Former State Superintendent Sandy Garret responded to a report that implicates the Oklahoma Department of Education in the misuse of funds.  SB 1571, a bill to phase out the state income tax, was held up in the Senate for failure to provide a fiscal impact statement but will likely be heard again next week.

The House approved a bill to put two more agencies under the authority of the Office of State Finance.  A letter to the editor of the Edmond Sun rejected tax cuts for the top income bracket at the expense of the poor and the elderly.  A bill to improve employment opportunities for active duty military members and their spouses during and after a deployment was approved unanimously by the state Senate.

An Oklahoman editorial pressed lawmakers to pay attention to the consequences of underfunding treatment for mental illness.  A decades-old network of education centers that has worked to increase the supply of primary care providers in Oklahoma’s rural and underserved communities will close because of inadequate funding.

In today’s Policy Note, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released new data revealing that minority students face harsher and disproportionate discipline in schools, including more suspensions, expulsions, and referrals to the police.  The Number of the Day is the number of Oklahoma College Savings Plan accounts that have been opened since the program’s inception.

continue reading In The Know: Lawmakers drop health insurance exchange bill

Dismantling the rural health workforce pipeline

by | March 8th, 2012 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (2)

For the past 27 years, a statewide network of Area Health Education Centers (OKAHEC) has worked to increase the supply of primary care providers and improve access to health care in Oklahoma’s rural and underserved communities. Now this program is going away, another victim of the state fiscal crisis and of our failure to provide adequate funding of services that help make us a healthier, better educated, and more prosperous state.

OKAHEC is a community-state-federal partnership that was established in 1984 at the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine. The program’s central office is part of the OSU Center for Rural Health and its regional centers are located at Cameron University in Lawton, Carl Albert College in Poteau, Tulsa Community College, and Rural Health Projects in Enid.  Nationally there are 56 AHEC programs with more than 235 centers operating in almost every state. Approximately 120 medical schools and 600 nursing and allied health schools work collaboratively with AHECs to improve health for underserved and under-represented populations.

OKAHEC is intended as a comprehensive health workforce development pipeline focused on growing and nurturing the pool of health professionals serving rural and underserved communities. The program has three principal components,  summarized as “get ‘em, train ‘em and keep ‘em”:

continue reading Dismantling the rural health workforce pipeline

In The Know: House defeats bill to enforce online sales tax collections

by | March 8th, 2012 | Posted in Blog, 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. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to gperry@okpolicy.org. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that a bill to require businesses, including online companies, with an Oklahoma presence to collect sales taxes was defeated in the House 41-43. OK Policy has previously written about this loophole for online retailers and what other states are doing about it. Local filmmakers say a plan to pay for income tax cuts by doing away with tax incentives would end Oklahoma’s film industry. The OK Policy Blog discusses an aspect of Governor Fallin’s tax plan that would throw family budgets into turmoil and make Oklahomans afraid to work.

The State Auditor criticized Education Department funds that spent $2.3 million over the past 10 years to pay for food and entertainment at state conferences. OU’s College of Education was awarded a seven-year, $26 million federal grant to improve college readiness and boost high school graduation rates among low-income students in OKC.

The Senate approved a new fee against anyone who has been sentenced to community service in order to fund an alternative sentencing program. The House voted to create a new formula for dividing veterans’ assets after a divorce.

The Number of the Day is the amount the state collected from the personal income tax in 2011. In today’s Policy Note, the National Poverty Center looks at the growing number of Americans living on less than $2 per day.

continue reading In The Know: House defeats bill to enforce online sales tax collections

Fallin off a cliff

by | March 7th, 2012 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (3)

The tax cut plans being pushed by Oklahoma lawmakers contain plenty of bad ideas, but one may eclipse them all: Governor Fallin’s tax cliff.

The tax cliff is the result of a badly designed tax bracket structure. Very few other states have such a structure, and for good reason: it creates a major disincentive to work.

In a normal rate structure, the higher rates only apply to income above a certain level. For example, in our current system, families enter the highest bracket of 5.25 percent when they make $15,001 or more in taxable income. However, they don’t pay 5.25 percent on every dollar of income. They pay 5.25 cents out of each dollar at and above $15,001, but they pay only 5 cents of the dollars they earn between $12,201 and $15,000, 4 cents of the dollars between $9,801 and $12,200, and so on.

In Governor Fallin’s plan, entering a new bracket causes the higher rate to apply to every single dollar of taxable income. That means a family with $29,999 in taxable income would not owe any income tax. But if they earned one dollar more, their tax bill would jump to $675. When moving between the second and third bracket, their taxes would jump again by $875.

continue reading Fallin off a cliff

In The Know: Air Force to cut 600-person Tinker Air Base unit

by | March 7th, 2012 | Posted in Blog, 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. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to gperry@okpolicy.org. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that the U.S. Air Force is deactivating a communications unit at Tinker Air Force Base that employs about 600 people. Black students in Oklahoma’s largest school districts are less likely to be enrolled in gifted and talented programs and more likely to be suspended. Oklahomans pay the second highest car insurance premiums in the nation, in part due to a very large number of uninsured drivers who push up costs for the insured.

The Legislature is looking at a bill to establish a health care exchange, but the OK Policy Blog explains why the bill is far from meeting the requirements of federal law. The Tulsa Initiative discusses how Oklahoma is faring poorly on child well-being and how we may be poised to do even worse.

Tulsa leaders are pushing back against proposals to slash historic rehabilitation tax credits in order to fund income tax cuts. Tim Wagner writes in NewsOK that the state income tax needed for schools, infrastructure, and social services. The Tulsa World writes that “right-sizing government” is a fallacy.

The House passed a measure aimed at containing growth in prison populations, though some questioned whether it goes far enough. The Senate voted to require doctors to make audio of a fetal heartbeat available to women before ending a pregnancy. The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday tossed a $10 million jury verdict against Tyson Foods Inc., granting the company’s request for a new trial based on allegations of juror misconduct.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of banks in Oklahoma reporting earnings gains for 2011. In today’s Policy Note, The Shriver Brief explains how Oklahoma’s move to provide tax refunds in prepaid debit cards instead of paper checks could cost Oklahomans more in the long run.

continue reading In The Know: Air Force to cut 600-person Tinker Air Base unit

Stuck at the Drawing Board: Legislature tries again on federal health law

by | March 6th, 2012 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (2)

Following a year of open defiance and several months of interim study, the Oklahoma Legislature now appears poised to take action on a major requirement of the new federal health care law, the Affordable Care Act.  States are required by the law to have web-based health insurance marketplaces, known as exchanges, up and running by 2014.  If Oklahoma does not act to establish an exchange during this legislative session, the federal government will take over the process and establish and maintain an exchange on the state’s behalf.

Last week, legislation to establish an exchange authored by Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman was introduced and passed in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.  SB 1629 creates the ‘Health Insurance Private Marketplace Network Trust’ and broadly outlines the rudimentary functions of a new ‘marketplace network’ – or, insurance exchange.  If this bill is intended to establish an exchange that will satisfy the requirements of the health law and preempt federal intervention, it seems they’ve missed the mark.

Exchanges are meant to serve as a one-stop shop for health insurance.  State-based exchanges should feature a web portal that enables simple and standardized plan comparisons, navigators to provide expert consumer assistance, and a 24-hour hotline.  Residents should be able to purchase insurance and apply their premium tax credits to the cost of a health plan with just a few clicks of the mouse.  If a household is eligible for Medicaid, the exchange should reroute them to apply for the program.  The ‘marketplace’ outlined in SB 1629 shirks almost all of these essential exchange functions.

continue reading Stuck at the Drawing Board: Legislature tries again on federal health law

In The Know: Mike Morgan found guilty of one count of bribery

by | March 6th, 2012 | Posted in Blog, 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. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to gperry@okpolicy.org. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that Former Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Morgan was convicted of one count of bribery for taking payments to push legislation favorable to an assisted living company. State revenue continues to rebound thanks to strong income tax growth, but State Treasurer Ken Miller said lingering low natural gas prices remain a concern. The OK Policy Blog discusses how ending the income tax would create huge risks for rural Oklahoma, and a new action alert provides information for rural advocates.

Chesapeake Energy Corp. responded to a Rolling Stone story that took aim at the company, its CEO, and hydraulic fracturing. A bill to reassign the duties of the commercial pet breeders board to the state Agriculture Department passed the House on an 80-3 vote. Members of the pet breeders board have said the reorganization will mean the rule-making process will have to start over, meaning the state will be left without puppy mill regulations in the interim.

The state Board of Education approved new rules for school districts offering online courses. Oklahoma’s chief information officer said IT consolidation has saved the state $40 million in two years, mostly through cutting 128 IT positions. Oklahoma Indian gaming generated nearly $3.23 billion in revenues in 2010 — a 3.9 percent increase over the previous year.

The Number of the Day is how many Oklahoma children were living in high-poverty neighborhoods as of 2010, up 104 percent since 2000. In today’s Policy Note, Reuters reports on how tens of thousands of low-income women and teenagers across the United States have lost access to birth control as states slash family planning funds.

continue reading In The Know: Mike Morgan found guilty of one count of bribery

Betting the Farm: Ending the income tax creates huge risks for rural Oklahoma

by | March 5th, 2012 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (3)

Oklahoma Farm & Ranch Museum, Elk City

Could doing away with Oklahoma’s income tax shift taxes not only onto low and middle-income families but also from urban areas to rural areas? Many programs, services, and incentives important for rural Oklahoma rely on our existing revenue structure and the income tax in particular.  In addition, switching to more reliance on other taxes would especially hurt farmers and ranchers.

States without an income tax have to get resources somewhere to fund their core services.  As the chart below shows, the majority of those states look to the property tax to fill the gap.  Every one of the states without an income tax pay more in property taxes per capita than we do in Oklahoma. The average per capita property tax collections in no-income tax states, $1,507, is more than two-and-a-half times that of Oklahoma, $582.

continue reading Betting the Farm: Ending the income tax creates huge risks for rural Oklahoma

In The Know: Bill would cut tribes out of environmental policy-making process

by | March 5th, 2012 | Posted in Blog, 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. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to gperry@okpolicy.org. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that a bill working its way through the state Legislature would remove tribes from the environmental policy-making process. Sen. Greg Treat, the bill’s author, said he thinks tribes have been too cooperative with the EPA. The director of Children’s Rights spoke about the organization’s successful lawsuit against Oklahoma and its hopes for child welfare in the state.

The Tulsa World examined Oklahoma’s continuing mental health crisis and some treatment success stories. The Enid News and Eagle looks at rising poverty in Garfield County and the state.

The state’s pet breeder licensing agency has been funded almost entirely by private donors. Stateline reports on how a continuing severe drought is pushing Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas to reexamine their water policies. NewsOK reports on House bills that have survived the deadline to be passed out of committee. For more on Oklahoma’s legislative process, see our 2012 Legislative Primer.

NewsOK and The Tulsa World endorsed State Treasurer Ken Miller’s recommendation that lawmakers should identify dollar for dollar what spending they would cut to pay for tax cuts. Rep. David Dank said lawmaker’s unwillingness to reform the tax credit system is endangering prospects for income tax cuts.

The Number of the Day is the average annual compensation in the manufacturing sector in Oklahoma. In today’s Policy Note, Economix shows that the main the main cause of tuition growth at public universities has been huge state funding cuts.

continue reading In The Know: Bill would cut tribes out of environmental policy-making process

The Weekly Wonk: March 2nd, 2012

by | March 2nd, 2012 | Posted in Blog, OK Policy | Comments (0)

What’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk is dedicated to this week’s events, publications, and blog posts.

This week OK Policy explained the huge variety of critical public structures funded by Oklahoma’s income tax.  We released a statement on the troubling new details inside Governor Fallin’s tax reform proposal.  We also released an animated video evaluating the economic performance of Oklahoma vs. Texas – the state with an income tax is winning.  The video was posted by Reuters and StateImpact OK and re-blogged by OkieBrent and Alternative Tulsa.

We gave you five reasons we shouldn’t be drug-testing welfare applicants.  Guest blogger John Thompson discussed the impact of Oklahoma’s No Child Left Behind waiver on urban schools.  Our work on tax reform proposals appeared in both the Tulsa World and NewsOK.

continue reading The Weekly Wonk: March 2nd, 2012