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In The Know: Supreme Court upholds subsidies for 87,000 Oklahomans

by | June 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.

Today In The News

US Supreme Court upholds health insurance subsidies: In a 6-3 ruling, the United States Supreme Court ruled to uphold the subsidies more than 87,000 Oklahomans and 6.4 million nationwide used to purchase health insurance on Healthcare.gov [Tulsa World]. This decision cements the reality that the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land and is here to stay [OK Policy]. SCOTUSblog has a thorough breakdown of the case in plain English [SCOTUSblog]. This Q&A explains what the case means for Oklahoma [Oklahoma Watch]. Oklahomans who get the subsidies are happy they can keep their coverage [NewsOK]. Policy Director Gene Perry shared the history and implications of the case with the BBC [audioBoom]. 

Oklahoma Board of Education approves flat budget: The state Board of Education has approved a flat $2.5 billion dollar budget for FY 2016 [Tulsa World]. Superintendent Joy Hofmeister has said that due to rising costs, flat funding essentially translates to a funding cut, and will mean school closings and teacher layoffs [Oklahoma Watch].

Regents approve tuition, fee hikes: The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education have unanimously approved tuition and mandatory fee increases  between 3.2 and 5 percent at colleges and universities across the state [News9]. The state’s higher education budget was cut $24 million, or 2.4 percent, during this spring’s legislative session [The Ada News]. School leadership says that state disinvestment and subsequent tuition hikes makes it particularly hard for low-income and first-generation students to complete their degrees [NewsOK]. Our FY 2016 Budget Highlights issue brief breaks down the state budget in greater detail [OK Policy].

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Statement: Supreme Court health care decision is a victory for Oklahomans

Oklahoma Policy Institute released the following statement in response to the Supreme Court decision upholding subsidies for insurance purchased on the Affordable Care Act federal marketplace:

The Supreme Court decision is a victory for tens of thousands of Oklahomans and millions of Americans. The Affordable Care Act’s subsidies are helping more than 87,000 Oklahomans purchase affordable health coverage and making Oklahoma a stronger, healthier state.

This decision cements the reality that the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land and is here to stay. It is time for Oklahoma lawmakers to move past fruitless obstruction of the law and shift that energy into making sure that it succeeds in providing access to affordable coverage to as many Oklahomans as possible.

A good start would be to accept federal funds to extend health coverage to the 150,000 low-income, working Oklahomans in a “coverage crater” because they make too much to qualify for Soonercare but not enough to receive subsidies on the federal marketplace. States that have accepted federal dollars to expand Medicaid have seen large gains in the number of adults with health insurance and given more citizens access to lifesaving screenings and treatments, all while saving money in state budgets. Hospitals in expansion states are treating fewer uninsured patients, and the amount of “uncompensated care” they are providing is declining steeply.

In The Know: Supreme Court to rule on botched execution, other cases

by | June 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.

Today In The News

Supreme Court to rule on lethal injection drugs: The US Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling on the use of drugs used in a botched execution in Oklahoma in 2014 within the next few days. Three Oklahoma death row inmates brought the case (Glossip v. Gross) when the state announced it intended to continue using the drugs despite concerns that the drugs were not having the intended effect [Oklahoma Watch]. Should the Court rule that the drugs cannot be used in executions, the state may switch to using nitrogen gas instead [The New Yorker]. The Supreme Court has until June 29 to issue seven remaining rulings, which include cases concerning gay marriage and the Affordable Care Act [SCOTUSblog].

Tulsa Sheriff files motion to dismiss grand jury petition: Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz has filed a motion to dismiss a grand jury petition calling for an investigation into the county Sheriff’s Office, citing technical arguments based on how the signature form was circulated. The petitions organizers contend that the petition is valid [Tulsa World].

State GOP political director resigns over domestic violence charges: The former political director of the state Republican Party, T.C. Ryan, has resigned after news broke that he had previously plead guilty to a domestic violence charge [NewsOK]. Top party leadership, including Gov. Fallin, had said that Ryan’s history of domestic violence should have disqualified him from a staff position [Tulsa World].

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Taking a little off the top

by | June 24th, 2015 | Posted in Budget | Comments (0)

This past session, as Oklahoma grappled with a $611 million budget shortfall, a lot was heard about off-the-top apportionments, or tax revenues that are allocated directly to various funds without legislative appropriation. In this year’s State of the State address, Gov. Fallin contended that the reason Oklahoma currently faces substantial budget challenges “is because the General Revenue Fund… is growing smaller. It is shrinking, both in dollars and as a percentage of overall collections, due to the increasing cost of mandatory off-the-top apportionments.”

As state leaders worked to bridge the budget gap, they considered various proposals to curb off-the-top allocations. Ultimately, only modest changes were adopted directing more revenue to the General Revenue Fund, and it remains unlikely that shuffling more money around can ever by itself fix Oklahoma’s chronic budget problems.

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In The Know: Federal funds provide summer cooling help

by | June 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. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

Federal funds provide summer cooling help: The Oklahoma Department of Human Services has about $18 million in federal funding to help low-income Oklahomans pay energy costs to cool their homes. DHS will begin taking applications Tuesday July 7 and will continue until all federal funds are depleted [Fox 23]. State funding for the program has been eliminated this year [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma wants federal help for more counties: Gov. Fallin added 26 more counties to the list of those seeking FEMA individual assistance as the result of tornadoes and flooding that began May 5. FEMA has already approved Individual Assistance for 24 counties, which makes federal funds available for housing repairs or temporary housing, low-interest loans, disaster unemployment assistance and grants for serious needs and disaster expenses [Tulsa World].

Inhofe seeks to boost federal highway spending: Oklahoma would get nearly $4.2 billion in federal money for roads and bridges over the next six years under bipartisan legislation unveiled by Sen. Jim Inhofe. The bill as written would cost $90 billion more than the highway trust fund is expected to collect from gas taxes. Inhofe said it was up to other congressional committees to figure out how to make up the shortfall [NewsOK].

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In The Know: Online voter registration is on the way

by | June 23rd, 2015 | 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. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

This week are trying out some new potential formats for In The Know. Do you like these changes? [Yes] [No]

Today In The News

Online voter registration on the way: The Oklahoma Election Board is researching how to implement online voter registration in Oklahoma under a law that goes into effect November 1. The law was part of several reforms passed to encourage voter turnout in Oklahoma, after less than 30 percent of eligible citizens voted in the last governor’s election [NewsOK]. Previously: This report by OK Policy examined the decline of voter participation in Oklahoma and recommended reforms to fix it.

Another lawsuit challenges legislators’ budget tactics: Attorney Jerry Fent filed a lawsuit arguing that the state’s transfers from the Unclaimed Property Fund to balance the state budget are illegal. Lawmakers have used money from the Unclaimed Property Fund in numerous years, including $50 million for next year’s budget [NewsOK].

Where are they now? Bills we followed this session: On the OK Policy Blog, we looked at what happened with bills we followed this session related to tax breaks, elections reform, and attempts to call for a U.S. constitutional convention [OK Policy]. An earlier post looked at bills related to education and criminal justice [OK Policy].

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Where are they now? Bills we followed this session (Part 2)

by | June 22nd, 2015 | Posted in Elections, Taxes | Comments (0)

Last week on the blog, we talked about what happened with key bills related to education and criminal justice in this year’s legislative session. In this post, we’ll look at what happened around tax breaks, elections reform, and attempts to call for a U.S. constitutional convention.

Tax Reform

  • At OK Policy’s 2015 State Budget Summit, presenters from the Pew Charitable Trust previewed a project they had been working on with Governor Fallin’s administration to recommend a process for evaluating Oklahoma’s numerous tax breaks to see if they are justified and working as intended. That effort culminated in the passage of SB 806, which instructs lawmakers to include a statement of one or more measurable goals for any tax incentive created in 2016 or later, as well as HB 2182, which creates a commission tasked with evaluating all tax incentives on the books at least once every four years. Neither of these bills affected any tax breaks currently on the books, so they did not help with this year’s budget shortfall. They may help Oklahoma rein in unnecessary tax breaks down the line, but that still depends on lawmakers taking action based on the commission’s findings.
  • Lawmakers did take action to end a couple of tax breaks for wind power facilities. SB 498 ends eligibility for the five-year ad valorem manufacturing exemption for new wind power facilities, effective January 2017, and SB 502 prohibits wind power facilities from claiming a tax credit under the Investment/New Jobs program. Earlier this year, we shared a series of four posts by advocates debating for and against tax incentives for the wind industry. Our Director David Blatt also discussed how wind power incentives were being treated very differently from much more expensive tax breaks for oil and gas production.
  • Despite a lot of rhetoric this session about getting a handle on tax breaks, one potentially large, completely unproven tax giveaway made it far in the Legislative process. HB 1747 would give a five-year exemption from the personal income tax to anyone who relocates to a county within Oklahoma that is projected to have population declines. In a couple of posts, we explained how the tax break could become just another giveaway for behavior that would have happened anyway and showed that a very similar program in Kansas is failing to turn around population declines. Versions of the bill were approved in both the House and Senate, but conference committees were unable to come to an agreement on final language.

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In The Know: State agencies increasingly turning to overtime to fill their budget gaps

by | June 22nd, 2015 | 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. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

The number of state employees who worked 500 or more hours of overtime in a year doubled between 2010 and 2014, as state agencies are increasingly asking employees to work long hours to cover budget gaps [Tulsa World]. Every year, thousands of Oklahomans with mental-health or addiction problems call or show up at state-funded treatment centers and get little or no care, because Oklahoma’s mental health system limits most subsidized treatment to the seriously ill [Oklahoma Watch]. You can see a breakdown of how the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services prioritizes patients here. While analyzing where to make cuts within the state’s Medicaid agency budget, Oklahoma health leaders discovered millions of dollars being spent on expensive, medically unnecessary urine drug screenings [NewsOK].

The Tulsa County Criminal Justice Authority on Wednesday approved next year’s jail budget despite objections from three mayors who sit on the authority, who said a lack of oversight and misspending of funds attached to the jail should delay budget approval [Tulsa World]. State Sen. Brian Crain is urging changes to Oklahoma’s police arbitration rules after another incident with an Owasso police officer who the city had unsuccessfully tried to fire four years ago due to excessive force complaints [Tulsa World]. Oklahoma State University Regents voted to raise tuition 4.5 to 4.8 percent for students at OSU’s five campuses. University of Oklahoma officials are proposing tuition increases between 4 and 5 percent [NewsOK]. Steve Lewis discussed more about why Oklahoma’s attempt to ban teacher payroll deductions may be unenforceable [OK Policy Blog].

After already struggling through severe drought followed by damaging floods, Oklahoma wheat farmers are facing another hurdle with a closed Port of Catoosa that usually carries their product to markets outside of Oklahoma [State Impact Oklahoma]. State Rep. Seneca Scott has proposed an interim study to focus an “e-construction” record-keeping alternative for the state Transportation Department, as well as “road diets” that would redefine existing highway lane space for uses such as bike lanes, pedestrian refuge islands, bus lanes and/or parking [CapitolBeatOK]. Turmoil continues within the Oklahoma Republican Party over a controversial hire by new party Chairman Randy Brogdon of a staffer who pled guilty to domestic violence charges [Tulsa World].

The Number of the Day is -1.4 percent – the drop in Oklahoma’s total employment outside the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metro areas since December. In today’s Policy Note, Nick Hanauer and David Rolf discuss how to protect the American middle class as the economy shifts to recasting full-time employees into contractors, vendors, and temporary workers [Democracy Journal].

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The Weekly Wonk June 21, 2015

by | June 21st, 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 explain how lawmakers used the same tactics criticized in a court challenge when drafting the FY 2016 budget. A guest post discusses states’ tendency to replicate public policies enacted in other states despite lacking evidence demonstrating whether those policies work. In his Capitol Update, Steve Lewis explores why Oklahoma’s attempt to ban teacher payroll deductions may be unenforceable. We checked in on key education and criminal justice bills from this session.

In his Journal Record column, Executive Director David Blatt wrote that debates over whether the state budget grew or shrank this year ignore the fact that, either way, core services are still badly underfunded. Our FY 2016 Budget Highlights provides a more thorough explanation of the budget, including state agency appropriations since 2009. Policy Analyst Carly Putnam was quoted in an Oklahoma Watch article on King v. Burwell, which could result in skyrocketing premiums and cause thousands of Oklahomans to lose their health insurance.

Weekly What’s That:

Dual-eligible

The term “dual-eligible” refers to people who are covered by both Medicare and Medicaid at the same time. They usually qualify for Medicare Part A (primarily covers hospital care) and/or Part B (medical insurance; mostly covers doctor’s visits, outpatient procedure, health care supplies, and preventive care), as well as… Read more.

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

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Why Oklahoma’s attempt to ban teacher payroll deductions may not be enforceable (Capitol Updates)

by | June 19th, 2015 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Education | 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. You can sign up on his website to receive the Capitol Updates newsletter by email.

There’s an interesting legal battle brewing over whether HB 1749 by Rep. Tom Newell (R-Seminole) and Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Tulsa) can actually be enforced once it goes into effect on November 1st.  A law firm that represents a majority of the school districts in the state is advising the districts that the law was written in such a way as to make it unenforceable.  The legal department of the Oklahoma Education Association, the state’s largest teacher association, apparently agrees.

HB 1749 is the new law that prohibits school districts from withholding payroll deductions for membership dues of organizations that collectively bargain with the districts under federal law.  The law was passed on the theory that the state shouldn’t assist organizations that represent their members in bargaining with the districts for better salaries, benefits or employment conditions.  Current state law, which was not repealed in the new law, provides that “School districts shall make payroll deductions for either or both professional organization dues and political contributions upon the request of any school employee and shall transmit deducted funds to the organization designated by the school district employee.”

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