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In The Know: Email reveals oil CEO tried to get university quake scientists dismissed

by | May 18th, 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.

In an e-mail obtained via a public records request, a University of Oklahoma dean said that oil tycoon Harold Hamm was pushing the university to fire scientists who were investigating links between earthquakes and the oil and gas industry. An oil wastewater disposal well near the epicenter of Oklahoma’s largest recorded earthquake was drilled too deep, which some say contributes to earthquakes. The well’s owner, New Dominion, has sought state approval to make it shallower, but they still deny any connection between their wells and earthquakes. New Dominion faces at least two lawsuits over the earthquake, and one of them is before the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

KFOR examined the legal costs paid by taxpayers of defending numerous bills passed by the Legislature that were later ruled unconstitutional. The Tulsa World warned against a bill that would eliminate income taxes for people moving into Oklahoma counties where population has been declining. A very similar tax break in Kansas has not increased migration to declining counties. The Legislature sent to Governor Fallin a bill to eliminate a property tax exemption for new wind farms beginning in 2017.

Legislative leaders and the governor’s office are still trying to hash out a budget that is expected to make more cuts to nearly every state agency. On the OK Policy Blog, Steve Lewis wrote that lawmakers have shuffled money around while slashing taxes for years, and now we’re seeing the real costs come out in damage to education, health, mental health, social services and public safety. The Senate voted to override Gov. Fallin’s veto of a bill that would decouple the pay of statewide elected officials from that of judges.

Oklahoma Watch reported that a large percentage of Oklahoma’s incarcerated women show symptoms of PTSD due to emotional and sexual abuse. Preliminary results show that 14.6 percent of third graders, or 7,311 students, are at risk of repeating the third grade after scoring “unsatisfactory” on the state’s reading exam. The okeducationtruths blog looked at how media and the state Department of Education differed in portraying the results.

Eleven Republicans with presidential aspirations will be in Oklahoma City this week for the Southern Republicans Leadership Conference. A U.S. Supreme Court decision could make Oklahoma’s numerous licensing boards vulnerable to criminal and civil antitrust actions because they are dominated by existing members of the industry they are regulating. Oklahoma Policy Institute announced that Andrew Tevington, who was a top advisor to former Governor Henry Bellmon, and Felicia Collins Correia, who served 25 years as CEO of major non-profit organizations in Tulsa, have been elected to our Board of Directors.

The Number of the Day is 63.4% – the percentage of managed honeybee colonies lost in Oklahoma from 2014 to 2015. It was the worst loss in the nation. In today’s Policy Note, CityLab looks at how cities and states have shot far past Congress in successfully raising the minimum wage.

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The Weekly Wonk May 17, 2015

by | May 17th, 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.

We are accepting applications to our third annual Summer Policy Institute through May 26th! College students who attend will get to dig deep on a wide range of policy issues, learn from top researchers and policymakers, and network with people with similar interests. Watch this preview to learn more.

OK Policy is excited to welcome two new board members. Andrew Tevington previously served as a top adviser to former Governor Henry Bellmon, and Felicia Collins Correia has more than 25 years of experience as CEO of major nonprofits in Tulsa. You can learn more about our board here. We’ve redesigned our website to make it mobile-friendly and more accessible. Let us know what you think here.

On the OK Policy Blog, we explain that the state budget deficit is a structural problem, and not just due to oil prices. A guest post by the Oklahoma Primary Care Association’s Steven Goldman explains how enrollment data shows that Oklahomans are actively engaging with the Affordable Care Act. In his Capitol Update, Steve Lewis argues that lawmakers’ habit of shuffling money around while slashing taxes is beginning to create serious problems for education, health, mental health, social services and public safety.

Nikki Hager, former OK Policy intern and Midwest regional director of the millennial advocacy group Common Sense Action, writes in the Journal Record that the Legislature’s habit of engineering short-term fixes to long-term problems is harming investment in the state. In his weekly Journal Record column, Executive Director David Blatt explains that halting the tax cut doesn’t need a supermajority. You can read about the topic in greater detail here. The Edmond Sun quoted Blatt in a discussion of a bill to reform civil asset forfeiture in Oklahoma. Policy Director Gene Perry was quoted in a Huffington Post piece on education testing.

Weekly What’s That:

Earned Income Tax Credit

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a tax credit that subsidizes work for low-income families. More than 26 million households will receive a total of $60 billion in reduced taxes and refunds in 2015, according to the Tax Policy Center, making the EITC the nation’s largest cash or near cash assistance program after the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). Read more.

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

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Former Bellmon top advisor, non-profit director join OK Policy board

Oklahoma Policy Institute is pleased to announce that Andrew Tevington, who served for many years as a top advisor to Governor Henry Bellmon, and Felicia Collins Correia, whose experience includes over 25 years as CEO of major non-profit organizations in Tulsa, have been elected to its Board of Directors.

“We are delighted to add two widely-admired and respected individuals who have made outstanding contributions to our state through their professional careers and community service,” said Vince LoVoi, OK Policy’s Board Chair. “Felicia and Andrew will add to our tradition of building a strong, nonpartisan board that is thoughtful, far-sighted, policy-focused, and comprised of individuals who bring a wide range of personal and professional experiences to the table.”

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State budget writers try to pass the buck (Capitol Updates)

by | May 15th, 2015 | 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. You can sign up on his website to receive the Capitol Updates newsletter by email.

The budget process is winding its way toward an announcement that a “budget deal has been reached.”  My guess is legislative leaders and the governor have decided to patch together a budget, by putting lipstick on a pig as the saying goes, and get out of town as soon as possible.  At this point in the session there’s not much else to do.  Budgeting, in concept, is pretty simple.  If you have more expenses than revenue you can either increase your revenue, cut your expenses or move money from one pocket to the other so you can meet the expenses you absolutely have to and let the others wait for better times.

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In The Know: Legislative committees pass $25 million bond plans for Indian and OKPOP museums

by | May 15th, 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.

Oklahoma legislative committees approved separate $25 million bond proposals to complete the unfinished American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City and build the proposed Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture in Tulsa. Gun rights advocates are seeking to get the Legislature to override Gov. Fallin’s veto of a bill that restricts businesses from banning guns at parks, fairgrounds and recreational areas. 

After a coalition asked for a moratorium on the use of injection wells that are linked to Oklahoma’s earthquake surge, Governor Fallin responded with a copy of an editorial from The Oklahoman defending the state’s response to earthquakes. Oklahoma economists said there are signs that the downturn in oil prices and drilling activity will not last long.

The executive director of the state Pardon and Parole Board has resigned after just six weeks at the agency. The board has faced public criticism for their unwillingness to recommend parole for most offenders. Slate examined how death penalties across the country are being pursued in just a few isolated counties — former Oklahoma County district attorney Bob Macy sent 54 people to death row before retiring in 2001, but over the past five years, Oklahoma County has had only one death sentence.

The New York Times reported that Moore, Oklahoma has gone far beyond any other city in the nation in adopting tornado-resistant building codes. On the OK Policy Blog, Steven Goldman discussed how the latest enrollment data shows Oklahomans are actively using the Affordable Care Act to get health insurance. The Blue Bell corporation and state agencies in Texas and Oklahoma announced a voluntary agreement to institute safeguards before resuming ice cream production, following the discovery of listeria bacteria in its products.

Tulsa-area pediatricians are joining a campaign to encourage parents to read, talk, and sing more to their children to close early literacy gaps. Students attending one of Oklahoma’s four-year public colleges or universities paid $1,192 extra in tuition this year compared to 2008, according to a report released this week by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The report found that Oklahoma has cut state funding for higher education by $2,251 per student, or 23.5 percent, since 2008. The Number of the Day is 10,105 students – the drop in enrollment at Oklahoma colleges and universities over the past year, a decrease of 5.5% between Spring 2014 and Spring 2015.

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The Data Is In: Oklahomans are actively using Affordable Care Act

by | May 14th, 2015 | Posted in Healthcare | Comments (0)

Steven Goldman, PhD is a Navigator at Oklahoma Primary Care Association. He can be reached at

Although the Affordable Care Act (ACA) recently reached its fifth year, the law’s main incentives for expanding health coverage are still young. The health care law’s second Open Enrollment Period just concluded in February 2015. Now the the enrollment data from the US Department of Health and Human Services is in, and it makes two important points: that Oklahomans are interested and engaged in purchasing health insurance on, and that those purchases are having a strong impact on the state economy.

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In The Know: Gov. Fallin signs ballot access bill

by | May 14th, 2015 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (1)

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.

On Tuesday, Gov. Fallin signed a bills intended to make it easier for third parties to get on the ballot and to speed up the transfer of inmates from county jails to state prisons. Oklahoma Watch reports that changes to the Reading Sufficiency Act could expand the number of students at risk of retention and increasing the number of students receiving remediation. Parents would also be involved in the process for an additional three years. Lawmakers say they are close to a deal to reign in wind production tax credits. In his Journal Record column, Executive Director David Blatt explains why the legislature doesn’t need a supermajority to halt a scheduled tax cut because the state successfully proved that the legislation in question isn’t a revenue bill in court last year.

Responding to allegations from BuzzFeed that the state Attorney General’s office had provided inaccurate information to the US Supreme Court on a death penalty case, the AG’s office has admitted an “inadvertent citation error” and alerted the Court of the error, but says that the “error” has no bearing on the state’s case. Another Tulsa activist group is calling for Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz to resign. The Frontier has compiled extensive documentation of reports alleging racism and sexual misconduct in the Tulsa County Sheriff’s office. An attorney from the City of Tulsa is demanding that the Sheriff’s Office stop connecting the city’s police chief to former Reserve Deputy Robert Bates, who shot and killed an unarmed man on April 2. The executive director of the Oklahoma GOP stepped down due to concerns within the party over his record of domestic violence. He was instead appointed as the party’s political director.

Former state Sen. Melvin Porter, Oklahoma’s first African-American senator, was honored on Tuesday. Fifty years after his election to office, the state’s elected officials do not reflect the diversity of the people in this state. An Oklahoma House panel has advanced a bill to complete the state’s long-delayed American Indian Cultural Center. Following two years of collaboration between the Cherokee Nation’s Language Program department and Google, the Cherokee language is now available on a range of Android, Microsoft and Apple devices. The Number of the Day is 9,121 – the years of potential life lost before age 75 per 100,000 of the population in Oklahoma. The US median is 7,681. In today’s Policy Note, The Washington Post reports on a new study showing that federal safety net programs do more to ease poverty than previously thought.

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In The Know: April revenue collections fall below official estimate

by | May 13th, 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.

April general revenue fund collections came in 11 percent below projections for the month. This is the first time estimates have overrestimated collections this fiscal year. While it’s tempting to blame the oil and gas downturn for the state’s budget situation, the shortfall is due to a structural budget deficit. State health commissioner Terry Cline warned on Tuesday that the Department of Health will face “dire consequences” if it receives further cuts, including possible costly loss of accreditation if the Legislature does not approve a request for bond money for a new public health lab. Nico Gomez, executive director of the state’s Medicaid agency, said that even flat funding for his agency would result in physician reimbursement cuts, which could in turn force some rural clinics to close. The state’s rural hospitals are also struggling to stay afloat.

Four Lawton elementary schools will be shut down at the end of the year due to impending education cuts. A Buzzfeed investigation has found that the state Attorney General’s office misled the US Supreme Court about the availability of certain execution drugs.  The Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office employee who oversaw the reserve deputy program has resigned and the reserve deputy program has been suspended. Oklahoma Watch is sponsoring a free “Oklahoma Watch-Out” forum on the topic of mental health for women on May 21 at Tulsa’s Circle Cinema. Continental Resources founder and CEO Harold Hamm said that he was not trying to intimidate state scientists in a 2013 meeting, but simply understand the proposed link between fracking and earthquakes.

Governor Fallin has signed a bill allowing schools to arm certain personnel. The Legislature is considering an override attempt after Gov. Fallin vetoed a bill that would have prevented private businesses from banning guns at parks, fairgrounds, and other recreational areas. A bill that would waive liability for anyone who breaks into a locked vehicle to rescue a child awaits the Governor’s signature. A proposal to issue $25 million in bonds to build a state pop culture museum has passed out of the Senate appropriations committee. Recent rainfall has replenished Waurika Lake, which supplies water to Lawton and Duncan and which was previously on the brink of drying up.

The Number of the Day is 30 – the number of mine-resistant vehicles owned by Oklahoma law enforcement through a program that allows the military to transfer surplus equipment to local law enforcement agencies. In today’s Policy Note, PRI shares the stories of Americans who are unable to get affordable health insurance because their state has refused to expand health coverage to low-income residents.

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The state budget deficit is not just oil prices

by | May 12th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Taxes | Comments (4)

Oklahoma lawmakers are now struggling to write a budget with $611 million less revenue available than what was appropriated last year. It’s easy to blame falling energy prices and accompanying job losses for the shortfall – until we recall that last year, when oil prices were over $100 a barrel and the state was enjoying stronger economic growth than the national average, we still faced a $188 million shortfall. In order to balance last year’s budget and provide some modest funding increases for education and a few other agencies, the Legislature used up over $400 million in one-time revenues from cash reserves and agency revolving funds, and imposed 5 percent cuts on most agencies.

The reality in recent times is, in good times as well as bad, Oklahoma can’t balance its budget. Our state tax system is no longer generating the revenue needed to pay for basic public services. There are numerous indicators of a chronic and deepening budget gap, also known as a structural budget deficit:

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In The Know: Tax amnesty proposed to help offset budget shortfall

by | May 12th, 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.

A two-month amnesty period for overdue state taxes was proposed in an Oklahoma House committee meeting as a way to help close a $611 million budget hole. New plans have been unveiled in the Legislature to finish the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City and build an OKPOP museum in Tulsa. A lawsuit by former state Rep. Mike Reynolds claims that Oklahoma’s last three state budget bills are unconstitutional because they also contain transfers.

The Oklahoman editorial board argued against a proposal that’s emerged in the Legislature to fund teacher pay raises by raiding teacher retirement funds. KOSU examined what’s behind the large teacher shortage in Oklahoma public schools. Oklahoma’s prekindergarten enrollment continues to be among the highest in the nation, according to a study released Monday. You can see the full study here and the Oklahoma fact sheet here.

OK Policy launched a complete redesign of our website that will be more accessible on mobile devices. Gov. Mary Fallin has vetoed legislation that would prohibit private entities from banning firearms in parks, recreational areas or fairgrounds. An Oklahoma man faces a possible life sentence for selling less than an ounce of marijuana. An op-ed by former Congressman J.C. Watts argues that the tide is turning toward criminal justice reform in Oklahoma. 

Sen. Kyle Loveless has filed a bill aimed at restricting civil asset forfeitures, which allow law enforcement to seize cash, vehicles and other property without any charges being filed. The OK Policy has examined this controversial practice of policing for profit in Oklahoma. The Tulsa County Sheriff’s spokesman has been placed on paid leave pending a performance evaluation.  The spokesman Maj. Shannon Clark had denied the existence of a 2009 memo detailing concerns about the training of a volunteer deputy who killed a restrained suspect, but the memo was later released. The Frontier examined how the story from the sheriff’s office has changed numerous times.

Attorneys contesting Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co.’s request to hike electricity rates said the company is asking ratepayers to take on too much of the risk for a $1 billion environmental compliance and replacement generation plan. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission said an initial effort to reduce the risks from man-made earthquake activity has led to more than half of the wastewater disposal wells being shut down or volumes reduced in the Arbuckle formation. The Tulsa County Health Department is ramping up mosquito control efforts and testing for diseases like West Nile following heavy rains in Oklahoma.

The Number of the Day is $3,671 – the 2014 state spending per child enrolled in pre-K in Oklahoma, down nearly 25 percent from 2010. In today’s Policy Note, Governing finds that for all the pushback against the Common Core educational standards, more than 40 states are still on board.

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