In The Know: Okla. debate over US history overshadows education cuts

by and | February 23rd, 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.

While Oklahoma lawmakers debate controversial funding cuts for an Advanced Placement United States history course, critics said the measure is a politicized distraction that overshadows the greater threat to education posed by insufficient school funding. Tulsa high school teacher John Waldron wrote that the threat to AP U.S. history is part of a general assault on public education. Oklahoma City Schools superintendent Robert Neu wrote that the state Legislature is the greatest threat to Oklahoma public education today.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday in the case of a Tulsa Muslim who was denied a job at Abercrombie & Fitch because she wears a head covering. Nearly a third of Oklahoma’s 308 nursing homes experienced a drop in their public rating as the federal government adopted new, more rigorous standards. KGOU examined how large, off-the-top transfers to transportation has contributed to the funding crunch for other state needs.

In the latest OK PolicyCast, we share a panel discussion on what’s really going on in Oklahoma’s economy. The Tulsa World wrote that a bill that would undermine the Oklahoma Open Records Act sailed through a legislative committee Thursday without any discussion of its most pernicious provision. A new peer-reviewed paper published in the journal Science urges greater collaboration and transparency between industry, government agencies and researchers in responding to the consequences of earthquakes triggered by oil and gas activity.

The Tulsa World reported that a dramatic drop in the number of meth labs in Oklahoma has lead to Mexican cartels filling the void. The Number of the Day is Oklahoma’s place in Gallup’s 2014 State Well-Being Ranking. In today’s Policy Note, Bloomberg Business reported on how more religious groups in the South are joining the fight against predatory payday lending.

continue reading In The Know: Okla. debate over US history overshadows education cuts

The Weekly Wonk February 22, 2015

by | February 22nd, 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, Executive Director David Blatt reviewed contentious policy issues that seem unlikely to appear on the legislative agenda this session. Sean Wallace, Executive Director of Oklahoma Corrections Professionals, called for the legislature to pass common-sense sentencing reform. Rachel V. Cobb of Suffolk University explained the benefits of online voter registration. A post on the Together Oklahoma blog shared seven ways to get your legislators’ attention.

On the OK PolicyCast, a panel from our 2015 State Budget Summit share insights on what’s really going on with the state economy. You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunesStitcher, or RSS.

In his Journal Record column, Blatt discussed how restrictions on employment for ex-felons can make working a crime. Policy Director Gene Perry called for a range of policy shifts to allow ex-felons to readjust to rebuild their lives outside prison. Perry previously described three barriers to life after prison on the OK Policy Blog.

KGOU and Public Radio Tulsa shared excerpts of OK Policy’s statement responding to the news that the state budget hole had reached $600 million. The full statement can be found here.

continue reading The Weekly Wonk February 22, 2015

OK PolicyCast Episode 21: An Economic Check-Up for Oklahoma

by | February 20th, 2015 | Posted in Podcast | Comments (0)

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunesStitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

economic_check-up_panelistsThis week we share a panel discussion from OK Policy’s 2015 State Budget Summit. In recent years Oklahoma has seen among the lowest unemployment and highest personal income growth in the nation. At the same time, there’s evidence that is rising tide is not lifting all boats. Oklahomans continue to struggle with relatively high levels of poverty, low educational attainment, and falling behind on many measures of quality of life.

In this informative and wide-ranging discussion, panelists Shelley Cadamy (Workforce Tulsa), Dr. Mickey Hepner (University of Central Oklahoma), Chuck Hoskin Jr. (Cherokee Nation), Rep. Dennis Casey (Oklahoma House of Representatives), and Dr. Dan Rickman (Oklahoma State University) share their insights about what’s really going on in Oklahoma’s economy.

You can download the episode here or play it in your browser:

In The Know: Proposed changes to Open Records Act pass committee

by | February 20th, 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 bill that would allow a public body to deny Open Records Requests if its officials believe the request would cause “excessive disruption of (its) essential function” has passed out of committee in the House. Senate panels passed measures that would ban texting while driving and smoking in vehicles if a minor is present. Writing in the OK Policy Blog, the Executive Director of Oklahoma Corrections Professionals urged lawmakers to pass common sense sentencing reforms.

The Tulsa World examined the impact of Wal-Mart’s wage increase in Oklahoma. The Cherokee Nation as adopted a new maternity leave policy that will provide female employees with eight weeks of fully paid leave. Oklahoma has received more than $10 million in federal grands for a program that provides home visitations to pregnant women and parents with young children.

This year’s flu season statewide death count has reached 84, a new record. StateImpact explained that increased municipal interest on drilling regulations has state lawmakers considering limits on “local control.”  The Number of the Day is the number of health plans selected in Oklahoma on Healthcare.gov from Nov. 15, 2014, through Feb. 15, 2015. In today’s Policy Note, the New York Times shares how unusually bipartisan coalitions have formed to advocate for criminal justice reform.

continue reading In The Know: Proposed changes to Open Records Act pass committee

Pass common sense sentencing reforms now (Guest post: Sean Wallace)

by | February 19th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Criminal Justice | Comments (5)
Sean Wallace

Sean Wallace

Sean Wallace is the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Corrections Professionals, an association representing employees of the Department of Corrections.

During her 2015 inaugural address, Governor Mary Fallin told the crowd assembled on the Capitol steps that one of the three areas Oklahoma “must improve or risk stifling our forward momentum” was “over-incarceration.” She went on to say that “year after year another issue that holds back our state, breaks apart our families and leads to poverty is crime and incarceration.”  

The Governor deserves credit for saying that Oklahoma locks up too many of its citizens because too few elected officials are willing to say that.  To do so is to risk being called “liberal” or “soft on crime.”

continue reading Pass common sense sentencing reforms now (Guest post: Sean Wallace)

In The Know: 125,000 Oklahomans have signed up for health insurance under Affordable Care Act

by and | February 19th, 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.

Federal health officials say nearly 125,000 Oklahomans have signed up for health insurance coverage through the federal marketplace created under the Affordable Care Act. Oklahoma’s judicial system is among those facing budget a budget cut this year, raising questions about whether it would be able to collect as much in court fines and fees that help fund other state agencies. Three weeks after the Tulsa County parks director recommended closing three county swimming pools, county officials on Tuesday took $500,000 from the Parks Department reserve fund to keep the Tulsa Jail operating through June.

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said Wednesday that she is “partnering” with a Yukon lawmaker to revise a highly controversial bill that sought to ban the teaching of AP US History. On the OK Policy Blog, we looked at the hot-button issues that so far haven’t gotten much attention this legislative session. David Blatt’s Journal Record column discussed how for many ex-felons in Oklahoma, it can be illegal to get a job.

The Tulsa World editorial board argued in support of a bill to increase cigarette taxes as a way to partially close the state’s $611.3 million budget hole. A House committee approved three state question proposals to have the governor and lieutenant governor run on the same ticket, create a constitutional amendment to expand gun rights, and call a state constitutional convention. A bill to establish guidelines for court-ordered mental health treatment advanced out of committee after lawmakers moved its effective date to 2016, because they don’t have money to fund it this year.

As cities are considering tougher rules on fracking, state lawmakers have filed at least eight bills to take local control away from municipalities for regulating oil and gas drilling. A bill that would bar workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity will not get a hearing in the House. The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahomans age 18-64 who receive Social Security disability assistance. In today’s Policy Note, Bloomberg discusses a survey showing low-income Americans are far more worried about saving enough for retirement than other Americans.

continue reading In The Know: 125,000 Oklahomans have signed up for health insurance under Affordable Care Act

Sleeping dogs of the 2015 session

by | February 18th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare, Immigration, Poverty | Comments (0)
Photo by Chris Waits

Photo by Chris Waits

The 2015 session is now underway and it’s clear that this year, as always, will feature heated debates on a multitude of contentious issues, from proposals to expand school choice through vouchers and charter schools to efforts to rein in tax credits to hot-button social issues, such as guns, abortion, and same-sex marriage.

Less noted, but perhaps equally significant, is the low profile of several issues that have been highly contentious in recent years and that many expected to see back on the agenda in 2015. Here’s a review of four issues on which few, if any, bills have been filed and it now appears that minimal legislative action is likely this session.

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In The Know: Oklahoma budget hole reaches $611 million

by and | February 18th, 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.

State agencies in Oklahoma are being told to brace for budget cuts after a state board led by Gov. Mary Fallin certified that the Legislature will have $611 million less to spend this year. OK Policy released a statement that the budget shortfall cannot be blamed only on the slowdown in the energy industry, as legislators have repeatedly voted to cut taxes and expand tax breaks. State officials said all options are on the table to address the budget hole, but ruled out canceling a cut to the top income rate that adds $50 million to the shortfall this year.

Two bills that would require stricter oversight of various state tax credits and incentives have cleared a Senate committee. Members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education approved measures that would boost teacher salaries and pump more money into Oklahoma classrooms, while acknowledging they do not know how to pay for them. Together Oklahoma discussed seven ways to get your legislators’ attention about an issue.

An Oklahoma Watch investigation showed how two private companies that provide banking services in prisons are extracting onerous fees from inmates’ family members. Tulsa has seen a rash of self-defense shootings this year by civilians or security guards. A House committee moved forward two bills that would discontinue state marriage licenses and forbid state and local government employees, including judges, from complying with federal rulings on same-sex marriage. Another Oklahoma bill would require couples to prove they don’t have a communicable disease before getting a marriage license.

Oklahoma’s attorney general is praising a ruling by a federal judge in South Texas who has temporarily blocked President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration. The number of heroin deaths increased tenfold during a recent five-year period, according to a recently updated state Health Department report, but the increase could be due to both more heroin usage and better reporting. Chesapeake Energy Corp filed suit Tuesday alleging its founder and former chief executive, Aubrey K. McClendon, stole confidential company data during his last months on the job in order to launch his new oil and gas empire.

Oklahoma City is looking at building a 29-mile pipeline to move more water from reservoirs in the south to the drought-stricken north side of the city. Efforts to save monarch butterflies in Oklahoma and nationwide are underway after years of declining population. The Number of the Day is the estimated lifetime earnings of an Oklahoma City Public Schools teacher, lowest out of all 125 large districts studied in a national report. In today’s Policy Note, Vox debunks the myth that there are more black men in prison than in college.

continue reading In The Know: Oklahoma budget hole reaches $611 million

by | February 17th, 2015 | Posted in Blog | Comments (0)

By Associated Press and KGOU Staff

State agencies in Oklahoma are being told to brace for budget cuts after a state board led by Gov. Mary Fallin certified that the Legislature will have $611 million less to spend this year.

The State Board of Equalization met Tuesday in Oklahoma City and formally certified the amount of revenue that is available for the Legislature to appropriate to state agencies for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

“The gap more than doubled,” Secretary of Finance, Administration and Information Technology Preston Doerflinger said in a statement. “We were prepared to climb the hill we faced before and we’re prepared to climb the mountain we face now. It will be difficult, but all options are on the table and the state will meet the challenge.”

The Oklahoma Legislature appropriated about $7.2 billion for the budget for the current fiscal year. But the amount available for them to spend on next year’s budget is about $6.6 billion.

Fallin already had suggested legislators tap state agency revolving funds and the state’s Rainy Day Fund to help ease the budget cuts for state agencies.

Doerflinger blamed the shortfall in part on a 55 percent drop in oil prices since June, citing Oklahoma Tax Commission figures indicating the state may lose 3,800 energy sector jobs this year. 

“We have monitored the oil situation closely for months through regular contact with energy firms, analysts, financial firms and others. The energy sector is certainly facing short term pain, but experts we talk with doubt it is facing a long term bust. Once market prices return to profitable levels, state revenues should start rebounding, as well,” Doerflinger said.

Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb said shortly after the numbers were certified that even though Oklahoma will always rely on the oil and gas industry, economic diversification should be top of mind. 

“We need to re-examine the certification process,” Lamb said. “When the December projections were given, we all intuitively knew they would not hold.  We must find a way to improve this process so numbers like today are not so far away from initial projections.”  

Oklahoma Policy Institute Executive Director David Blatt says the state could close the budget gap by canceling a scheduled cut to the top income tax rate, tapping a portion of the Rainy Day Fund, or accepting federal funds for expanded health coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act.

http://kgou.org/post/oklahoma-equalization-board-certifies-611-million-shortfall

 

STATEMENT: Bleak revenue estimate shows need to look at all options

by | February 17th, 2015 | Posted in Budget, Press Releases | Comments (2)

Oklahoma Policy Institute released the following statement in response to state officials certifying that Oklahoma faces a $611.3 million budget shortfall in the coming year:

This news that Oklahoma’s revenue picture has gone from bad to worse cannot be blamed only on the slowdown in the energy industry. Choices by the Legislature and Governor have helped dig this budget hole. State leaders need to make better choices to avoid calamitous cuts to our children’s schools, our health care safety net, and public safety.

Oklahoma has several responsible options to close the budget gap. These include canceling a scheduled cut to the top income tax rate, ending pointless tax breaks like the double deduction for state income taxes, closing a loophole in the corporate income tax by adopting combined reporting, slowing down off-the-top funding diversions like uncapped Quality Jobs subsidies and ROADs fund hikes, and tapping a portion of the Rainy Day Fund. Accepting federal funds for expanded health care coverage will also bolster the state budget while helping over 150,000 Oklahomans and our state’s health care providers.

If our state lawmakers don’t look at all options to balance the budget, they will be responsible for the crisis that results.

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