In The Know: Fallin emails undercut lawsuit against Obamacare

by and | March 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.

A Huffington Post examination of more than 50,000 previously released emails from the Governor’s Fallin’s office, as well as record requests from multiple states and the Department of Health and Human Services, found that state officials did not once consider that if they chose not to run their own health care exchanges, their citizens would not be eligible for the tax credit subsidies. Nearly 100,000 Oklahomans could lose access to affordable health care if a Supreme Court case claiming the subsidies are only available on state exchanges succeeds. In a Tulsa World op-ed, OK Policy analyst Carly Putnam wrote that if Governor Fallin is serious about her goal of improving Oklahoma’s health, she needs to stop opposing affordable health insurance. On the OK Policy Blog, Carly discussed how Kansas is considering accepting federal funds to expand health coverage as a way to reduce the state’s budget shortfall.

The Tulsa World reported that after years of doing just about all it could to restrict voting, the Oklahoma Legislature is now trying to encourage it. Several of the proposals moving through the Legislature to encourage voter participation were recommended by OK Policy’s report on repairing Oklahoma’s broken democracy. A bill to move Oklahoma’s 2016 presidential primary back a month was laid over after running into stiff opposition in a House committee. A Senate panel on Thursday is now expected to take up a measure banning texting while driving.

The Senate Appropriations Committee questioned Oklahoma’s $2.9 million support for Amtrak service between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth. The Oklahoman editorial board defended the scheduled $59.7 million increase in roads funding next year that will bring Oklahoma’s annual off-the-top funding for roads to $472 million. NewsOK reported that numerous proposals from Democratic lawmakers died without getting a hearing in Republican-controlled committees, including a bill that could have produced $150 million in federal funds for Native American health care at no cost to the state.

Together Oklahoma is asking Oklahomans to contact lawmakers and ask them to halt an income tax cut scheduled for next years that is adding tens of millions to the state’s already large budget shortfall. A Together Oklahoma general meeting will be held next Thursday in Oklahoma. In the Journal Record, David Blatt encouraged Oklahomans to join the March 30 rally at the capitol in support of public education and good teachers. Tulsa World columnist Ginnie Graham wrote that if you don’t rally for education, then at least write a letter or make a call.

A review website ranked the Tulsa Union high school cafeteria fourth best out of nearly 4,000 districts across the country. The Delaware Tribe of Indians’ Tribal Council passed legislation to increase the minimum wage for the tribe’s employees to $1.25 more than the federal minimum. As earthquakes continue to surge in Oklahoma and seismologists warn of more frequent and more damaging shaking, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission is issuing new orders to companies operating wells in seismically active regions of the state. A former University of Oklahoma student captured on video leading a racist chant apologized Wednesday at a joint event with African-American community leaders.

The Number of the Day is the value of ornamental fish sold in Oklahoma in 2012. In today’s Policy Note, Mother Jones discusses how Utah has decreased the number of homeless by 72 percent—largely by finding and building apartments where they can live, permanently, with no strings attached.

continue reading In The Know: Fallin emails undercut lawsuit against Obamacare

Kansas is considering expanding health coverage. Oklahoma should, too.

by | March 25th, 2015 | Posted in Healthcare | Comments (0)
Photo by  Theophilos Papadopoulos used under a Creative Commons license.

Photo by Theophilos Papadopoulos used under a Creative Commons license.

It’s no secret that Kansas’s budget is in crisis. Following years of tax cuts and fiscal mismanagement, the state finds itself in a $600 million budget shortfall. The state is scrambling to fill the gap, including across-the-board budget reductions and further cuts to public schools that the Kansas Supreme Court has already ruled are constitutionally underfunded.

If you think this sounds familiar, you’re right. Oklahoma is in a similar situation – a $611 million budget hole, agencies facing devastating budget cuts, and a public education system badly in need of an infusion of funds.

However, unlike Oklahoma, Governor Brownback and the Kansas legislature are showing signs of being willing to consider the full range of options available to them. This includes boosting the state budget by working with the federal government to expand health coverage to the state’s low-income uninsured.

continue reading Kansas is considering expanding health coverage. Oklahoma should, too.

In The Know: Questions surround state subsidies aimed at saving jobs

by and | March 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.

An Oklahoma Watch investigated a state program that makes payments to private companies supposedly to save jobs, but a lack of transparency makes it virtually impossible for the public to verify claims that the jobs were really in danger of leaving Oklahoma. One company receiving these Quality Jobs payments is a long-time Enid employer. The extension of the Quality Jobs program to subsidizing existing companies began at the request of lobbyists for Tronox Inc., a spinoff of the Kerr-McGee Corp. that was created to take billions of dollars in legal liability for toxic waste sites off Kerr-McGee’s books before declaring bankruptcy. An OK Policy report previously examined the growing cost and lack of oversight of the Quality Jobs program.

Tulsa Public Schools has joined dozens of other school districts across the state in canceling classes on March 30 to allow teachers and other staff to attend an education rally at the state Capitol. On the OK Policy Blog, we found an Oklahoma senator’s press release about school consolidation and teacher salaries does not pass a fact check. A new study on payday lending in Oklahoma has uncovered evidence that high-interest lenders target economically distressed communities by opening storefronts in poorer areas and near military installations. Oklahoma Assets Network is hosting a town hall forum with the author of the study on April 15.

An OCU law professor wrote that a bill to put a two-year deadline for inmates to file petitions for post-conviction relief in Oklahoma would be great news for criminals who escape apprehension because an innocent person mistakenly has been arrested and convicted. Oklahoma would become the nation’s first state to allow the use of nitrogen gas to execute death-row inmates under legislation that has been approved by the House and is moving through the Senate. The Tulsa World reported that Oklahoma’s hospital network is in a precarious financial position due to various federal and state budget cuts to Medicare and Medicaid and the state’s refusal to accept expanded federal funding for Medicaid.

The author of a bill that changes a state program to ensure life insurance beneficiaries get payments complained the measure may die in committee because Senate Appropriations Chair Clark Jolley is predisposed against it. The Tulsa World wrote that we should be suspicious of ideas from the insurance industry to “improve” the program. Over the past decade, the Oklahoma Lottery Commission has collected about $500,000 in back taxes and unpaid child support from lottery winners. A request to put a monument to Lord Hanuman, a Hindu deity, on the Oklahoma Capitol grounds is still on hold.

The Number of the Day is the share of the vote cast by young people (between 18-29) in Oklahoma in 2012. In today’s Policy Note, the New York Times examined how a growing number of states are pre-empting the power of local governments, often at the request of industry lobbyists.

continue reading In The Know: Questions surround state subsidies aimed at saving jobs

Fact Check: Would school consolidation boost Oklahoma teacher salaries?

by | March 24th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (7)

truth-o-meterIn a recent press release, Sen. Kyle Loveless (R-Oklahoma City) made some claims about how much Oklahoma might be able to improve teacher salaries through school consolidation. He said, “The state of Oregon has the exact same population as Oklahoma but more students and yet has only 200 school districts. I don’t find it a coincidence that their average teacher pay is $12,000 more than Oklahoma’s.”

Sen. Loveless is right that it’s not a coincidence, but he’s missed the mark on the reason why.

continue reading Fact Check: Would school consolidation boost Oklahoma teacher salaries?

In The Know: Oklahoma veterans agency chief investigator fired, accused of being fake police officer

by and | March 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. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

The chief investigator at the Oklahoma Veterans Affairs Department has been fired and is facing prosecution after authorities concluded he is a fraud. The only state facility for incarcerated juvenile girls could close this summer if additional funding isn’t obtained by the Office of Juvenile Affairs. Tulsa city and county officials seem to be inching closer to a jail agreement, but officials are still negotiating over which inmates should be the first to be released when the jail reaches capacity. The Tulsa World praised the package of criminal justice reform measures moving though the Legislature.

On the OK Policy Blog, we discussed how despite talk of the need for greater scrutiny of tax incentives, lawmakers are pushing another unproven tax break with no idea what it will cost. While still negotiating the language, the Oklahoma House of Representatives Common Education Committee kept alive education reform measures that would replace state-mandated end of instruction tests and extend a moratorium on automatic retention of third graders. Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard announced Monday that he will be seeking school board approval to cancel classes on March 30 to allow teachers and other staff to attend an education rally at the state Capitol. 

A Senate committee approved legislation to prohibit the use of all tobacco products in public schools and make them tobacco free. Inside Higher Ed examined issues surrounding the University of Oklahoma’s treatment of American Indian students. The Cherokee Nation is distributing checks totaling $4 million from tribal car tag sales to 106 school districts. A bill that would require doctors to check a patient database before writing prescriptions for highly addictive drugs is one step away from the governor’s signature after passing a Senate committee.

The Journal Record editorial board argued that accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid would be good for business in Oklahoma. An OK Policy report previously examined the Medicaid expansion’s track record in other states. A man is preparing to take the matter to court after the Oklahoma Tax Commission denied a personalized license plate supporting gay rights with the message “LGBTALY,” claiming it is sexual in nature. Legislation that authorizes public schools to implement programs intended to help prevent child sexual abuse has been approved by an Oklahoma Senate committee, though lawmakers added protections for parents who opt their children out of this training program. Six years after the Legislature approved a Ten Commandments monument on the state Capitol, the state is still fighting legal action.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahoma City metro residents who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. In today’s Policy Note, NPR reports on why Americans with low incomes pay a price in poor health.

continue reading In The Know: Oklahoma veterans agency chief investigator fired, accused of being fake police officer

Lawmakers pushing another unproven tax break with no idea what it will cost

by | March 23rd, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (2)
Photo by Ken Teegardin.

Photo by Ken Teegardin.

There’s lots of talk at the Capitol this year about the need for greater scrutiny and control of tax incentives. As we’ve discussed, bills authored by the House Speaker and Senate Pro Tem would evaluate all incentives on a regular basis and collect data on their fiscal and economic impact. Yet at least one measure that would create a new tax incentive of unknown cost and effectiveness is rushing through the Legislature.

HB 1747, authored by Rep. Tom Newell, has been labelled the Rural Opportunity Zone bill. As a way to lure new residents to struggling rural areas, it creates a five-year exemption from all state income tax for anyone moving from out-of-state to a county that is projected to lose population between 2016 and 2075. The bill references a 2012 report by the Oklahoma Department of Commerce that identifies 25 counties, mostly in the Western half of the state, that are expected to see their population decline in the coming decades (see map).

continue reading Lawmakers pushing another unproven tax break with no idea what it will cost

In The Know: Superintendent Hofmeister to join March 30 education rally

by and | March 23rd, 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 year after Oklahoma educators traveled to the state Capitol seeking more classroom funding and better salaries, teachers and their supporters plan to renew those demands with another massive Capitol rally, this time joined by State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister. Oklahoma gained one spot to claim the fourth lowest average teacher salary in the nation, not because teachers are earning significantly more, but because the average salary in Idaho went down. The okeducationtruths blog wrote that the Oklahoma Legislature’s attacks on education keep coming. Come next fall, school districts across the state will have the opportunity to bring in professional chefs to work with their child nutrition staffs on preparing meals that will appeal to students while adhering to new federal regulations.

In a Tulsa World op-ed, David Blatt shared seven things Oklahoma can do to balance the state budget without doing more damage to our health, safety, or economic well-being. Craig General Hospital in Vinita has become the seventh rural Oklahoma hospital to declare bankruptcy in the past five years. OK Policy previously discussed how Oklahoma’s refusal to accept federal funds for health coverage is devastating rural hospitals. The Oklahoman editorial board wrote that a move toward smarter corrections-related policies is underway in Oklahoma. On any given day, more than 100 people diagnosed with a mental illness sit in Oklahoma’s county jails awaiting treatment.

On April 9, the University of Tulsa will host economist Dean Baker for a lecture titled “Inequality in American Society – Should We Blame the Market?” A former chief administrator of the state Workers Compensation Court says the new system adopted last year is among the worst in the country for injured workers. An NPR investigation showed how injured workers suffer as “reforms” limit Workers’ Compensation benefits. Former Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys is under fire for comments he made on a local television broadcast saying the Putnam City schools once had a better gene pool.

The rate of American Indians diagnosed with HIV or AIDS nearly doubled in one year, state Health Department data shows. The OK Policy Blog previously shared a Q&A on HIV and AIDS in Oklahoma. The Principal Chief of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation responded to the tribal council’s vote of no confidence in a two-page letter Friday. A sense of despair has settled over efforts to get enough funding from the Legislature to open the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum. New data released Tuesday by the Oklahoma Employment Securities Commission shows that state has lost about 500 energy industry jobs between December 2014 and January 2015.

The Number of the Day is the decrease in eligible voter turnout in Oklahoma from 2010 to 2014. In today’s Policy Note, Vox shared 4 charts that show how race makes a difference in the lives of working families.

continue reading In The Know: Superintendent Hofmeister to join March 30 education rally

The Weekly Wonk March 22, 2015

by | March 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, we proposed options for a balanced approach to solve Oklahoma’s budget gap. An upcoming event at TU on April 9th features Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, delivering “Inequality in American Society – Should We Blame the Market?” On the OK Policy Blog, we noted that with HB 1749, the Oklahoma legislature seems to be more focused on punishing teachers than helping them.

All Oklahoma college students are encouraged to apply to our 2015 Summer Policy Institute (SPI), an exciting three and a half-day public policy intensive. SPI offers participants the opportunity to become better informed about vital Oklahoma policy issues, network with fellow students and leaders, and prepare for their future studies and work in policy-related fields.

Time is running out to take our survey! Do you want more infographics? More policy briefs? Are we too liberal, or too conservative? Now’s the time to let us know! We’ll shut down the survey and start crunching numbers after Monday.

In his Journal Record column this week, Executive Director David Blatt argued that a scheduled income tax cut should be stopped, on the grounds that the cut was never intended to be implemented under such dire fiscal conditions. Blatt was quoted by NewsOK in an article discussing how negative media attention hurts the state’s business prospects.

Weekly What’s That:

Coverage crater

This term refers to people in states that have chosen not to expand Medicaid who earn too much for traditional Medicaid but not enough to qualify for subsidies on the online health insurance marketplaces. Then the ACA was originally drafted, it was with the intention that all states would expand Medicaid eligibility to 138 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) – $27,310 for per year for a family of three in 2014. Read more here.

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

continue reading The Weekly Wonk March 22, 2015

Upcoming Event: “Inequality – Should We Blame the Market?” with Dean Baker

by | March 20th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Upcoming Events | Comments (0)

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 2.19.27 PMThe University of Tulsa will host economist Dean Baker for the Lectureship in Politics and Law on Thursday, April 9th, at 7:00 p.m. Dean Baker is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. The lecture, which is free and open to the public, will be delivered in the Chapman Hall Lecture Hall at 2830 E. 5th Street. The topic of Dean Baker’s talk is “Inequality in American Society – Should We Blame the Market?”

continue reading Upcoming Event: “Inequality – Should We Blame the Market?” with Dean Baker

In The Know: State budget shortfall could harm education, health care

by | March 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.

Faced with spending reductions due to the state’s $611 million shortfall, agency heads warn that the shortfall could prompt teacher layoffs and less access to medical care. We’ve previously presented options for a balanced approach to solve the budget gap. The US Geological Survey is crafting new earthquake hazard maps for Oklahoma due to the state’s recent increased seismicity, and expects to release them later this year.

On the OK Policy Blog, we noted that HB 1749, which would ban payroll deductions for membership dues for school employees’ unions, essentially punishes Oklahoma teachers for speaking out. Writing in the Journal Record, Arnold Hamilton argued that the bill is a warning to all public employees. The Oklahoman’s Editorial Board said that new Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Rob Neu must act quickly to reform his district’s discipline system, which saw the highest suspension rates of Black and Hispanic students in the US in 2011-12.

The number of active hate groups in Oklahoma has declined sharply, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, but experts warn that the groups may simply have moved online, which makes them harder to track. Farmers across the state report that the wild hog population is growing, and is increasingly destructive to crops and farm land.  The Oklahoma Corporation Commission is hearing from Oklahoma Gas & Electric over plans to hike rates as OG&E moves away from coal-fired power plants to comply with federal pollution regulations, but some are concerned that OG&E’s plan is more expensive than necessary. 

New influenza deaths have pushed the state’s death toll for this flu season to 101, well past last year’s record of 72. As bills banning municipalities and counties from banning fracking (HB 2178, SB 809)  move through the state legislature, some officials are expressing concerns that the bills could have unintended consequences. The Number of the Day is the average premium cost change for the lowest-cost silver-level plan available in Oklahoma’s health insurance marketplace from 2014 to 2015 (from $206 to $201, before subsidies). In today’s Policy Note, Governing writes that decades of stagnant wages for workers is costing states and localities tax revenue.

continue reading In The Know: State budget shortfall could harm education, health care

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