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Statement: Lawmakers should heed Governor Fallin’s call to fix structural deficit

by | February 6th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Press Releases & Statements | Comments (2)

Oklahoma Policy Institute released the following comment in response to Governor Fallin’s State of the State address:

We applaud Governor Fallin’s call to fix Oklahoma’s structural budget deficits and reverse years of funding cuts that are damaging the health and prosperity of our entire state. The Legislature must heed the governor’s calls to reduce incarceration, fund a teacher pay raise, and restore the 5-day school week. Oklahoma knows how to address these problems, and we have no excuse not to do something this year.

Governor Fallin’s tax reform proposals, whch include ending the corporate income tax and the sales tax on groceries while expanding the sales tax base in other ways, has potential to reduce revenue volatility and end one of the most regressive aspects of our tax system. However, these reforms must be carefully assessed for how they would affect families, the economy, and state revenues. Oklahoma’s budget hole grew from years of tax cuts and tax breaks passed without consideration for what they would cost. Going forward, tax reforms need to stick to a more realistic assessment of what our state needs to do its job.

A grand bargain on tax reform should also include other policies to end loopholes, improve funding for the services Oklahomans need most, and make our tax system work for regular families – policies like rolling back cuts to Oklahoma’s Earned Income Tax Credit, restoring a higher income tax rate for very high incomes, and ending the capital gains tax break. Together these reforms would stabilize revenues and provide a strong foundation for all Oklahoma families to build a prosperous future.

Start here to be ready for Oklahoma’s 2017 legislative session

by | February 6th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, OK Policy | Comments (1)

Today is the first day of the 2017 legislative session. Governor Mary Fallin will kick things off with her State of the State address in the House chambers beginning at noon. You can follow her speech online here. Governor Fallin will also introduce her FY 2018 budget, which will include her proposals for filling the state’s $740 million budget hole.

Look for OK Policy’s response to the Governor’s budget later today, and later this week, we’ll share our 2017 legislative priorities and revenue options for balancing the budget. Here are even more resources that we think will be helpful for anyone who wants to be well-informed and effectively engaged over the four months of the legislative session:

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In The Know: Schools can access millions to expand free school meals

by | February 6th, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. 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

Schools can access millions to expand free school meals: At all elementary and middle schools and some high schools in the Houston Independent School District — 220 in all — every student begins the day with a free breakfast right in the classroom. The result: fewer absences and discipline problems and an increase in math scores, according to the district’s former superintendent Terry Grier. Houston, the nation’s seventh largest school district, where three out of four students live in poverty, also offers free lunch to all students at 186 schools, without requiring applications to qualify. The potential stigma of receiving a free meal is eliminated, and so is much of the paperwork burden on school staff, according to advocacy groups fighting poverty-related hunger [Oklahoma Watch]. Community Eligibility can help make Oklahoma schools hunger-free [OK Policy].

Repealing Obamacare could be ‘devastating’ for Oklahoma hospitals: As Republicans in Congress plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, people all over the country are concerned about what happens next. In the state of Oklahoma, about 140,000 residents are covered under Obamacare. That includes Rozena Curran who we met during her appointment at Morton Comprehensive Health Services. Curran says she gets peace of mind from Obamacare, so she’s happy to pay a reasonable monthly premium. Rozena is better off than 50 percent of the patients who visit Morton, because half don’t have any insurance. So the repeal of Obamacare could add more people to that list and increase Morton’s costs [KTUL].

Fallin urges lawmakers to work with her to find new revenue: If the Oklahoma Legislature wants to keep funding critical services like education, public safety and infrastructure, Gov. Mary Fallin says lawmakers should work with her to come up with permanent ways to fund those priorities. As the Republican governor prepares to deliver her seventh state of the state speech on Monday, she intends to lay out a plan for a “major overhaul of our tax system” designed to close the budget gap and eliminate the continual need for lawmakers to use one-time sources of money to plug deficits [Associated Press].

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The Weekly Wonk: New fees and fines report, partial progress, and more

by | February 5th, 2017 | Posted in Weekly Wonk | Comments (0)

the_weekly_wonk_logoWhat’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk shares our most recent publications and other resources to help you stay informed about Oklahoma. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The Know. Click here to subscribe to In The Know.

This Week from OK Policy

This week, we released a report by Policy Analyst Ryan Gentzler detailing how fees and fines trap Oklahomans in the criminal justice system without increasing state revenues. In his Capitol Update, Steve Lewis noted that Senate Republicans’ Legislative agenda yields little detail on how to accomplish their aims. Executive Director David Blatt’s Journal Record column argued that if state leaders don’t consider the role income tax cuts have played in our budget crisis, they’ll only make partial progress in solving the problem.

OK Policy in the News

KOCO and KFOR reported on the press conference announcing our new fees and fines report. The Norman Transcript covered a Together Oklahoma Legislative 101 forum led by Outreach and Legislative Liaison Bailey Perkins. Learn more about getting involved with Together Oklahoma here. Writing in Mother Jones, author Rick Perlstein cited OK Policy data in an article about why a student chose to vote for President Trump. 

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Senate Republicans release agenda, but no easy answers for how to accomplish it (Capitol Update)

by | February 3rd, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Updates | Comments (0)

Senate President Pro Tem Mike Schulz and members of the Senate Republican Caucus announcing their 2017 legislative agenda

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.

State Senate Republicans, who hold 42 of the 48 seats in the Senate, held a press conference this week and outlined their agenda for the 2017 legislative session in a press release. President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz, R-Altus said “Senate Republicans are united in our desire to implement ideas and policies that will help our state’s economy grow and put us on a long-term path to prosperity. Helping our economy grow means more good paying jobs for Oklahoma families and more resources to fund core government services without raising taxes.”

To support education the Senate Republican plan includes respecting and supporting teachers by removing obstacles to a teachers’ ability to help students learn and achieve; reducing administrative costs to increase teacher salaries; allowing parents, taxpayers and local school boards to more closely direct and increase the quality of classroom education; and ensuring accountability measures to provide parents and taxpayers a useful and accurate reflection of school performance and student achievement.

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In The Know: Gov. Mary Fallin to propose major overhaul of the state’s tax system

by | February 3rd, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (1)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. 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

Gov. Mary Fallin to propose major overhaul of the state’s tax system: Gov. Mary Fallin on Thursday said she will propose a major overhaul of the state’s tax system. Fallin spoke to reporters during a legislative forum at the Capitol. She will deliver her state of the state address to lawmakers Monday and release her proposed budget. With the downturn in the energy industry, the past few years have been challenging, she said [Tulsa World].

Governor’s task force calls for decreasing sentences for drug crimes: Faced with a rapidly growing prison population in a state with the second-highest incarceration rate in the nation, a task force created by Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin issued a report Thursday calling for dramatic decreases in sentences for nonviolent drug dealers and manufacturers. Without reform, Oklahoma is on pace to add 7,218 inmates over the next 10 years, requiring three new prisons and costing the state an additional $1.9 billion in capital expenditures and operating costs, the report said [NewsOK]. The recommendations can be found here

Drug possession close to schools would become felony again under Biggs’ bill: Scott Biggs has an expanded leadership role in the legislature this year, but that hasn’t stopped District 51 Republican from crafting bills he believes are near to his constituents’ hearts. One such bill is HB 1482, called the, “Keep Oklahoma Children Safe from Illegal Drugs Act of 2017.” Biggs filed over 40 bills during the 2017 legislative session, and a couple joint resolutions making him one of the more active representatives in the Republican Party [The Express-Star].

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In The Know: Amazon Expected to Collect Sales Taxes Soon in Oklahoma

by | February 2nd, 2017 | Posted in Blog | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. 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

Amazon Expected to Collect Sales Taxes Soon in Oklahoma: Online retail giant Amazon could soon start charging sales taxes to Oklahoma customers – a move that would help fill a sizable state budget shortfall for next fiscal year, Oklahoma Watch has learned. An Oklahoma Tax Commission official said the agency is in discussions with online retailers to voluntarily collect sales and use taxes, and two state legislators said they expect agreements could be struck in coming weeks or months with Amazon, the country’s largest e-commerce site [Oklahoma Watch]. The National Conference of State Legislatures estimated that Oklahoma lost $140 million in unpaid use tax revenues from e-commerce in 2012 [OK Policy].

Oklahoma House Speaker says new oversight panel to review expenditures: Oklahoma’s new Republican House Speaker Charles McCall is setting up a special committee to review and approve House expenditures in excess of $15,000. McCall announced the creation of the new committee on Wednesday based on a recommendation from a special panel that is investigating a $44,500 wrongful-termination settlement with a former employee who alleged she was sexually harassed [NewsOK].

OPI looks to reduce burden for people who can’t pay court fines: The Oklahoma Policy Institute is calling on the state Legislature to make big changes to save citizens money and keep people who miss court fees out of jail. “Too often this leads to a cycle of incarceration and poverty,” said Ryan Gentzler, with the Oklahoma Policy Institute. The call aims to reduce financial burdens for people who are thrown in jail because they can’t pay court fines [KOCO].

The Cost Trap: How Excessive Fees Lock Oklahomans Into the Criminal Justice System without Boosting State Revenue: Tens of thousands of Oklahomans enter the justice system each year and come out with thousands of dollars in legal financial obligations. For poor Oklahomans, this debt can amount to most of their family’s income, and it often leads to a cycle of incarceration and poverty. The system does nothing to improve public safety but incurs high costs to law enforcement, jails, and the courts [OK Policy]. Video from the report’s press conference is available here

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New OK Policy report shows how criminal fines and fees trap Oklahomans in justice system without increasing state revenues

by | February 1st, 2017 | Posted in Criminal Justice | Comments (1)

Tens of thousands of Oklahomans enter the justice system each year, and many come out owing thousands of dollars in fines and fees. For poor Oklahomans, this debt can swallow up most of their family’s income and trap them in a cycle of incarceration and poverty. Dozens of state agencies receive funding from these fees, which have been used to plug holes in their budgets as tax revenue dries up. However, because most criminal defendants are already in poverty, only a small fraction of criminal fines and fees are ever collected, and state and local governments in Oklahoma spend far more incarcerating people for nonpayment.

A new report from Oklahoma Policy Institute examines the growth of fines and fees in recent years; how increasing court debt impacts the justice system poor Oklahomans; and the role that fine and fee revenue has come to play in state agencies’ budgets. The report also lays out recommendations for reform.

You can find the executive summary and full report here.

In The Know: Oklahoma’s brand-new drug law on chopping block

by | February 1st, 2017 | Posted in Blog, In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. 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

Oklahoma’s brand-new drug law on chopping block: Oklahoma lawmakers could reverse the choice voters made three months ago to soften anti-drug laws. Legislators filed seven bills that would significantly change the language adopted by voters in State Questions 780 and 781. As a result of the vote, most drug possession crimes were reclassified as misdemeanors instead of felonies. Voters reduced the sentences that could be given to people convicted of drug possession and also supported funding county rehabilitation programs. State Sen. Ralph Shortey said people didn’t understand what they were voting for because the ballot’s summary paragraph, or gist, was only 200 words [NewsOK]. Oklahoma Policy Institute formally endorsed State Questions 780 and 781 in January, joining a wide and politically diverse coalition focused on reducing incarceration rates and addressing the root causes of crime [OK Policy].

Speaker Charles McCall puts Real ID, teacher pay at top of priority list for state House: Implementing Real ID and passing a teacher pay raise are priorities for House Speaker Charles McCall in the upcoming session that starts Feb. 6. McCall, R-Atoka, is serving his first session as leader of the lower chamber. On Tuesday, McCall said he is optimistic lawmakers can pass a phased-in teacher pay raise and come up with the funding for the first year, despite an $868 million budget hole [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma Issues Record-Breaking Number Of Emergency Teaching Certificates: The teaching shortage in Oklahoma is breaking new records. In a meeting last week, the state board of education granted 43 more emergency teaching certificates to schools across the state. That’s the largest number of emergency teaching certificates issued at one time. Most schools already have at least one certified emergency teacher but a new grant adds more, specifically in Jenks, Broken Arrow and throughout Muskogee and Tulsa Counties [NewsOn6].

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In The Know: Oklahoma lawmakers speak out on President Donald Trump’s immigration ban

by | January 31st, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (2)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. 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

Oklahoma lawmakers speak out on President Donald Trump’s immigration ban: Senator James Lankford led the discussion among Oklahoma Lawmakers Monday regarding President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration. Lankford says though he agrees we have a responsibility to secure the homeland and reminds people this is just a 90-day pause. Lankford also noted that the order is not ban on Muslims or a change in immigration policy. “However, this executive action has some unintended consequences that were not well thought out. I encourage the President’s staff to evaluate American policy with an eye on both security and compassion for the refugees fleeing the terrors of war and persecution,” said Lankford [KJRH]. Rep. Steve Russell said he plans to ask for exemptions, and is also seeking to form a ‘Warriors Caucus’ of congressional representatives who have served in the military [NewsOK].

University of Oklahoma students hold rally on immigration ban: Monday, students at the University of Oklahoma held a rally days after President Trump announced an executive order regarding immigration. The rally comes one day after the university released a statement regarding the immigration ban. University of Oklahoma President David Boren spoke at the rally saying, “We’re here to send a message today. We cherish the Constitution now and forever and we will defend it to the last breath.” [KJRH]

Imam Imad Enchassi: Muslims in the Bible Belt: Imad Enchassi, an imam who founded the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, grew up in Palestinian refugee camps in war-torn Lebanon and ended up in the heart of the Bible Belt. He talks about treatment of Muslims in a Christian-dominant society, his boyhood memories of a nun and the good will that arose out of the evil of the Oklahoma City bombing [Oklahoma Watch].

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