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In The Know: Oklahoma House seats lawmaker accused of sexual harassment

by | January 4th, 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

Oklahoma House seats lawmaker accused of sexual harassment: The Oklahoma House voted along partisan lines Tuesday to seat a Republican lawmaker who rescinded a letter of resignation he submitted after being named in a sexual harassment complaint. The GOP-controlled chamber voted to seat Rep. Dan Kirby of Tulsa following a debate between Democrats and Republicans in which Kirby denied the allegations and said he acted too quickly when he submitted a letter of resignation to House Speaker-designate Charles McCall, R-Atoka [Associated Press].

Expulsion is option in inquiry into lawmaker’s actions: A committee investigating a woman’s sexual harassment and wrongful dismissal allegations against a state representative will have a broad range of disciplinary options at its disposal under the Oklahoma Constitution, including expulsion of the lawmaker. House Speaker Charles McCall said beginning this week, the House Rules Committee would look into the case involving Rep. Dan Kirby, R-Tulsa, who announced his resignation on Dec. 23 after the allegations became public and then rescinded that resignation on Dec. 28 [NewsOK].

OK House Schedules Agency, Budget Hearings in House Chamber: The Oklahoma House of Representatives will begin holding public hearings to review the five largest appropriated state agencies’ budgets next week at the state Capitol. Those five agencies received $5.36 billion – or 77 percent – of the $6.91 billion FY – 2017 appropriated budget. House Speaker Charles-elect A. McCall said the hearings will give citizens and lawmakers – particularly the 32 new members of the House – valuable insight into how agencies develop programs and spend taxpayer dollars and will help lawmakers develop funding priorities earlier than usual [The Okie].

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Six takeaways from Oklahoma’s new budget estimates

by | January 3rd, 2017 | Posted in Budget | Comments (0)

In late December, the State Equalization Board met and approved a preliminary estimate of state revenues for the upcoming budget year, FY 2018. This estimate will be the basis of Governor Fallin’s Executive Budget, to be  released on the first day of session in February. The Board will meet later in February to approve revised revenue estimates that will be binding on the Legislature as it develops the FY 2018 budget. The Board also reviewed revised estimates for the current year.

Here are six things you should know about Oklahoma’s budget outlook based on the December certification:

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In The Know: Oklahoma Speaker-Elect To Investigate Sexual Harassment Settlement

by | January 3rd, 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

Oklahoma Speaker-Elect To Investigate Sexual Harassment Settlement: The Speaker-elect of the Oklahoma House of Representatives has announced plans for an investigation into a payment to settle a sexual harassment complaint by a former legislative assistant. State Rep. Charles McCall, R-Atoka, announced Thursday his first action after officially becoming Speaker will be to authorize an investigation into the wrongful termination settlement agreement paid to Hollie Bishop, who was fired in November 2015 after less than a year working for state Rep. Dan Kirby, R-Tulsa [KGOU]. The Oklahoma House has a sketchy recent history with policing its own [Tulsa World].

Republican leaders in Oklahoma rethinking income tax cut: Republican leaders in Oklahoma are reconsidering whether to keep an income tax cut that could be triggered as early as next year. Their decision comes at a time when the state has a budget hole of nearly $870 million and declining revenue collections. The trigger for the individual income tax rate cut from 5 percent to 4.85 percent is when tax collections increase by about $100 million annually — enough to cover the cost of the tax cut [Associated Press]. The Oklahoma state auditor [NewsOK] and the Tulsa World Editorial Board recently endorsed repealing the trigger [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma gas tax may be raised: An increase in Oklahoma’s gasoline tax will likely be on the table next legislative session as it’s one of the smallest in the nation, it hasn’t been adjusted in nearly three decades, fuel prices are comparatively low and state leaders are seeking new revenue. While Oklahoma’s gas tax has remained constant at 17 cents since 1987, No. 47 in the nation, other states have been increasing theirs, including seven that have approved hikes that will go into effect on Sunday [NewsOK]. Raising the fuel tax is among the revenue options to address Oklahoma’s budget shortfalls [OK Policy]. Oklahoma Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger urged lawmakers to consider several several revenue-raising measures [News9].

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Five reasons NOT to donate to OK Policy

by | December 27th, 2016 | Posted in Blog, OK Policy | Comments (0)

At this time of year, lots of terrific organizations are offering you compelling reasons to donate to them. We have developed a contrarian tradition of trying to convince you why you should NOT  donate to OK Policy.  Here are five reasons why you might decide that a donation to OK Policy is a bad idea.

1. Facts don’t matter

Facts, schmacts – who needs ’em?? If you believe that public policy debates and decisions should be guided by party affiliation, ideological beliefs, and ill-informed opinion, please do NOT donate to OK Policy. Because our role is to provide independent, data-driven information, analysis, and ideas on the major policy issues facing Oklahoma. Our legislative primer, county facts,  and budget highlights all provide the facts you’ll want to avoid

2. You really needed that tax cut

Last year, in the midst of two revenue failures and a $1.3 billion budget shortfall, our legislators allowed a quarter-point cut in the top income tax rate to take effect. The tax cut provided less than $4 a month to the average Oklahoma family, while ensuring deeper cuts for public schools, colleges and universities, health care services, and other building blocks of a prosperous state. We know most Oklahomans agreed with us that the tax cut should’ve been cancelled or deferred. But if that tax cut was your idea of good public policy, then you likely should not donate to help OK Policy fight for better fiscal decisions (you can use our online calculator to see how much the tax cut was worth to you).

3. You shouldn’t know how the state budget is spent

OK Policy works to explain the appropriations process, show where state revenues come from and how they are spent, and track budget trends over time, guided by the belief that an informed citizenry is vital to a healthy, functioning democracy. With an ever-shrinking Capitol press corps, many people count on OK Policy to shine a light on what’s happening behind the curtains. But if you prefer to remain in the dark, then making a tax-deductible contribution to OK Policy is most certainly a bad idea.

4. Oklahoma invests too much in education and other core services

Since 2008, Oklahoma has slashed state support for public schools by among the most in the nation and we are falling ever further behind in paying our hard-working teachers and state employees fair and competitive wages. Meanwhile, severe understaffing of our prisons puts the safety of corrections officers at risk and thousands of those with developmental disabilities and mental illness languish on waiting lists. Now we are facing another year of gaping budget shortfalls. Some say we will just need to cut deeper and not look at options that would put more revenue on the table. If you agree, you should not donate to OK Policy.

5. 49th is OK, 50th is Better

In Oklahoma, one in six of us, and one in four children, live in households that earn too little to stay above the poverty line. On a whole range of health and social indicators, Oklahoma ranks among the states with the worst outcomes, leading some to suggest that our state motto should be “Thank God for Mississippi.” One of OK Policy’s core convictions is that we need purposeful strategies aimed at expanding opportunities for all Oklahomans. We put forward thoughtful, practical policy proposals that will lead to a more prosperous, healthier state (you cam see our Agenda for Better Jobs and Opportunities here). But if you think we just need to work harder to outdo Mississippi in the race to the bottom, donating to OK Policy is probably not a good idea.

Kidding aside, we sincerely hope you will make a tax-deductible one-time or recurring year-end donation to OK Policy to help ensure that our work continues to have an impact in 2017. We greatly appreciate your support, and we wish you all the best during this holiday season.

PS: The best way to stay uninformed about the budget crisis facing Oklahoma is to not attend our State Budget Summit on Thursday, January 26th in Oklahoma City. And if you do decide to attend, please wait until after January 5th to buy your tickets so as not to be eligible for our special early-bird registration price of $75!

In The Know: With state facing $868 million budget hole, revenue will fall short of triggering income tax reduction

by | December 22nd, 2016 | 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.

In The Know will be taking a break for the holidays and return on January 3rd. Early-bird registration is now open for our 2017 State Budget Summit. In addition, we’re hiring a policy analyst and spring research interns. 

Today In The News

With state facing $868 million budget hole, revenue will fall short of triggering income tax reduction: The state, facing an $868 million budget hole, will not have enough growth revenue to reduce its top income tax rate to 4.85 percent, Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger said Tuesday. His comments came in advance of a meeting Wednesday of the State Board of Equalization, which will certify how much money will be available for Gov. Mary Fallin to prepare her fiscal year 2018 executive budget proposal. The board will revisit that figure in February [Tulsa World]. Read our statement on the revenue shortfall for 2017 [OK Policy].

Sexual harassment complaint against Oklahoma legislator settled in secret: A fired legislative assistant and her attorneys were secretly paid $44,500 in state funds in November to settle her sexual harassment complaint against a state representative from Tulsa, records show. Hollie Anne Bishop, 28, complained Rep. Dan Kirby, 58, began sexually harassing her shortly after she started working for him in January 2015. She complained she was fired without explanation on Nov. 20, 2015, in retaliation for reporting the harassment. She accepted a $28,414.20 payment, online records show. Her Edmond attorneys accepted a $16,085.80 payment [NewsOK]. Rep. Kirby has remained silent on the accusation amid calls for his resignation [Tulsa World].

Short on revenue, Oklahoma’s governor eyes taxes on cigarettes, tattoos and car washes: Looking at a budget hole approaching $900 million, Gov. Mary Fallin and her finance officials said Wednesday they likely will ask the Republican-dominated Legislature to do something that goes against conservative orthodoxy — approve new taxes. Top state officials, who have been saying for years that Oklahoma has a spending problem, not a revenue problem, now say the state simply has to take in more money if it is to adequately fund government priorities like public safety, health and education [NewsOK].

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STATEMENT: Revenue certification brings tidings of discomfort and woe

by | December 21st, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Taxes | Comments (2)

Oklahoma Policy Institute issued the following statement after the State Equalization Board certified $869 million less for next year’s budget than this year’s authorized budget:

As we enter the holiday season, Oklahomans today learned that the state faces a budget shortfall of over $850 million for the year ahead. The news of another massive shortfall is especially troubling to the tens of thousands of dedicated teachers and state employees who have already gone years without a raise; to children subject to larger class sizes and inexperienced teachers; to those on long waiting lists for critical mental health, substance abuse, and disability services; to health care and social service providers whose reimbursement rates have been repeatedly cut; and to all Oklahomans who have seen a steady decline in public services after years and years of budget cuts.

This year’s shortfall is the result not only of a struggling economy but of policy choices that have shrunk our revenue base and resorted to one-time revenues to plug budget holes. The result is a structural budget deficit that won’t be fixed just by a recovery in oil and gas prices.

This session, lawmakers will have to make the difficult decisions to boost recurring revenues in order to avoid devastating cuts and to address the teacher pay crisis and other urgent needs. All options should be on the table, including reversing some of the $1.5 billion in tax cuts that have been enacted in recent years, as well as closing tax loopholes, broadening the sales tax to more good and services, and raising certain excise taxes.

The one silver lining to today’s announcement is that another ill-timed tax cut is now unlikely to be triggered automatically next year. Already, overall state appropriations are 15 percent below where they were a decade ago when adjusted for inflation and will likely fall again next year. Knowing that it will take at least several years for revenues to recover to where they were before this latest economic downturn, lawmakers this session should cancel the next tax cut or ensure that it can only take effect once the budget has time to recover.

In The Know: Oklahoma budget hole nearly $900 million

by | December 21st, 2016 | 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.

Early-bird registration is now open for our 2017 State Budget Summit. In addition, we’re hiring a policy analyst and spring research interns. 

Today In The News

Oklahoma budget hole nearly $900 million: Just six days after Gov. Mary Fallin predicted the state would face a $600 million budget hole, her finance secretary said Tuesday it actually will be a lot bigger. Preston Doerflinger said at a state Capitol news conference that current projections show the state will have $6 billion to spend next year. That means that when the Legislature gathers in February to start work on a new budget, they will be looking at an $868 million shortfall. Lawmakers will be forced to seriously consider ways to bring in more revenue if necessities are to be funded adequately [NewsOK]. Oklahoma has several revenue options for this year’s budget emergency [OK Policy].

It’s a tough time in Oklahoma, except for Scott Pruitt: The last few years have been grindingly tough for state government in Oklahoma as plunging oil prices decimated tax revenues, forcing agencies to lay off employees, shutter offices and scale back services. But you wouldn’t know that by looking at the office of Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has been nominated by President-elect Donald Trump to become director of the Environmental Protection Agency. While living in the same harsh fiscal climate and preaching small-government conservatism, Pruitt has managed to increase his office’s expenses by 40 percent and add nearly 60 employees since taking over, creating a dynamo for legal attacks on the Obama administration and a launching pad for his political career [Associated Press].

Shawnee Senator Wants To Prevent Automatic Income Tax Cuts, Use Fuel Tax For Teacher Pay: State Sen. Ron Sharp, a Republican, has filed a bill that could prevent automatic income tax cuts. He has also called for new revenue to support a teacher pay raise. Neither of those ideas have been popular among the GOP, but Sharp said they’re necessary. “We’ve just basically got to the point where there’s no more cutting that can take place without additional revenue,” said Sharp, R-Shawnee. “That’s the tragedy of the situation.” Senate Bill 13 keeps a trigger that would lower the income tax rate, but it adds a $500 million cushion. If the amount of general revenue growth isn’t greater than the cost of the next rate reduction plus $500 million, the income tax rate remains the same [Journal Record]. Even if revenues grow enough to reach the trigger, next year’s estimated general revenue collections will still be more than $400 million below what they were in FY 2015 [OK Policy].

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In The Know: State officials ponder another Oklahoma income tax cut

by | December 20th, 2016 | 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

State officials ponder another Oklahoma income tax cut: Officials are expected to determine this week whether the state had enough growth revenue to trigger an income tax cut. The top income tax rate could drop to 4.85 percent from 5 percent. Most taxpayers are in the top rate due to the structure of the state’s tax brackets. The top tax rate kicks in at $7,200 of taxable income for a person filing as single and $12,200 for a married couple filing jointly. The Board of Equalization meets Wednesday in the Capitol to determine how much revenue Gov. Mary Fallin will have to craft her executive budget, which serves as a suggestion for lawmakers [Tulsa World].

Legislature facing difficult choices: Last year at this time the running joke, which drew more knowing looks than guffaws, was people claiming, “All I want for Christmas is higher oil prices.” Santa has been a little slow to deliver, but one statistic from the U.S. Energy Information Administration offers a little bit of hope. According to a reported released Wednesday, oil companies reported positive earnings from their upstream (exploration and production) operations for the third quarter. That’s the first time that’s happened since the fourth quarter of 2014 [Editorial Board / Journal Record].

Embattled Oklahoma state schools superintendent prepares for a challenging road: State schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister bowed her head, took a deep breath and delivered a prepared statement to a room full of cameras on what had just become the toughest day of her young political career. On Nov. 3, Hofmeister was charged with four felony counts of campaign fundraising violations and conspiracy. She is accused of colluding with a dark money group during her 2014 campaign, when she rode a wave of educator backlash against an incumbent who had become cross with Oklahoma’s so-called education establishment [NewsOK].

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In The Know: Another year, another budget hole for lawmakers to address

by | December 19th, 2016 | 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.

Early-bird registration is now open for our 2017 State Budget Summit. In addition, we’re hiring a policy analyst and spring research interns. 

Today In The News

Another year, another budget hole for lawmakers to address: Oklahoma budget writers are bracing for yet another gaping hole to work around for the upcoming fiscal year — the third consecutive year with a significant shortfall. Officials estimate a $600 million deficit for the budget that’ll pay for public safety, health care and infrastructure starting July 1. The 2017 fiscal year deficit, as well as last year’s $1.3 billion shortfall and $611 million one the year before, are all due to lower revenue from oil and natural gas production and the impact of various tax cuts and deductions. Lawmakers have tapped agency revolving accounts, such as the state’s Rainy Day reserve fund, as well as other one-time sources of money to help balance budgets and avoid deeper cuts [Associated Press].

State ranks among worst for health: You’re not doing fine, Oklahoma. An annual report released Thursday noted that Oklahoma has some of the worst health rankings in the country, with thousands of residents dying each year to preventable diseases. Overall, Oklahoma ranks No. 46 in the United States for its poor health behaviors and outcomes, according to the United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings report. Continued decline Since 1990, Oklahoma has seen its ranking fall from No. 32 to No. 46. The worst years were 2007 and 2009, when Oklahoma was ranked No. 49 [The Oklahoman].

Little effect this holiday from new use tax law: Oklahoma tax collectors will have to wait another year to gauge the success of a new law designed to boost revenue from online sales. The measure went into effect Nov. 1, but businesses have until May to begin either remitting sales tax or keeping track of how much each customer owes. If retailers decline to collect and remit taxes, they would have to send a notice to each customer at the end of the year detailing the shopper’s obligation. The shopper would then be responsible for paying the tax, which is also known as a use tax. The Oklahoma Tax Commission sent letters to the top 500 online retailers in an effort to spread awareness and encourage complicity [Journal Record].

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The Weekly Wonk: Medicaid marijuana won’t fix the budget, Sonya’s story as a child of incarcerated parents, and more

by | December 18th, 2016 | 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.

The Weekly Wonk will be taking a break until the New Year. See you in 2017! 

If you value the in-depth research and analysis highlighted in The Weekly Wonk, why not make a supporting contribution? Your generous support gives us the capacity to inform and advocate on critical issues. You can make a year-end tax-deductible donation here.

This Week from OK Policy

This week on the OK Policy Blog, Policy Analyst Ryan Gentzler argued that medical marijuana won’t solve Oklahoma’s budget problems. Intern Chelsea Fiedler told the story of a young women who grew up with incarcerated parents. In his Journal Record column, Executive Director David Blatt warned of further triggered tax cuts. Last year, he explained how a triggered tax cut took effect the week after a revenue failure prompted across-the-board budget cuts. Steve Lewis’s Capitol Update introduced the new House leadership team

OK Policy in the News

Policy Director Gene Perry spoke to NewsOK about how laws aimed at undocumented immigrants can affect their American-born children. The Tax Justice Blog highlighted an OK Policy blog post by Blatt on ill-timed income tax cuts. KNWA covered the Northwest Arkansas Pre-Legislative Summit organized by Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, where Blatt warned Arkansas against following Oklahoma’s fiscal path in the keynote address. 

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