This nonsensical ‘double dipping’ tax break is costing Oklahoma millions

by | March 10th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Taxes | Comments (0)
Photo Credit: Chris on Flickr

Photo Credit: Chris on Flickr

As Oklahoma faces a more than $600 million budget hole, state leaders have consistently said that “all options should be on the table.” With state services already straining from years of repeated cuts and flat funding, a balanced approach to closing the budget gap must include new revenues. One of the fairest and most sensible revenue options involves eliminating one of the most nonsensical quirks of our tax system – the state income tax deduction for state income taxes.

continue reading This nonsensical ‘double dipping’ tax break is costing Oklahoma millions

In The Know: House votes to allow income tax cut to proceed

by | March 10th, 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 note from In The Know editor Gene Perry] Before we get to the news, I have a quick request. As a reader of In The Know, we already know you’re committed to staying informed about Oklahoma. I and the rest of the OK Policy team want to keep bringing you that information in the most accessible, reliable, and engaging way that we can. So please take our survey to let us know what we’re doing right, what we’re leaving out, and how we can do better.

 The Oklahoma House voted along strong partison lines to allow a scheduled income tax cut to go into effect next year, despite a $611 million budget hole. The tax cut, which will provide just $29 to middle-income households on average, increases Oklahoma’s budget shortfall by $57 million in 2016 and $147 million in 2017. House Speaker Jeff Hickman may be the last hope for resurrecting funding to complete the American Indian Cultural Center. Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said if key repairs to the Oklahoma Capitol cost more than the $120 million already authorized, lawmakers will have little choice but to provide extra money.

A week after defeating it, the Oklahoma House has passed legislation asking voters to decide whether the governor and lieutenant governor should run on a joint ticket. KGOU shared quotes and video from a panel on tax incentive reform at OK Policy’s State Budget Summit. While many tax experts and state officials acknowledge Oklahoma’s tax breaks and incentives need reform, the state legislature has taken little action to do so. Two Oklahoma Department of Corrections employees at Mack Alford Correctional Center resigned Monday after two inmates, including a convicted murderer, escaped from the facility Sunday night.

Some Tulsa Public Schools could be reorganized by a private contractor under legislation approved by the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Governor Fallin wrote an op-ed asking Congress to pass legislation that eliminates regulations on the insurance industry if the US Supreme Court votes to repeal Affordable Care Act subsidies. Tulsa World columnist Ginnie Graham discussed Oklahoma’s ranking as the fourth worst state for women.

Legal experts debated how far the University of Oklahoma can go to punish student members of the SAE fraternity caught on video singing a racist chant. Vox discussed OU President David Boren’s response to the video, where he said the students were disgraceful and that he’d be glad if they left the university. Governor Fallin and members of the Legislature’s Black Caucus condemned the video and praised Boren’s response. The Oklahoma State University student paper reported that the same evening that University of Oklahoma’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon came under fire, a Confederate flag was visible hanging in a window of Oklahoma State University’s SAE house.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahoma adults who report doing no physical activity or exercise other than their regular job in the last 30 days. In today’s Policy Note, the New York Times examined how restrictions that prevent Americans with criminal records from finding jobs is taking a toll on the broader economy.

continue reading In The Know: House votes to allow income tax cut to proceed

An invitation from OK Policy

by | March 9th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, OK Policy | Comments (0)

We believe that Oklahoma can be a great state, one that ensures prosperity for all our citizens through good schools, good jobs, good health and strong communities. To make the best policy decisions that lead us to this better future, policymakers and citizens need good, factual information. But the way Oklahomans get their news and information is changing more quickly than ever before.

To better provide the tools you need to stay informed and to advocate for fair and responsible public policies, we’re conducting some research on how you find our information and how you put it to use, as well as what we can do differently to better serve you.

So, if you have a few moments to spare, we invite you to fill out the OK Policy Audience Survey.

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In The Know: OU fraternity closed after racist video appears online

by and | March 9th, 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 Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the University of Oklahoma has been shut down after a video appeared online showing reported members of the organization chanting racial slurs and making a reference to lynching. The New York Times examined how Oklahoma and other states are considering laws that would allow business owners to refuse service to gay couples. The Tulsa World spoke with Oklahomans whose new access to health insurance could be in jeopardy from a legal challenge at the US Supreme Court.

A Democratic state senator proposed three amendments to a school voucher bill that would prevent funding from going to any private school teaching AP U.S. history; would require all parents to take and pass a drug test; and would prohibit parents from using the money to buy curriculum materials tied to Common Core standards. Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Keith Ballard said he doesn’t understand why lawmakers are talking about “shoveling money at private schools” when Oklahoma already has a huge state budget shortfall. Education groups said a bill making its way through the Legislature unfairly targets teachers by barring state paycheck deductions for dues to the Oklahoma Education Association.

Gross production tax collections dropped sharply in February as Oklahoma continued to feel the effects of slumping oil prices, but higher sales tax and income tax revenue helped put February’s total revenue at 3.3 percent above the same month last year. Governor Fallin argued in a Tulsa World op-ed that that budget crisis is an opportunity to fix structural imbalances in Oklahoma’s budget system. Oklahoma prisons reached an all-time high of inmates last month while the number of guards is at 67 percent of authorized levels. Pregnant women who use drugs could face criminal penalties under a measure working its way through the Oklahoma Senate. 

State Treasurer Ken Miller says two bills that would keep his office from linking Oklahoma residents with rightful life insurance proceeds are “shameful” and vowed Friday to sue the state if the measures become laws. A new study found that the faults responsible for thousands of earthquakes in Oklahoma are capable of producing much larger earthquakes in areas near Langston, Cushing, Medford and Stillwater. The city of Lawton approved a $1 water bill surcharge to pay $250,000 for a cloud-seeding company to try to bring more rain. A bill that would allow Oklahomans to have a fire during a burn ban passed out of the Oklahoma House on Thursday.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of undocumented immigrants in Oklahoma who do not have health insurance. In today’s Policy Note, the Washington Post examines how America’s talent flow has gotten clogged as middle-class workers are forced into low-skill, low-paying jobs.

continue reading In The Know: OU fraternity closed after racist video appears online

The Weekly Wonk March 8, 2015

by | March 8th, 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, we shared which other states are taking real action against mass incarceration. We discussed several new proposals designed to rein in Oklahoma’s business tax breaks. A new post in our “Neglected Oklahoma” series told the story of how incarceration costs families.

A new plan boosting for education funding is modeled on a system that allocates tax revenues for the upkeep of state highways and bridges. In his Capitol Update, Steve Lewis hoped that legislators will make sensible decisions to balance the budget.

This week in his Journal Record column, Executive Director David Blatt made the case for raising the minimum wage. Blatt was quoted in Ginnie Graham’s column on how listening to debates uncovers too many false statements presented as facts. Video of speakers and panels from the 2015 Budget Summit is now available.

Weekly What’s That:

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act:

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that governs how states provide special education to children with disabilities. IDEA was originally enacted by Congress in 1975 as the Education for Handicapped Children Act, and the most recent changes to the law were passed by Congress in 2004. Read more here.

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

continue reading The Weekly Wonk March 8, 2015

Will we avoid balancing the budget with a blunt axe? (Steve Lewis Capitol Updates)

by | March 6th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Capitol Updates | Comments (0)
axe

Photo by brittgow.

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.

While much of the noise surrounding the legislative session has centered on the “hoodie” bill, AP history courses, and anti-gay legislation much of the work of legislators is going on in discussions behind closed doors.  Faced with a $611 million budget gap, leaders are compiling a list of responses to put “on the table” for discussion.  Presumably these ideas will be presented to the full membership at some point for a broader discussion and some vote counting.

continue reading Will we avoid balancing the budget with a blunt axe? (Steve Lewis Capitol Updates)

Up Against The Wall, or how I pay the state to lock up my brother (Guest post: Camille Landry)

camille_landryCamille Landry is a writer, activist, and social justice advocate who lives in Oklahoma City.  This post is part of our “Neglected Oklahoma” series, which tells the stories of Oklahomans in situations where the basic necessities of life are hard to come by.  These are real people and their stories are true (names have been changed to protect privacy).

“My brother is doing 11 years in the state penitentiary.” There’s more bitterness than grief in Caryn Louis’s voice. “It’s not just losing somebody you love. The prison system punishes the entire family in lots of ways. Every little thing that my brother needs to make it through his sentence costs money and most of this money comes out of the pockets of inmates’ families and friends,” Ms. Louis said. “The state is punishing the families of the people it locks up.”

It is a not-so-well-kept secret that corporations that service prisons and corrections agencies profit by shifting considerable expenses to inmates’ families.  Inmates cannot pay these costs themselves. People who enter the criminal justice system are overwhelmingly poor. Two-thirds of the people detained in prisons report annual incomes under $12,000 prior to arrest. Prison jobs pay $14.45 per month. Portions of that sum are deducted for such things as child support payments and court costs.

jail-visit-1Research shows that family involvement helps combat recidivism and aids reintegration of offenders upon their release. It also results in calmer inmates — but the high costs associated with visits and phone calls puts them out of reach for many Inmates’ families. “My brother is a 3-hour drive away. I can only afford to see him a few times a year.” Most Oklahoma inmates come from Oklahoma and Tulsa counties and most of the correctional facilities are far away from those cities. “If you don’t have a good car and the money for a road trip, you just don’t get to visit,” she said.

continue reading Up Against The Wall, or how I pay the state to lock up my brother (Guest post: Camille Landry)

In The Know: 857 corrections officers needed, says Department of Corrections Director Patton

by | March 5th, 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.

Speaking to a Senate Appropriations Committee, Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton told committee members that it would take nearly 900 additional corrections officers to fully staff state prisons. Patton said that while state prisons are staffed at 67 percent, the prisons are operating at 116 percent capacity, creating security concerns. State Superintendent of Schools Joy Hofmeister said that it’s important for the state to be transparent accountable about results in the classroom, but suggested that the current A-F report card system is an “unreliable measure,” and said that the state could develop its own system to measure school performance.

The Tulsa World’s Editorial Board praised legislators for committing to fund the Pinnacle Plan despite the state’s budget crisis. Writing in his Journal Record column, Executive Director David Blatt made the case for a higher minimum wage in Oklahoma. The OK Policy Blog shared a plan for boosting education funding, modeled on a system that allocates tax revenues for the upkeep of state highways and bridges.

The Senate passed two bills scrutinizing the effectiveness of tax credits, and  a Senate panel passed a measure that could lead to the end of end-of-instruction exams. The House approved a measure to legalize switchblades but passed on ones that would have created a new toll collection system and would have required candidates for governor and lieutenant governor to run jointly. A House resolution that would have allowed Oklahoma wineries to ship wine to visitors is on hold, and the House declined to pass an amendment that would have given retired firefighters a cost-of-living pension increase.

KGOU spoke to Oklahoma AP history teachers about how the course is taught in the state. Surplus Vision 2025 tax collections will be used to fund park improvements in Sand Springs, building updates in Collinsville, and a new water tower in Glenpool, according to the Tulsa County Vision Authority. The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahomans age 18-64 who receive Social Security disability assistance. In today’s Policy Note, PBS examines how bitterly cold temperatures push some Americans toward the poverty line.

continue reading In The Know: 857 corrections officers needed, says Department of Corrections Director Patton

Education vies for funding down the road

by | March 4th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (1)

school-children-roadHow do you boost support for education in a year when the state faces a massive budget shortfall? Several bills to provide teacher pay raises have gained initial committee approval, but these bills are unlikely to make it into law given the grim budget situation. The best chance for success for education advocates seems to be a proposal by House Speaker Pro Tem Lee Denney (R-Cushing) that provides a multi-year $600 million increase in education funding, but not for another three years. Yet even this proposal is far from a sure thing.

HB 1682 creates the Securing Education Excellence Fund. The bill is designed to increase funding for common education by $59.7 million annually beginning in fiscal year 2019. The funding increase would come from income tax revenue that is take off-the-top before legislators appropriate budgets for other state services.

continue reading Education vies for funding down the road

In The Know: Energy industry pressured Oklahoma geologists to say silent on link between earthquakes and drilling

by | March 4th, 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.

Emails obtained through an Open Records request by EnergyWire reveal that despite long-held suspicions that the state’s earthquake surge was linked to oil and gas activity, the Oklahoma Geological Survey stayed silent amid pressure from oil company executives. Meanwhile, only 8 out of about 100 earthquake insurance claims filed in the state last year were paid because insurance companies are excluding coverage for “man-made” earthquakes. The Journal Record shared an infographic showing how much Oklahoma’s major energy companies have cut their spending plans for 2015.

Oklahoma would become the first state to allow the execution of death row inmates using nitrogen gas under a bill overwhelmingly approved by the House. Oklahoma is considering legislation to make it easier for terminally ill patients to get access to experimental drugs and procedures. On the OK Policy Blog, we discussed how red states like Mississippi and Georgia have already gone way beyond Oklahoma in their reforms to reduce incarceration.

Three rural Oklahoma communities have received about $1 million in state grants for water system improvements that will save about 16.7 million gallons of water a year. Tulsa voters passed by a wide margin a state record-setting $415 million school bond package for Tulsa Public Schools. News9 reported on Oklahoma City Superintendent Robert Neu’s confrontation with the Legislature over school voucher and other legislation that he says will harm public schools.

Tulsa World columnist Ginnie Graham wrote that listening in on legislative debates uncovers too many false statements presented as facts. Journal Record Editor Ted Streuli wrote that what he got for his state and local taxes was a bargain even before Oklahoma’s scheduled income tax cuts. The Number of the Day is how many Oklahomans would see their health insurance premiums increase by an average of $208/month if the Supreme Court throws out subsidies provided under the Affordable Care Act. In today’s Policy Note, the New York Times examined how black college graduates continue to have a tougher time finding jobs than whites with the same education.

continue reading In The Know: Energy industry pressured Oklahoma geologists to say silent on link between earthquakes and drilling

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