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In The Know: Flat budget means school closing and layoffs

by | June 8th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, 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. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said schools are closing, teacher layoff notices have gone out and class sizes will grow across Oklahoma because of the state’s flat education budget. Senate Appropriations Committee Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, said “it is past time” for teacher raises in Oklahoma, but he doesn’t know where the money will come from if current revenue forecasts hold. Lack of funding for this priority did not stop the Legislature from allowing a tax cut to go through that will cost $147 million in FY 2017, about the same as would have been needed to fund the first year of Superintendent Hofmeister’s teacher raise plan. The Stillwater News Press Editorial Board wrote that it will take a citizen uprising to get education funded in Oklahoma. 

KGOU reported on how state agencies are planning to deal with reduced funding based on the budget appropriations passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Fallin. The Tulsa World Editorial Board wrote that funding for public art programs is another casualty of state tax policy. The Oklahoman Editorial Board wrote that the state’s Indigent Defense System is becoming strained with higher caseloads and reduced state funding. On the OK Policy Blog, Steve Lewis described three kinds of critics of the state budget deal.

The Journal Record wrote that most of the controversial bills that put Oklahoma in the national headlines at the start of the Legislative session did not get passed [paywall]. Gov. Fallin signed five education bills last week, including one that extends the use of parent-educator teams to decide if third graders who do not pass a reading test can go on to the fourth grade. Gov. Fallin also signed a bill that increases the requirements for how young children are secured when riding in vehicles.

Accepting federal dollars to expand Medicaid would make Oklahomans healthier and would save money for residents and the state budget, according to a report released Thursday by the White House Council of Economic Advisers. You can see the full report here. OETA reported that chronic underfunding of mental health care in Oklahoma has forced providers to prioritize the most severely ill while making others wait until they get worse. The Frontier reported on how a young Oklahoma man who had already waited a month for a mental health appointment killed his mother during a psychotic break.

County Health Departments will no longer be offering free vaccinations for Oklahomans with insurance due to reduced funding. The number of abortions performed in Oklahoma declined nearly 19 percent from 2010 to 2013, part of a nationwide decline in abortions. State Sen. Rick Brinkley, R-Owasso, was accused in a lawsuit Friday of embezzling more than $1 million while at the Better Business Bureau to pay personal expenses and “to support a hidden gambling habit.” Starting with the upcoming fall semester, incoming University of Oklahoma freshmen will be required to take a five-hour course in diversity issues before completing the end of their first year. 

A complaint that that supervisors at the Chickasaw Nation’s Winstar World Casino “engaged in threats and surveillance” to prevent a union organizing effort has been dismissed because tribal sovereignty puts them outside the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board. The Number of the Day is 5.8% – the percentage of Oklahoma women age 15 to 50 who gave birth in 2013. In today’s Policy Note, the Wall Street Journal shows that public health insurance has done a better job of controlling costs per patient than private health insurance.

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The Weekly Wonk June 7, 2015

by | June 7th, 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 released our FY 2016 Budget Highlights, which include a bullet point summary of the state budget, six charts illustrating different aspects of the budget, and a table showing appropriations for every state agency going back to 2009. Executive Director David Blatt suggested that tax breaks for wind production were targeted in the 2015 legislative session not because they were the most egregious giveaways but because they were easier targets than other tax breaks. In his Capitol Update, Steve Lewis described the three kinds of critics of the state budget deal.

On the OK Policy Blog and in the Tulsa World, Policy Director Gene Perry explained why cutting taxes isn’t the path to a strong economy. In his Journal Record column, Blatt shared how bipartisan action in the Legislature resulted in criminal justice reform this year, including bills making it easier for some ex-offenders to obtain drivers licenses and find employment. These restrictions and others have kept many Oklahomans with felony records from rebuilding their lives after prison. Policy analyst Carly Putnam was included in American Health Line’s daily news briefing and quoted in an Oklahoma Watch article discussing record levels of homelessness in Oklahoma schools.

Weekly What’s That:

State Aid

State Aid represents the funds that are appropriated by the State Legislature for school districts, and distributed by the State Department of Education through the State Aid Formula. State Aid is based primarily on the number of students attending in each district, with allowances made for various student characteristics represented as grade and categorical weights. Read more.

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

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Three kinds of critics of state budget deal (Capitol Updates)

by | June 5th, 2015 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates | Comments (0)

Photo by jon jordan / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Photo by jon jordan / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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.

Legislators likely spent some time this week hearing from constituents and voices from various perspectives about how well or poorly they did in writing this year’s budget.  Many feel they made a mistake by allowing a tax cut to go into effect on January 1 that caused $57 million of the state’s budget’s shortfall.   A full year of the revenue cut will cause a larger problem for next year’s legislature.  $57 million could have paid for a $1,000 pay raise for teachers, or it could have replaced a substantial amount of county road and bridge funding that was rolled into the general budget for other agencies, just to name a couple of possibilities.

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In The Know: Mounting evidence says injection wells cause state’s earthquake surge

by | June 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.

A range of papers published this month indicate that wastewater injection wells are behind Oklahoma’s earthquake surge. StateImpact has collected eight takeaways from the new research. With 378 earthquakes so far this year, the state is well on track to break the state record for earthquakes in a single year (584 quakes, in 2014). Governor Fallin has signed bills regulating the release of police body cam footage and allowing counties to borrow money from the state to help pay for converting vehicles to run on compressed natural gas. A new report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers highlights the opportunities for better health and stronger economies available to states that, like Oklahoma, have refused to accept federal funds to expand health coverage for low-income residents. The full report is available here. Expansion’s track record in other states has shown that it’s a good deal for Oklahoma.

Writing in the Journal Record, Arnold Hamilton of The Oklahoma Observer argued against actions that would weaken the Oklahoma Ethics Commission. Following news that the state was disregarding scores from the state’s writing test for the second year in a row, an Oklahoma Watch investigation found that state officials are concerned with qualifications of the tests’ graders, who are paid $11.50 an hour and may be recruited on Craigslist. Tulsa and Oklahoma City saw their jobless rates creep upward in April. A new initiative in Tulsa aims to end veteran homelessness and chronic homelessness by 2016. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to the Pinnacle Plan have issued a letter claiming that the state is failing to make adequate progress to improve the state’s foster care system and calling for an arbitration process.

The Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission, which oversees the state’s waterways, will lose nearly one-quarter of its currently funding when next year’s budget kicks in on July 1. The first two human cases of the West Nile virus in 2015 have been confirmed in Oklahoma. The Number of the Day is 109,500 – the estimated number of people employed by women-owned businesses in Oklahoma in 2015. In today’s Policy Note, The New Republic argues that the best way to get conservative legislators to support paid leave is to show them that it works.

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In The Know: Oil and gas downturn depresses May tax revenues

by | June 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.

Three of the state’s major revenue streams – gross production taxes, sales taxes, and motor vehicle taxes – were lower than usual in May, resulting in gross receipts six percent lower than this time last year. Oklahoma City University economist Russell Evans told members of the Oklahoma City Economic Roundtable on Wednesday that state and local economies are growing despite a struggling oil and gas industry. Governor Fallin signed bills to extend the third-grade reading teams for three years and to share the circumstances of teachers’ firings or resignations with other school districts.

Policy Director Gene Perry explained in the Tulsa World and on the OK Policy Blog that we can’t build a stronger economy by slashing taxes. Executive Director David Blatt wrote in the Journal Record how bipartisan action in the Legislature resulted in criminal justice reform this year, including bills making it easier for some ex-offenders to obtain drivers licenses and find employment. These restrictions and others have kept many Oklahomans with felony records from rebuilding their lives after prison. Writing in her blog on The Frontier, Ziva Branstetter explained how Gov. Fallin’s lawyers are arguing that the state’s one-year delay before releasing records regarding the botched execution of Clayton Lockett does not constitute a denial and that her office has the authority to determine what constitutes “prompt and reasonable access” to public records.

The Tulsa World’s Editorial Board argued that primary elections in Oklahoma should be open to independent voters. Open primaries are just one way to boost electoral participation in the state. Project leaders working on the Oklahoma State Innovation Model are looking for business leaders to help build a plan to improve health outcomes for Oklahomans while lowering costs. Up to eight of Oklahoma City Public Schools’ 11 high schools may have new principals when students return in August.

Lawton officials have canceled a contract with a cloud-seeding firm following the city’s rainiest month on record. Following years of low crop yields due to drought, state wheat farmers say that recent heavy rains have wrecked the wheat crop in parts of the state, although officials say that damages in rainier parts of the state will be offset by gains elsewhere. The Number of the Day is 23.7% – the percentage of adults in Oklahoma who reported smoking in 2013, down from 26.1% in 2011. In today’s Policy Note, The Washington Post describes how imposing harsh sentences for drug offenses in the 1980s and 1990s now mean that prisons are home to thousands of elderly inmates who have been behind bars for decades.

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Slashing taxes further is not the path to a strong economy

by | June 3rd, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (1)

When any company leaves Oklahoma, it can mean hard times for the employees and their families. As a state and a community, we should offer support to those families and make sure workers have what they need to move on in their careers.

What we shouldn’t do is let one anecdote be used to manipulate us into making policy changes that aren’t thought through. The recently announced shutdown of Apache Corp.’s Tulsa regional office is a good example.

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In The Know: Oklahoma throws out 5th- and 8th-grade writing test results for second year

by | June 3rd, 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. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

For the second year in a row, the Oklahoma State Department of Education is throwing out all 97,000 fifth- and eighth-graders’ writing test scores because of questions about the scoring. A report by the State Department of Education found that Oklahoma school districts with large populations of minority or poor students tend to have the least experienced teachers. You can read the full report here

OK Policy released the FY 2016 Budget Highlights, which include a bullet point summary of the state budget, six charts illustrating different aspects of the budget, and a table showing appropriations for every state agency going back to 2009. Damage from severe storms that dropped historic levels of rainfall across Oklahoma could reach $200 million

State lawmakers were surprised by news that Sen. Rick Brinkley, R-Owasso, is being investigated for embezzling, and they said he has been expected to succeed Sen. Brian Bingman as leader of the Senate. An audit found that an employee of the private contractor managing Oklahoma City’s downtown parking stole nearly $420,000 from the city’s parking receipts

Two MAPS 3 projects hit milestones Tuesday as the city council locked in a route for the downtown modern streetcar and authorized staff to seek construction bids for the first senior health and wellness center. Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith said she has spoken to Sheriff Stanley Glanz about whether he should resign, while the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is looking into allegations of misconduct in the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office.

The Number of the Day is 17.5% – thepercentage of Oklahoma teachers categorized as “unqualified” because they do not have a standard teaching certification. In today’s Policy Note, The Marshall Project reports on how conservative Republicans led the way in repealing Nebraska’s death penalty.

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FY 2016 Budget Highlights

Appropriations_06-16OK Policy’s annual Budget Highlights issue brief is one of the most informative and accessible ways to track Oklahoma’s public spending. Today we’ve released the FY 2016 Budget Highlights, which include a bullet point summary of the state budget, six charts illustrating different aspects of the budget, and a table showing appropriations for every state agency going back to 2009.

The bullet points are excerpted below. You can download the full issue brief here. You can find more information and analysis about the state budget at our Budget & Taxes Issue Page.

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In The Know: Oklahoma leads nation in rate of police shootings

by | June 2nd, 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. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Oklahoma police kill people at a higher rate than officers in any other state, according to two new reports that tally how many lives law enforcement have taken since the beginning of 2015. The Tulsa World reported on how a group of activists is taking a stand against police brutality and Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz. Teachers at Roosevelt Middle School are complaining that policy changes aimed at reducing a large racial disparity in suspensions are preventing them from maintaining student discipline. KGOU discussed the potential impact of new legislation giving Oklahoma judges more discretion in sentencing certain nonviolent offenders.

Governor Fallin signed a $7.1 billion budget bill, saying she’s proud of a budget that maintains flat funding for common education. Transportation Department officials said the rainiest month in state history has left unprecedented road and bridge damage throughout the state. Gov. Fallin requested a federal disaster declaration for 13 Oklahoma counties that were hit hard by severe weather, tornadoes and flooding since May 5. Fallin has signed into law a bill preventing towns, cities and counties from banning hydraulic fracturing and other oil and gas activities.

On the OK Policy Blog, we discussed why Oklahoma lawmakers reined in tax breaks for the wind industry while continuing much larger giveaways to the oil and gas industry. In-depth climate science curriculum and activities will be showcased for Oklahoma’s classroom teachers at the state’s first teacher climate summit. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Tulsa woman who was denied a job at clothing chain Abercrombie Kids because she wore a Muslim headscarf to the job interview. Sen. Rick Brinkley, R-Owasso, has come under investigation because of accusations he embezzled funds while he was a top official at the Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Oklahoma.

The Number of the Day is 22 – the number of Oklahomans killed by police officers this year, giving the state the highest per capita deaths by police in the nation. In today’s Policy Note, political science professor David Schultz argues that states have become too willing to repeat and replicate policy initiatives found elsewhere without asking if in fact they work.

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An easier target

by | June 1st, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (1)

Wind farm near Weatherford, OK. Photo by Travel Aficionado used under a Creative Commons license.

Wind farm near Weatherford, OK. Photo by Travel Aficionado used under a Creative Commons license.

An earlier version of this post appeared as a column in the Journal Record.

One day when I was in junior high, some friends and I came across a schoolyard fight between two of our classmates. A number of children were taunting one of the combatants, Bobby, and I must confess that I joined in the name-calling. After losing the scrap, an incensed Bobby looked around at those who’d been mocking him from the sidelines. Though not blameless, I had not been the loudest taunter in the crowd, or the cruelest – but I was one of the smallest. Bobby came charging over and socked me hard.

I was reminded of this incident by the Legislature’s actions this session regarding  tax breaks for the wind-power industry.

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