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In The Know: Senate leader confident budget will be resolved, avoiding special session

by | May 5th, 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.

Check out OK Policy’s resources for the Legislative session, including Advocacy Alerts, texted Action Alerts, the Legislative Primer, the What’s That? Glossary, and Online Budget Guide

Today In The News

Senate leader confident budget will be resolved, avoiding special sessionThe leader of the Oklahoma State Senate said Thursday he is confident lawmakers will pass a budget by deadline. “We will get our work done,” said Senate Pro Tem Mike Schulz, R-Altus. “We will get a budget passed. We will get it on the governor’s desk, and it will go into effect.” His comments came a day after Gov. Mary Fallin criticized lawmakers for not sending her revenue-raising bills to fill an $878 million budget hole while the clock ticks toward adjournment [Tulsa World].

We support Gov. Mary Fallin’s ultimatum to the Legislature: The good news for Oklahoma is that at least one of the principals in state budget negotiations gets it. Gov. Mary Fallin warned state lawmakers Wednesday that she will veto any budget that contains deep cuts to state agencies. That would shut down the legislative progress toward adjournment and shift the Capitol into crisis mode with the July 1 beginning of the fiscal year just over the horizon. Good for her [Editorial Board / Tulsa World].

Legislature 0.8 Percent of the Way to Closing Budget Gap After Senate Passes Four Revenue Bills: A day after Gov. Mary Fallin chastised lawmakers for a lack of progress in closing Oklahoma’s $878 million budget gap, the Senate sent her four bills worth a total estimated $7.4 million in new revenue next year. One of those bills given final passage by the Senate, however, won’t have an impact until 2023. House Bill 2358 ends a fuel tax discount on July 1, 2022. Senator Roger Thompson said the discount was instituted to benefit retailers doing all the administrative work [KWGS]. How would you fix the budget? With Together Oklahoma, we’ve created an online budget simulator, where you can put yourself in lawmakers’ shoes and choose how to fix the state budget [OK Policy].

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Misguided budget concerns are endangering criminal justice reform

by | May 4th, 2017 | Posted in Criminal Justice | Comments (1)

This year’s legislative session started with high hopes for the strong reform proposals that came out of the Governor’s Justice Reform Task Force (JRTF). While most of the bills sailed through their first tests of support, many have been severely weakened in recent weeks as legislators grow concerned with their budget implications. But lawmakers should be more concerned about the looming costs of inaction and resist dubious claims that court debt reforms will endanger critical services. Passing the task force reforms is critical to saving Oklahoma’s finances.

Inside the Capitol and across the state, it’s well-understood that we need a different approach to criminal justice. Oklahoma has the second highest incarceration rate in the country, and we are on pace to grow it by another 25 percent in the next 10 years, which would require three new prisons at a price tag of nearly $2 billion. That’s money the state clearly doesn’t have. Even with current funding and inmate numbers, we’re not operating our prisons effectively or safely. The crisis isn’t coming; it’s already here.

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In The Know: Gov. Mary Fallin says she will veto any budget with deep cuts to state agencies

by | May 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.

Check out OK Policy’s resources for the Legislative session, including Advocacy Alerts, the Legislative Primer, the What’s That? Glossary, and Online Budget Guide.

Today In The News

Gov. Mary Fallin says she will veto any budget with deep cuts to state agencies: Gov. Mary Fallin on Wednesday said she will veto any budget that contains deep cuts to state agencies. Lawmakers have been in session since February, but the governor said they have not sent her any substantial revenue-raising measures in the face of an $878 million budget hole. Fallin said 17 days remain in the legislative session, but revenue-raising measures can’t be voted on in the five final days [Tulsa World].

Prosperity Policy: No truth in labeling: There’s a long tradition in legislatures of assigning pretty-sounding labels to legislation’s true intent. A bill to relax environmental standards may be called the Clean Skies Act. If a bill is titled the Taxpayer Protection Act, you’ll want to hold on to your wallet. If awards were given for the most misleading and cynical bill title, this year’s House Bill 1270, the Restore Hope, Opportunity and Prosperity for Everyone, or HOPE Act, would be an easy winner [David Blatt / Journal Record]. HB 1270 is still an expensive, unnecessary bill that would put access to basic health care for Oklahoma families at risk [OK Policy].

Oklahoma House turns testy as revenue bill withdrawn: Tension mounted in the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Wednesday as Republicans fumed, Democrats held firm in their opposition to the GOP majority’s budget offerings, and Gov. Mary Fallin told a packed news conference that somebody better do something quick about the $1 billion general fund shortfall. It didn’t happen in the House, where a $340 million cigarette and fuel tax bill was shelved after the 26-member Democratic minority called a news conference to say they wouldn’t vote for it [Tulsa World].

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How would you fix the budget?

by | May 3rd, 2017 | Posted in Budget | Comments (2)

Oklahoma lawmakers have just a few more weeks to balance the state budget. Their budget decisions are deeply important for Oklahomans’ lives, yet with so many budget needs and revenue proposals flying around, it can be hard for the average voter to see the big picture.

That’s why we’ve created an online budget simulator with Together Oklahoma, where you can put yourself in lawmakers’ shoes and choose how to fix the state budget. In three easy steps, the budget simulator allows you to choose where to find the $750 million in new revenue needed to close Oklahoma’s budget shortfall and avoid devastating cuts to core services. You can also choose to make additional investments in Oklahoma services, like funding a teacher pay raise, making sure rural hospitals can stay in business, and diverting people away from prison with smart on crime mental health treatment.

After deciding on your spending priorities, you can choose from numerous options of how to pay for that spending in a responsible way. These options include policies that have been proposed by the Save Our State coalition (including OK Policy), by House Democrats, by Governor Mary Fallin, or that we know are being considered by the Legislature.

We invite you to try the budget simulator and share your decisions on social media to help more Oklahomans understand the options we have to invest in ourselves this year. After you’ve done that, you can sign up to stay informed about actions you can take to make that budget a reality.

In The Know: Bill to increase lottery prizes, payout to education signed by Gov. Mary Fallin

by | May 3rd, 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.

Check out OK Policy’s resources for the Legislative session, including Advocacy Alerts, the Legislative Primer, the What’s That? Glossary, and Online Budget Guide.

Today In The News

Bill to increase lottery prizes, payout to education signed by Gov. Mary Fallin: Gov. Mary Fallin on Tuesday signed a measure designed to raise lottery prizes in hopes of increasing sales and funding for education. Current law requires the lottery to give 35 percent of its profits to education. House Bill 1837 removes that profit requirement. For years, lottery officials have said prizes were not competitive, hindering sales and reducing the amount of revenue the lottery could provide for education. Lawmakers had balked at making changes in the past, but a $878 million budget hole may have changed some minds [Tulsa World].

House Democrats grate on Republican majority as big revenue bill comes to the floor: Tsk, tsk, said Gov. Mary Fallin. Democrats aren’t voting for Republican tax bills, she said late Monday. “Us?” hooted several House Democrats via Twitter. “What about your own party?” And on that tranquil note, the House turns Wednesday to the first big revenue bill of the year. House Bill 2365, by Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, would raise an estimated $390 million, most of it by raising the cigarette tax by $1.50 per pack and the fuel tax by 6 cents per gallon. The bill would also eliminate $50 million in oil and gas industry tax preferences, although those wouldn’t show up on the balance sheet until fiscal year 2019 [Tulsa World].

Senate passes bill reducing road funding; gas tax anticipated to fill gap: The Oklahoma Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that reduces funding for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. Senate Bill 837 would reduce funding to the agency by $251 million in hopes that a portion of that could be made up by increasing the tax on gasoline and diesel by 6 cents. The measure passed by a vote of 39-5 and now heads to the House. A gasoline tax increase would require a super majority in both chambers and bring in $125.1 million [Tulsa World].

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Itemized deduction reform is a promising state budget solution

by | May 2nd, 2017 | Posted in Taxes | Comments (2)

When Oklahomans filed their state income taxes in 2016, more than 70 percent of households used the standard deduction, which was $6,300 for individuals and $12,600 for married couples filing jointly. The remaining households itemized their deductions, adding up deductions for mortgage interest, charitable contributions, business expenses, and several other deductions allowed under federal and state tax laws.

Itemizing deductions is a strategy used almost entirely by wealthier households, since low- and medium-income households typically don’t spend enough on those categories to surpass the standard deduction. Overall, itemized deductions make our tax system more regressive by reducing tax bills for the wealthy but doing little for poor and middle class families who already pay the biggest share of their incomes in state and local taxes.

With Oklahoma lawmakers in search of solutions to fill a massive budget hole — especially solutions that won’t require a 3/4ths majority vote under SQ 640 — the time may be right to reform itemized deductions. Oklahoma is one of 17 states that follows the federal guidelines for itemized deductions, but 21 states with a state income tax either do not allow itemized deductions or limit them in ways that go beyond what’s allowed for federal taxes. Looking to these other states offers several models for itemized deduction reform to improve revenues for key state services:

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In The Know: Cigarette and fuel tax increases survive preliminary votes in Oklahoma Legislature

by | May 2nd, 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.

Check out OK Policy’s resources for the Legislative session, including Advocacy Alerts, the Legislative Primer, the What’s That? Glossary, and Online Budget Guide.

Today In The News

Cigarette and fuel tax increases survive preliminary votes in Oklahoma Legislature: A bill that would raise Oklahoma’s cigarette and fuel taxes and also eliminate about $50 million in oil and gas production tax incentives survived preliminary votes in the House and Senate on Monday. House Bill 2365, by Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, got through the Senate Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget with no discussion and little opposition, but ran into a tougher time in the House [Tulsa World]. Both ideas are part of the Blueprint for a Better Budget supported by a coalition of state organizations including OK Policy [Save Our State].

During three-year period of upheaval, Pardon and Parole Board quietly ceased reviews of commutation applications: When William D. Wood and Donnie M. Daniel had their prison sentences for separate drug convictions commuted in 2016, an article in The Oklahoman noted it was the first two commutations Gov. Mary Fallin had authorized since 2012. However, The Frontier has learned that commutation applications weren’t being denied during the years prior to Wood’s and Daniel’s successful attempts at clemency — they weren’t being reviewed at all. During a nearly three-year period beginning in 2013 and lasting until late 2015, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board did not review a single application for commutation, an investigation by The Frontier found [The Frontier].

Law points to wiser direction for state revenue: A bill that would eliminate the “trigger” threatening to further cut the top state income tax rate continues to work its way through the Legislature. Senate Bill 170 won’t solve Oklahoma’s financial mess — far from it — but will slow its growth. Having passed the House and Senate, SB 170 awaits final legislative work. This bill is important, and we urge quick resolution [Editorial Board / Tulsa World]. SB 170 would allow Oklahoma to avoid another ill-timed tax cut [OK Policy].

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HB 1270 adds bureaucratic hurdles for Oklahoma families and won’t generate promised savings

Earlier this spring, we warned that HB 1270 would grow administrative waste and punish poor families by requiring substantially more rigorous and more frequent verification procedures for families applying for SNAP (food stamps) and Medicaid (SoonerCare). Following public outcry, HB 1270 has been pared back to only apply to SoonerCare, with a provision excepting some individuals with significant disabilities. However, HB 1270 is still an expensive, unnecessary bill that would put access to basic health care for Oklahoma families at risk. Here’s how.

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In The Know: Proposed budget cuts could interrupt Oklahoma’s highway projects

by | May 1st, 2017 | Posted in Blog, 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.

Check out OK Policy’s resources for the Legislative session, including Advocacy Alerts, the Legislative Primer, the What’s That? Glossary, and Online Budget Guide.

Today In The News

Proposed budget cuts could interrupt Oklahoma’s highway projects: State transportation officials may be forced to suspend construction on some partially completed highway projects if the Legislature follows through with a proposal to cut its off-the-top funding from income tax revenues to $320 million, says Mike Patterson, executive director of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. [The Oklahoman]

Feeling unsupported by state, student teachers bolt for better pay: Student teachers are fleeing the state at a time when Oklahoma needs teachers more than ever. The problem is there is not enough money in pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade education. Oklahoma ranks 49th in the nation for average teacher pay, according to the Oklahoma Education Association, college students currently doing their student teaching in schools throughout the region know this, and the vast majority are opting to find work elsewhere. [Stillwater News Press]

Late revenue bills target poor, small businesses: The Oklahoma Legislature quickly and quietly passed a handful of new revenue measures through committee hearings late Thursday, and analysts said many of the bills affect poor people and small businesses more than anyone else. Local economists and political analysts said the measures, which create between $800,000 and $20 million in new revenues each, are a drop in the bucket compared to the near-billion-dollar budget shortfall for next year. [Journal Record]

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The Weekly Wonk: New OK Policy budget report examines past successes and current struggles, Save Our State releases budget blueprint, and more

by | April 30th, 2017 | Posted in Blog, 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

OK Policy released a new budget report that examines our past successes and evaluates how we’re building on those, or falling behind. Executive Executive Director David Blatt was a guest on the latest episode of STANDcast from Stand for Children, where the discussion focused on the new budget blueprint from the Save Our State Coalition, and authored a blog post regarding the importance of restoring the Gross Production Tax to its historic rate. Blatt also was a guest on Public Radio Tulsa for a discussion of the Save Our State Coalition’s budget blueprint.

Blatt’s Journal Record column implored legislators to fix the budget crises with responsible revenue solutions, instead of more cuts to state agencies. Steve Lewis’s Capitol Update wonders if Oklahoma is, at last, breaking free from anti-tax dogma. Policy Director Gene Perry was quoted by the Huffington Post in a story about the use of state lotteries to fund education

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