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In The Know: $47 million in cuts to education funding announced

by | January 8th, 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

Midyear budget cuts could force some Oklahoma school districts to close: Some Oklahoma school districts could be forced to close as a result of midyear cuts to public school funding, education officials warned Thursday. State Board of Education members voted unanimously to approve a $46.7 million funding cut for the fiscal year ending June 30, including a $25 million reduction in funding that goes to schools. The board made 3 percent cuts to several accounts but made a 6.6 percent cut in the public school activities account to cushion the blow to local districts, state schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said [NewsOK].

Report: Oklahoma students perform poorly compared to other states: The annual Quality Counts report released Thursday by Education Week shows Oklahoma public school students performed poorly compared to most states in K-12 achievement, per-pupil spending and student chances for academic and career success. Oklahoma ranked 46th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia with an overall score of 68.2 out of 100 points and received a grade of D-plus, according to the report, which tracks key education indicators and grades states on their performance and outcomes [NewsOK].

Oklahoma Revenue Figures Drop Over Previous Year For First Time Since Recession: New figures out Thursday morning show gross receipts to the state treasury over the past year were down for first time in nearly seven years. Collections shrank by nearly 16 percent from 2008 to 2009, largely affected by the global economic crisis known as the Great Recession. Calendar year growth ranged from 2.5 percent to 9.6 percent between 2010 and 2014 [KGOU].

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What you can do with your tax cut

by | January 7th, 2016 | Posted in Taxes | Comments (5)

On January 1st, Oklahoma made the latest in a series of cuts to the top income tax rate. The cut is happening even though we are facing a massive budget hole and a mid-year revenue failure.  This tax cut is expected to reduce state revenues by $147 million in the upcoming budget year, forcing even deeper cuts that will damage our economy and further harm our schools, health care system, public safety, state parks, and other important services that have already absorbed years of cutbacks.

The median Oklahoma household will get only $29 from the cut to the top rate, while two out of five households will get nothing at all because they earn too little to have any of their income taxed at the top rate. Meanwhile, the wealthiest 1 percent of households will receive, on average, $2,009.

With the help of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, we’ve created an online calculator that estimates how much you can expect from this year’s tax cut.

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In The Know: 17 quakes rattle state overnight

by | January 7th, 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.

Today In The News

17 quakes — one tied for fourth largest in Oklahoma history — rattle state overnight: Two large earthquakes — one that tied for fourth largest in state history — struck near a town in northwestern Oklahoma less than a minute apart Wednesday night followed by 15 smaller quakes in the same region. The United States Geological Survey reported a 4.7-magnitude earthquake about 20 miles northwest of Fairview at 10:27 p.m., followed 30 seconds later by a 4.8 quake a kilometer away. The two temblors were about 2 and 3.5 miles deep, respectively [Tulsa World]. 

NYSE delists SandRidge stock after price hits 15 cents a share: The New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday removed SandRidge Energy Inc. from trading, citing “abnormally low” stock prices. Shares of the Oklahoma City-based oil and natural gas company dropped 2 cents, or nearly 12 percent, to an all-time low of 15 cents a share Wednesday before the notice was issued. SandRidge shares have tumbled 94 percent over the past year in concert with falling oil and natural gas prices as the company also dealt with a heavy debt burden. The stock is down from an all-time high of $68 in 2008 [NewsOK].

Oklahoma Oil Firm Resists Call to Shut Down Wells Amid Earthquake Concerns: A financially strapped Oklahoma oil company is defying the state regulator’s request that it shut down six wells used to dispose of wastewater, despite fears they may be contributing to earthquakes. Sandridge Energy Inc., which has complied with similar requests in the past, said this time it won’t stop using its wastewater disposal wells, which are part of the company’s oil-and-gas fracking operations [Wall Street Journal].

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Upcoming Event: ‘Dream On’ Film Screening

OK Policy and the OSU Forum of Geography Graduate Students will host a screening of the new documentary Dream On at OSU-Stillwater on Tuesday, January 19th at 6:30pm. In an epic road trip, political comedian John Fugelsang retraces the journey of Alexis de Tocqueville to investigate the perilous state of the American Dream after decades of rising income inequality and declining economic mobility.

The screening will be in Room 108 of the Noble Research Center.  A panel discussion featuring Mana Tahaie (Director of Mission Impact, YWCA Tulsa) and Lawrence Ware (Lecturer and Diversity Coordinator, OSU) will follow.

The event is free and open to the public. You can RSVP on Facebook here and download a flyer for the event here. See a trailer for the film below:

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In The Know: OKC Council adds housing discrimination protections for LGBT residents

by | January 6th, 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.

Today In The News

Council includes LGBT protections in Oklahoma City’s housing discrimination ordinance: The Oklahoma City Council voted 5-4 Tuesday to add LGBT protections to its housing discrimination ordinance. Besides adding protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the update adds protections for familial status, disability and age. The Norman City Council added lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender protections to its civil rights ordinance in December [NewsOK].

Pre-registration can improve Oklahoma’s dismal turnout by young voters: Low youth voter registration and turnout for elections is problematic for the United States and Oklahoma. In the 2014 general election, only 42.2 percent of the United States citizens ages 18-24 were registered to vote, and only 17.1 percent actually voted. In Oklahoma registration and turnout by young voters was even worse. In 2014, only 33.8 percent of eligible Oklahomans age 18-24 were registered to vote, while a miniscule 11.8 percent voted [OK Policy].

Funding, teacher shortage impact state education: With the current state of the economy in Oklahoma, the State Department of Education is looking at two big problems that have been festering — falling revenue and an ongoing teacher shortage. In December, Preston Doerflinger, Oklahoma’s secretary of finance, announced the state was in the midst of a revenue failure and ordered across-the-board cuts of 3 percent to all state agencies, including the Department of Education. That amounts to a $46.7 million reduction in funding for pre-K through 12th-grade public education between January and June of this year [Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise].

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Pre-registration can improve Oklahoma’s dismal turnout by young voters (Guest Post: Matt Hecox)

by | January 5th, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Elections | Comments (2)

Matt Hecox

Matt Hecox

Matt Hecox is an OK Policy Research Fellow in the Master of Public Administration program at the University of Oklahoma. Hecox has previously worked as a legislative assistant for the Oklahoma House of Representatives during the 2014 legislative session and in Norman Public Schools as an AVID tutor, athletics worker, and a special education teacher assistant.

Low youth voter registration and turnout for elections is problematic for the United States and Oklahoma.  In the 2014 general election, only 42.2 percent of the United States citizens ages 18-24 were registered to vote, and only 17.1 percent actually voted. In Oklahoma registration and turnout by young voters was even worse. In 2014, only 33.8 percent of eligible Oklahomans age 18-24 were registered to vote, while a miniscule 11.8 percent voted. By comparison, 74.8 percent of Oklahomans age 65 and older were registered and 52.9 percent of them voted. While the largest voting group was age 45 to 64, the voters 65 and older outnumbered all voters younger than 45.

If young people are not participating in the voting process then it can be assumed that the problems and priorities of these Oklahomans will not be a major concern for our elected officials. While there’s no single fix for getting more young people to vote, we do have one good option for reducing the disparity — allowing pre-registration for 16 and 17 year olds.

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In The Know: Oklahoma attorney general seeks to bypass state, select own auditor

by | January 5th, 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.

Today In The News

Oklahoma attorney general seeks to select own auditor: A dispute has arisen between the Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office and State Auditor Gary Jones over whether the state attorney general’s office should be allowed to select its own independent auditor. Jones said attorneys in Pruitt’s office apparently were upset by comments Jones made to a reporter for The Oklahoman, who asked him questions about the attorney general’s office adding dozens of new employees and moving into expanded and higher-priced office space in a time of state cutbacks [NewsOK].

When other county assessors don’t do their job, it robs from local school kids: The state Board of Equalization has put county assessors on notice — it’s time to do the job right or face the consequences. An Oklahoma Tax Commission performance audit shows that 16 of the state’s 77 county assessors aren’t living up to legal standards for setting property values for tax purposes. After the latest report, the Tax Commission put the 16 assessors on notice that if the problem isn’t fixed, they could be subject to having their paychecks suspended and their offices taken over by the state [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma Transportation Department preparing for effects of revenue failure: The state’s revenue failure means the Oklahoma Department of Transportation will lose money for a fund supported by personal income taxes. The Rebuilding Oklahoma Access and Driver Safety — or ROADS — fund was set up in 2005. Each year, it typically receives the same funding as the previous year plus about $60 million, up to a cap of $575 million. ODOT expects to cut $13 million from the fund, which Director Mike Patterson said will likely delay new projects [KWGS].

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In Oklahoma, doors to health care shut for working families

by | January 4th, 2016 | Posted in Healthcare | Comments (1)

Elizabeth Armstrong is an OK Policy intern. She is pursuing a Master’s degree in Geography at Oklahoma State University where she also works as a Graduate Research Assistant. Her free time is spent playing with her daughter.

Since the Affordable Care Act’s major provisions have come into effect, uninsured rates across the US have dropped precipitously. The nationwide uninsured rate is now below 10 percent. However, these gains have been uneven – in the 20 states that are still refusing federal dollars to cover low-income residents, uninsured rates remain significantly higher than the rest of the country. In Oklahoma, the state’s refusal to expand coverage has left some 100,000 Oklahomans in a coverage crater, unable to qualify for subsidized coverage on Healthcare.gov and ineligible for Medicaid.

A majority of Oklahomans in the coverage crater are working adults, and more than 1 in 4 have dependent children. Although we have seen significant improvements in health coverage for Oklahoma children, minimal advances have been made to insure the parents of these children. Without access to affordable health insurance, working parents may not be able to access screenings or preventive care and are more likely to be bankrupted by anything from pneumonia to injuries from a car accident. We know that healthy parents make healthy households, both physically and economically. If we deny these working parents access to healthy living, we also limit their ability to provide better social and economic opportunities for their children.

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In The Know: Edmond quake could bring policy decision home to leaders

by | January 4th, 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

Edmond quake could bring policy decision home to leaders: Most of Oklahoma’s earthquakes rattle rural homes far from the political and commercial epicenter of the state. Tuesday morning’s quake, however, struck at the heart of an affluent, more politically conscious city – Edmond. That does more to set the political dialogue than tremors in far-flung places like Medford in northwestern Oklahoma, said state Rep. Jason Murphey [Journal Record].

State plans legal action after company refused to shut down 6 wells: SandRidge Energy Inc., the financially troubled oil producer focused on earthquake-prone northern Oklahoma, is defying a state directive to shut down six disposal wells linked to quakes. “They are in operation, and we are preparing a case” to formally shut the wells, Matt Skinner, spokesman for the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, said Friday. The case sets up a potential showdown on whether the commission has the power to halt activities thought to be triggering earthquakes [Energywire].

Anatomy of a Forfeiture Case: On a March day in 2009, Moua Yang and his father, Chao Yang, were driving west from Oklahoma City in a rented Nissan sedan with more than $25,000 in cash in the back seat. A Canadian County deputy stopped them for driving 76 mph in a 70-mph zone on Interstate 40. The Yang case illustrates the sometimes ambiguous circumstances surrounding the controversial practice of law enforcement agencies’ seizing assets from people whose only provable offense was a traffic violation [Oklahoma Watch].

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Leadership failure

by | January 1st, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Taxes | Comments (3)

An earlier version of this post appeared in the Journal Record

Today, as Oklahomans gather together to enjoy the first day of  the new year by watching Bowl Games, feasting on black-eyed peas, and nursing hangovers, two significant and seemingly irreconcilable events are occurring simultaneously in the world of state budget and taxes.avg-tax-cut

The first is that the budget cuts occasioned by the state’s mid-year revenue failure take effect. As a result of tax collections coming in below projections, the Office of Management and Enterprise Services last week announced that every agency funded by the General Revenue Fund (GRF) would take a 3 percent cut beginning in January. Since the cut is happening half-way through the year, agency’s monthly allocations from the GRF will actually be cut 6 percent (see this spreadsheet for details).  These cuts, totaling $179 million, come on top of the cuts many agencies took going into the current budget year and repeated years of cutbacks and flat funding that have hammered state services.

Today also marks the day when Oklahoma’s top income tax rate falls from 5.25 to 5.0 percent. This tax cut will allow the median Oklahoma household, with an income of $45,700, to pay an average of $29 less over the course of the year, or about $2.50 less per month. Four-fifths of families, those with incomes under $97,000, will receive less than $100 per year. Two out of five households will get no benefit at all from the tax cut because they make too little to have any of their income taxed at the top rate. Meanwhile, a full 24 percent of the total cut will go to the wealthiest 1 percent of households, with an average income well over $1 million; these families, on average, will see their state taxes reduced by over $2,000.

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