STATEMENT: Governor Fallin’s proposed budget leaves Oklahoma’s best tools on the shelf

by | February 2nd, 2015 | Posted in Budget, Press Releases | Comments (3)

Oklahoma Policy Institute released the following statement in response to Governor Fallin’s proposed state budget for 2016:

Governor Fallin rightly recognizes that Oklahoma needs to boost education funding, reduce incarceration, rein in tax breaks, and improve our citizens’ health, and her push to evaluate government programs using clear metrics may be very beneficial. Unfortunately her budget leaves on the shelf the best tools we have to accomplish these goals. By continuing to refuse billions in federal funds for health coverage and allowing another unnecessary cut to the top income tax rate to kick in, her proposed budget passes up Oklahoma’s most significant opportunities to fund critical needs. At the same time, it would add further cuts to many important services that have been already slashed over 20 percent in recent years, while providing a few small funding increases that are nowhere near what is needed to meet the rising costs of education, health care, and public safety.

Another concern is that by raiding unspecified revolving funds for hundreds of millions, the proposed budget would continue an unsustainable, one-time fix that shifts money away from its statutory purposes. This practice does nothing to address Oklahoma’s long-term budget gap, and it was twice found unconstitutional when lawmakers attempted it last year.

Priorities for Oklahoma lawmakers in 2015

Photo by Kool Cats Photography.

Photo by Kool Cats Photography.

Oklahoma’s 2015 Legislative session kicks off today with a State of the State address from Governor Mary Fallin. OK Policy and the Together Oklahoma coalition have identified six priorities for the coming session that are practical, politically achievable steps to move Oklahoma toward lasting, broad-based prosperity. Read on for brief summaries of our priorities and links to a fact sheet for each one, or click here for a 2-page summary of the six priorities. If you want to join the campaign to make any of these goals happen for Oklahoma, check here to see how you can get involved.

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In The Know: Sustained low gas prices expected to force tough decisions at Capitol

by and | February 2nd, 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.

Sustained low gas prices will force some tough decisions as state lawmakers return today to the Capitol. In her budget proposal today, Gov. Mary Fallin is expected to propose increased funding for corrections and education, while proposing cuts for almost every other state agency and raiding millions from agency revolving funds. Around 200 bills and resolutions dealing with education have been filed for the 55th Legislature, including a proposal by House Speaker pro-tem Lee Denney to build up to $600 million in off-the-top funding for common education over the next ten years.

At OK Policy’s State Budget Summit, panelists said tax break reform is unlikely to help with this year’s budget. The Tulsa World argued for making Oklahoma’s budget process more transparent. They shared a video of OK Policy Executive Director David Blatt discussing the budget. On the OK Policy Blog, Steve Lewis looked at the legislative agenda emerging from the more than 2,000 bills that have been filed for this session. OK Policy’s 2015 Legislative Primer can help you understand how Oklahoma’s legislative process works. The Oklahoman editorial board praised the Legislative Primer and other tools from OK Policy for following what’s happening in the Legislature.

The Oklahoman argued that lawmakers should stop proposing bills that would increase incarceration and rethink Oklahoma’s long prison sentences. An Oklahoma Watch investigation showed how Oklahomans convicted of nonviolent crimes face fines and fees that are difficult, if not impossible, to pay off after prison. While several states have banned conversion therapy for minors, a controversial practice that claims to “cure” gay people, Rep. Sally Kern has filed the first state law to protect the practice. Rep. Wesselhoft has filed a bill to prevent spying with drones without a warrant or equipping drones with weapons. Arnold Hamilton argued that news coverage too often focuses on the most extreme bills filed by legislators at the expense of proposals that deserve serious attention and debate.

Dr. Gerard Clancy described how access to health care in Oklahoma is too often driven by luck. Millions of federal dollars that Oklahoma had been spending on foster care for abused and neglected children will be shifted to pay for in-home services designed to keep troubled families together under a program set to begin in July. As a result, two emergency shelters for abused and neglected children will close in the next six to nine months. During his State of the Nation address on Saturday, Muskogee Creek Nation Chief George Tiger emphasized the hundreds of millions the tribe is investing in economic development. Oklahoma’s teen birth rate has decreased, but the rate is third-highest in the nation and well above the national average, according to new data from the National Center for Health Statistics. The state Department of Adult Protective Services released numbers showing reports of elder abuse and exploitation are on the rise in Oklahoma.

The Number of the Day is the health care expenditures per capita in Oklahoma in 2011, nearly 5 percent below the US average. In today’s Policy Note, Jared Bernstein explains why the U.S. needs fairer hiring practices for those with criminal records to put the country on the path to full employment.

continue reading In The Know: Sustained low gas prices expected to force tough decisions at Capitol

The Weekly Wonk February 1, 2015

by | February 1st, 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 tools to help you decipher the Oklahoma legislature: our updated 2015 Legislative Primer, and What’s That?, a new online glossary of terms related to Oklahoma politics and government. The Oklahoman’s Editorial Board praised both features. In his Capitol Update, Steve Lewis shared how, with the start of session, months of talk will turn into legislative action.

A new report from CFED shows that while the state economy may be improving, too many Oklahomans are on the verge of financial disaster. Executive Director David Blatt explained how a $300 million shortfall will means this year’s budget will be a rocky ride, and detailed why a called-for Constitutional Convention would be dangerous foray into uncharted waters.

In his Journal Record column this week, Blatt wrote that a number of election reform proposals could address Oklahoma’s electoral participation crisis. Our report “Repairing Oklahoma’s Broken Democracy” further explores the topic. KWGS reported that our 2015 State Budget Summit paints a bleaker picture of the state budget, and noted Mickey Hepner’s comments that proposed anti-gay legislation would make Oklahoma less friendly to businesses seeking to expand into the state. The Oklahoman’s Editorial Board criticized OK Policy for noting that oil and gas industry tax breaks are costing Oklahoma more than $500 million this year alone.

Quote of the Week

“When you’ve gotten to that point when seven out of 10 are not participating, I think you have a crisis on your hands.”

- State Sen. David Holt (R-Oklahoma City), on why he introduced electoral reform bills this session that would, among other measures, allow online voter registration and move the state to a vote-by-mail system (Source:

See previous Quotes of the Day here.

Editorial of the Week

Editorial Board, The Oklahoman:

During a recent discussion about whether significant criminal justice reform could happen in Oklahoma in 2015, state Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said he hoped so. “I think we ought to look to Texas as a model,” Bingman said.

Yes, look to Texas. No state in America may have a more pronounced law-and-order image, and yet lawmakers there — Republican lawmakers — finally came to realize that spending more money to warehouse prisoners wasn’t the best fiscal or moral policy.

Numbers of the Day

  • 46.70% – Percentage of Oklahomans vaccinated for for the seasonal flu between fall 2013 and spring 2014.
  • 450 – Average number of autopsies per staff member per year performed by the Oklahoma Medical Examiners office in 2014, nearly double the recommended limit of 250.
  • $949 million – Amount the state of Oklahoma paid to companies through the Quality Jobs Program from 1993 to 2014. Oklahoma Watch analysis reveals that fewer than half the promised jobs were created by required deadlines.
  • 2,279 – The number of incarcerated Oklahomans who participated in GED programs in 2013

See previous Numbers of the Day and sources here.

What we’re Reading

  • When public schools get more money, students do better. (Wonkblog)
  • Some jails have ended human contact between inmates and visitors and allowed a private company to charge family members to do video calls with their love ones. (Northwest Public Radio)
  • Little-noticed legislative tweaks appear to have created the conditions for far-reaching changes that are helping to lift the burden of student debt.
  • You might be wrong about who really pays your taxes. (Bloomberg View)

Legislative session at the starting gate (Steve Lewis Capitol Updates)

by | January 30th, 2015 | Posted in Capitol Updates | Comments (0)

Photo by Nathan Rupert.

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.

Last Thursday the final deadline before the beginning of session passed.  It was the deadline for introduction of bills, and 2091 bills have been introduced in the House and Senate.  Once session begins on February 2nd, the legislative process devolves into a series of sprints from one deadline to the next that eventually ends with the final constitutional deadline for sine die adjournment, the last Friday in May. The next deadline when session begins will be February 27th, the date by which all bills must be reported out of committee in their house of origin to continue in the process.

continue reading Legislative session at the starting gate (Steve Lewis Capitol Updates)

In The Know: State agencies face budget cuts due to shortfall

by | January 30th, 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. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Governor Fallin has announced that state agencies will likely face budget cuts in the upcoming year due to a $300 million revenue shortfall. KGOU reports that said shortfall was a central topic of discussion of OK Policy’s 2015 State Budget Summit yesterday: despite growth and recovery from the recession, there’s still about $700 million less in the state budget this year than there was in 2009. OK Policy has released some tools to help you decipher the Oklahoma legislature, including our updated legislative primer. Tulsa-based drilling rig maker and operator Helmerich & Payne, has announced that it plans to lay off 2,000 employees due to falling oil prices.

The State Board of Education unanimously approved new State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister’s revised education budget at her first board meeting. The budget calls for gradual raise for teachers while increasing the state’s minimum number of instructional days to the national average. Hofmeister’s request for a seat on the committee overseeing new reading and math standards was also approved. Executive Director David Blatt wrote that election reforms proposed by Sen. David Holt (R-Oklahoma City) bring hope. We’ve made suggestions for repairing our broken democracy before.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services heard the last initial budget proposals on Thursday. All stage agencies have requested increases. Mickey Hepner, Dean of the University of Central Oklahoma’s College of Business, said that anti-gay legislation could damage the state economy because businesses have diverse workforces and pay attention to social policies when they consider moving to new states. Rep. Sally Kern (R-Oklahoma City) has withdrawn legislation that would have allowed businesses to refuse service to gay customers. Legislators have filed a number of bills that would allow guns to be carried on the state’s college campuses.

A new report shows that while Oklahoma’s economy is improving, most families – even those in the middle class – are living on the edge of financial disaster. Whether Oklahomans with mental illness get treatment when they are arrested depends entirely on which county they live in. While the US Supreme Court issued a stay on the executions of three Oklahoma inmates while they consider the constitutionality of a drug used in lethal injections, Attorney General Scott Pruitt says that the executions could be done using other drugs, and that he’ll push to resume executions. The Oklahoman’s Editorial Board argued that Oklahoma must pursue smart-on-crime criminal justice reforms. We’ve written that the stars may be aligning on criminal justice reform before.

The State Department of Health reported 11 new flu deaths in Oklahoma his week, bringing the season’s total to 58. A reports from the American Wind Energy Association ranked Oklahoma fourth nationwide for wind capacity. The Number of the Day is the number of incarcerated Oklahomans who participated in GED programs in 2013. In today’s Policy Note, Bloomberg View breaks down myths about who really pays your taxes.

continue reading In The Know: State agencies face budget cuts due to shortfall

New opportunity scorecard shows Oklahomans slipping financially

by | January 29th, 2015 | Posted in Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

pasted-image-small-17Conventional wisdom may seem to suggest that the economy has bounced back. Low unemployment and a stable housing market paint the picture of a prosperous Oklahoma. But if you look at the pocketbooks of the average American, the outlook is far from rosy. As CFED’s newly released 2015 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard reveals, the economy may be improving, but how individuals and families are faring in the economy is not.

The Scorecard data confirm what most families have known for a while—that even those squarely in the middle class are living on the brink of financial disaster. In fact, 49.1 percent of Oklahoma households are ‘liquid asset poor’, meaning they lack the resources necessary to subsist at the poverty level in the event that a job loss or medical emergency leaves them without their primary source of income. The high liquid asset poverty rate is perhaps unsurprising given the other patterns we see emerge from the Scorecard data. 

continue reading New opportunity scorecard shows Oklahomans slipping financially

Use these tools to decipher the Oklahoma Legislature

Photo by David Goehring.

Photo by David Goehring.

Next week, the Oklahoma Legislature comes back into session. Legislators will debate bills and make decisions that affect all Oklahomans, but the process can be hard to follow for the average citizen. That’s why we’ve created a number of tools to help you decipher what happens at the state Capitol.

continue reading Use these tools to decipher the Oklahoma Legislature

In The Know: Legislative leaders propose new scrutiny of business tax breaks

by and | January 28th, 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. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

In The Know will be off tomorrow as we host the 2015 State Budget Summit. It will return Friday.

Oklahoma House and Senate leaders have introduced legislation that would require thorough reviews every four years of several dozen business incentives that are costing the state as much as $300 million annually. Governor Fallin said she would call for Oklahoma to tap millions of dollars in “revolving funds” to close this year’s budget hole. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has twice found that lawmakers acted illegally last year when tapping revolving funds in ways that took money from Oklahoma’s Promise scholarships and health care for the uninsured. On the OK Policy Blog, we examined the damage being done by Oklahoma’s chronic funding shortfalls.

The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission says the state’s unemployment rate declined in December, from 4.4 percent in November to 4.2 percent. More than 100,000 Oklahomans are already insured for 2015 through the Affordable Care Act Marketplace, 30,000 more than last year. A bill to grant Oklahoma patients with terminal illnesses increased access to experimental drugs has been introduced by state Rep. Richard Morrissette. A bill proposed by a Tulsa Senator Brian Crain would bring brewers of high-point beer in Oklahoma on par with wineries by giving them the ability to sell their products directly to consumers on site, but there is some question if the bill is constitutional.

Gov. Mary Fallin has asked the War Veterans Commission to replace the executive director of the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs. The Oklahoma PTA is encouraging parents to opt their children out of the fifth- and eighth-grade writing tests this year because one of the test’s two prompts is a field test. The Journal Record editorial board criticized bills by Rep. Sally Kern targeting the gay community. Rep. Kern defended the measures as an effort to support traditional values. Watermelon farmers are concerned about Senator Nathan Dahm’s bill to repeal the watermelon’s status as the state’s official vegetable.

The Number of the Day is how much Oklahoma paid to private companies through the Quality Jobs Program from 1993 to 2014. In today’s Policy Note, the New York Times explains how a couple of little-noticed legislative tweaks appear to have created the conditions for far-reaching changes that are helping to lift the burden of student debt.

continue reading In The Know: Legislative leaders propose new scrutiny of business tax breaks

Budget road certain to be rocky

by | January 27th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Taxes | Comments (2)
Photo by _chrisUK.

Photo by _chrisUK.

As we look ahead to next year’s state budget, one thing is for certain: it’s going to be a very rocky ride.

Last month, the Board of Equalization certified $298 million less revenue for next year’s budget than was appropriated this year. As we discussed in this blog post, the initial certification assumes that tax collections will grow next year, despite low energy prices; the shortfall is due to the use of over $400 million in one-time funds from cash reserves and agency revolving funds to balance this year’s budget, as well as a quarter-point cut in the income tax that last year’s Legislature scheduled to take effect at the start of 2016.

continue reading Budget road certain to be rocky

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