The Weekly Wonk June 15, 2014

by | June 15th, 2014 | 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 2015 budget highlights, which include a bullet-point summary of the budget, six charts illustrating different aspects of the budget, and a table showing state appropriations for every agency since 2009. Lawmakers may have illegally taken funds out of the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship program to balance next year’s budget. The Daily Ardmorite quoted from this analysis in their discussion of the issue.

We made the case in favor of reading Toni Morrison’s classic The Bluest Eye, arguing that the novel is highly relevant to state issues. The Tulsa World’s Ginnie Graham agreed in her column.  A new song and video aim to raise awareness of the state’s uninsured and advocate for accepting federal funds to expand health coverage to low-income Oklahomans. We’d previously invited readers to the song’s launch party.

In his Journal Record column, Executive Director David Blatt wrote that Gov. Fallin’s choice to abandon her position and sign the repeal of Common Core into law wasn’t much of a surprise. We’ve written previously about how repealing Common Core could put the state’s schools under greater federal control.

In our first Editorial of the Week, the Oklahoman agreed with Blatt’s assessment of dishonesty surrounding lawmakers’ descriptions of the budget: “On budget, Oklahoma lawmakers’ rhetoric, reality don’t add up.

Quote of the Week

“Sometimes ideological experiments bring unintended outcomes. I think Kansas is seeing that, and it serves as a reminder for the rest of us.”

- Oklahoma Treasurer Ken Miller, speaking about huge tax cuts in Kansas that have led to plunging revenue and a debt downgrade, while the state’s economic growth is not surpassing neighboring states that didn’t cut taxes (Source: http://bit.ly/1v9S79Y).

Numbers of the Week

  • 55.9% – Percentage of Oklahoma inmates who were released directly to the streets with no parole supervision or services in 2012, more than twice the national average (21.5%).
  • 90.5% – Estimated percentage of Oklahoma kindergartners in 2012-13 that had vaccinations for measles, mumps, and rubella.
  • 75 – West Nile Virus deaths in Oklahoma during 2013, down from 161 deaths in 2012.
  • 12.1% – Percentage of Oklahoma borrowers that began repaying federal student loans in FY 2011 and defaulted within two years.
  • 806,000 – Outpatient visits to VA facilities in Oklahoma during FY 2009.

What We’re Reading

  • Demos discusses some ideas that experts on both the left and right agree could help reduce long-term unemployment.
  • The New York Times discuss how access to health care has become divided by state lines in a community on the Arkansas-Texas border. Arkansas is accepting federal funds to expand health coverage while Texas is not.
  • A report by In The Public Interest describes how outsourcing public services sets off a downward spiral in which reduced worker wages and benefits can hurt the local economy and overall stability of middle and working class communities.
  • A new report from the State Health Access Data Assistance Center shows the uninsured rate in Minnesota has fallen by more than 40 percent since the Affordable Care Act’s coverage expansion started. Most of the reduction in uninsured is due to an infusion of federal funds for Medicaid, which Oklahoma has refused.
  • Kaiser Health News reports on why affordable health care is crucial for women recently released from prison to rebuild their lives.

Watch This: Stand (Let Your Voice Be Heard)

by | June 13th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Watch This | Comments (4)

Oklahoma residents are among the least healthy in the nation, ranking among the bottom 5 states. Because of Oklahoma’s refusal to accept federal funds for Medicaid, some 140,000 low-income adults continue to be denied access to affordable health care. These are hard-working Oklahomans — musicians, restaurant and fast food workers, construction workers, those who work with our children and assist our aging loved ones.

Oklahoma could accept federal funds at little cost to the state, but so far state leaders have refused the money for political reasons. At the same time as Oklahoma has blocked the federal funds, the few options available to the uninsured are being slashed by state funding cuts.

This video produced by more than fifty Oklahoma musicians aims to raise awareness of Oklahoma’s dire health statistics and the need for Oklahoma to accept federal funds to extend coverage further:

continue reading Watch This: Stand (Let Your Voice Be Heard)

In The Know: Hundreds of immigrant children to arrive in Fort Sill by weekend

by | June 13th, 2014 | 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. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

Download today’s In The Know podcast here or play it in your browser:

Today you should know that between 600 and 1,200 children who fled Central American countries are expected to arrive in Fort Sill by the weekend. An estimated 300 to 600 federal workers who will care for them will live in the surrounding community. The effort is projected to bring $1.2 million to the Lawton economy within the first 30 days. An Oklahoma County judge has set a hearing date in a lawsuit challenging Gov. Fallin’s refusal to turn over documents requested under the Open Records Act. Citing executive privilege, Fallin’s office has has withheld about 100 pages of documents related to her decisions to allow the federal government to operate Oklahoma’s health insurance exchange and to refuse federal funds to expand health coverage to low-income Oklahomans.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt is pursuing another lawsuit against the EPA over carbon emission regulations, even though he’s already lost multiple previous lawsuits. A proposal by the Tulsa County Sheriff to charge cities for holding their inmates before charges are filed has been delayed by 90 days in order to give a task force enough time to complete a cost study. State health officials will travel to Washington DC in late June for training in a new suicide prevention model.  Spirit AeroSystems is expected to announce the sale of at least part of its Tulsa plant soon, according to union representatives.  The Tulsa World wrote that water rate hikes will be painful, but necessary because Tulsa’s water treatment and distribution systems need to be overhauled.

A federal program is providing low-income seniors in Oklahoma $50 debit cards to be used at local farmer’s markets. The Red Cross is releasing a Spanish-language disaster preparedness app to help families prepare for severe weather. Tulsa city councilors are discussing building an organization that would raise funds for Tulsa arts organizations to protect against city budget cuts. A new report from the US Drought Monitor finds that drought conditions are improving in Oklahoma; 17 percent of the state remains in ‘exceptional drought’, down from 21 percent one week ago. 

The Number of the Day is the number of outpatient visits to VA facilities in Oklahoma in 2009. In today’s Policy Note, Kaiser Health News reports on why affordable health care is crucial for women recently released from prison to rebuild their lives.

continue reading In The Know: Hundreds of immigrant children to arrive in Fort Sill by weekend

In The Know: Oklahoma mental health services struggling with $20 million cuts

by and | June 12th, 2014 | 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. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

Download today’s In The Know podcast here or play it in your browser:

Today you should know that the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services is faced with cutting millions worth of services after lawmakers left a $20 million hole in the agency’s budget. Amid a crowd of more than 200 people who came out to protest the change, the agency proposed tightening the criteria for which adults and children can receive psychotherapy rehabilitation services. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority is planning a 7.75 percent rate cut for Medicaid providers to close its budget shortfall. OK Policy previously explained how Oklahoma’s failure to adequately fund Medicaid and mental health is leading to serious health care cuts.

On the OK Policy Blog, we explained how lawmakers may have illegally taken funds out of the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship program to balance next year’s budget. House Minority Leader Scott Inman said he is asking state Attorney General Scott Pruitt to rule on the constitutionality of the maneuver. NPR reported on a successful program at Tulsa Community College to offer free tuition and fees for three years to Tulsa County high school graduates. President Obama’s executive order capping student loan payments at no more than 10 percent of monthly income could reduce payments for more than 52,000 Oklahomans.

The Morton Comprehensive Health Center is expanding a facility in east Tulsa to offer free pregnancy testing, pregnancy care, family planning and other services for women. David Blatt’s Journal Record column discussed how the extremist fringe will continue to get its way in Oklahoma so long as the Republicans are more frightened of losing primaries to the far right than they are of losing general elections to Democrats. A Republican running for House District 91 in Oklahoma City is getting notoriety for comments endorsing stoning gay people to death.

More than 600 people are training in Tulsa this summer with Teach for America. They will enter the classroom after just five weeks of training. Oklahoma ranked fourth in real gross domestic product growth in 2013, with the biggest growth coming from oil and natural gas industries. City leaders in Pawnee have approved an emergency plan to drill two new wells to help boost the town’s water supply. Families can start getting energy-efficient light bulbs when they visit the food bank in a new program by the PSO utility company. Oklahoma oil and natural gas industry groups are suing the federal government over a decision to list the lesser prairie chicken as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahoma borrowers that began repaying federal student loans in FY 2011 and defaulted within two years. In today’s Policy Note, a new report from the State Health Access Data Assistance Center shows the uninsured rate in Minnesota has fallen by more than 40 percent since the Affordable Care Act’s coverage expansion started. Most of the reduction in uninsured is due to an infusion of federal funds for Medicaid, which Oklahoma has refused.

continue reading In The Know: Oklahoma mental health services struggling with $20 million cuts

Inappropriate appropriations and a broken promise

by | June 11th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Education | Comments (4)

cookie jarIn building next year’s budget, legislative leaders and Governor Mary Fallin faced the challenge of starting with nearly $200 million less revenue than this year. Ultimately, the FY 2015 budget ended up at nearly the same amount as this year. In order to get the numbers to balance, the budget agreement scrounged together nearly $300 million in one-time revenue from nearly 30 different funds, including cash reserves, agency revolving funds and other state funds (see the full list here).

The use of one-time revenues to fund ongoing budgetary obligations has drawn concern from OK Policy, Treasurer Ken Miller, and others, particularly for building automatic holes into future year budgets. There has been less attention paid to whether the use of these one-time revenues for general appropriations was legal or constitutional.

One especially problematic provision of the budget  has gone largely undetected until now — the diversion of nearly $8 million from the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program (OHLAP), also known as Oklahoma’s Promise scholarships. This diversion could cause a popular pathway to college to run out of money for low- and moderate income students. It also seems to rest on very shaky legal footing.

continue reading Inappropriate appropriations and a broken promise

In The Know: State’s misses May revenue estimate, corporate income tax falls to zero after refunds

by and | June 11th, 2014 | 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. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

Download today’s In The Know podcast here or play it in your browser:

Today you should know that lagging income tax revenue continued to drag down Oklahoma’s general fund in May, leaving revenues more than $250 million short of expectations with one month left in the fiscal year. The state recorded no corporate income tax collections in May after paying out refunds. It was the third month this year that corporate tax refunds exceeded collections. OK Policy released the new FY 2015 Budget Highlights report, with a bullet point summary and charts illustrating different aspects of the state budget.

The Oklahoma City Council voted 7-1 to proceed with negotiating a $3.5 million incentives agreement with sporting goods chain Cabela’s despite criticism from city councilman Ed Shadid that the retailer is using extortion-style tactics to win millions in subsidies. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said Oklahoma’s move to roll back Common Core standards was bad for kids and education. Tulsa World columnist Ginnie Graham wrote that lawmakers hacked apart literature for political gain during the debate over Common Core. The OK Policy Blog previously explained how Sen. Josh Brecheen severely mischaracterized a classic novel by Toni Morrison that is a Common Core recommendation for 11th graders. 

The Statewide Virtual Charter School Board may be left in a bind this upcoming school year because the law that created it may not give the board any authority to hire staff or maintain a financial account. The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation has opened a fraud inquiry involving Epic Charter Schools, which operates an online virtual school in Oklahoma. Epic is accused of using falsified records “to fraudulently receive payments from the Oklahoma Department of Education.”

The Tulsa County Sheriff is stepping back from a stance that the county jail would no longer accept inmates who aren’t facing state charges unless costs are covered. Rep. Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City, said he plans to conduct a legislative study on expanding Oklahoma’s execution law to allow the firing squad, hanging or the electric chair. Pawnee’s water supply has dropped so low that leaders are worried how their town will make it through the summer. Due to the continuing drought, 80 percent of Oklahoma’s winter wheat crop this year is rated poor or very poor.

The Number of the Day is how many West Nile Virus deaths occurred in Oklahoma during 2013. In today’s Policy Note, a report by In The Public Interest describes how outsourcing public services sets off a downward spiral in which reduced worker wages and benefits can hurt the local economy and overall stability of middle and working class communities.

continue reading In The Know: State’s misses May revenue estimate, corporate income tax falls to zero after refunds

FY 2015 Budget Highlights

appropriations-adjustedOK 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 2015 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 also see this blog post for analysis of why some assertions made by lawmakers about spending cuts and increases in this year’s budget do not hold up to scrutiny.

continue reading FY 2015 Budget Highlights

In The Know: States’ refusal of Medicaid expansion leads Mercy to lay off 300 workers

by and | June 10th, 2014 | 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. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zebre.

Download today’s In The Know podcast here or play it in your browser:

Today you should know that the Mercy health system is planning to lay off up to 300 people in four states including Oklahoma. As reason for the layoffs, they cited reductions in insurance payments and a lack of Medicaid expansion in most of the states the hospital system serves. The agency responsible for providing services to Oklahomans with disabilities faces a $368,000 cut in next year’s budget.

Oklahoma Watch reported on how plunging corporate income tax collections contributed to Oklahoma’s budget cuts this year. Nationwide state revenues and employment have both surpassed pre-recession levels, but some states including Oklahoma are still struggling with shortfallsThe east tunnel entrance to the state Capitol was closed due to a smell that was too much for a security guard to maintain his post for the entire day. State Treasurer Ken Miller called for consolidating more state boards and agencies and overhauling teacher pensions to save money.

KGOU shared four takeaways from the legislative session by University of Oklahoma political scientist Keith Gaddie. The OK Policy Blog discussed a legislator’s fearmongering about ‘The Bluest Eye’ by Toni Morrison in the debate over Common Core standards, and why Oklahomans ought to read the book. The mother of a special-needs student says State Superintendent Janet Barresi violated the privacy rights of her child and others by providing their names and home addresses to her campaign for re-election.

Department of Corrections officials said they have reduced the nearly 2,000 state inmates backed up in county jails to less than 300. A former Tulsa man who served about 16 years in prison before being paroled and cleared of wrongdoing by DNA evidence is suing the city of Tulsa in federal court. The lawsuit claims that city officials used manufactured evidence to convict him and then obstructed his exoneration efforts while he was in prison and on parole.

Tulsa, Oklahoma City and a handful of other Oklahoma cities will be forced to dismantle their property registration programs under a new state law approved during the last session. Due to a court ruling that the company must comply with federal anti-pollution rules, OG&E will convert two of the three coal units at its Muskogee plant to use natural gas. The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahoma kindergartners in 2012-13 that had vaccinations for measles, mumps, and rubella. In today’s Policy Note, the New York Times discuss how access to health care has become divided by state lines in a community on the Arkansas-Texas border. Arkansas is accepting federal funds to expand health coverage while Texas is not.

continue reading In The Know: States’ refusal of Medicaid expansion leads Mercy to lay off 300 workers

Read This: The Bluest Eye

the bluest eye

On the state Senate floor in the waning hours of the final day of the 2014 legislative session, Sen. Josh Brecheen (R-Coalgate) read a passage from Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye as part of his effort to derail Common Core in Oklahoma. Ignoring that Common Core doesn’t require any schools to read The Bluest Eye (the books listed are suggestions), Sen. Brecheen’s use of The Bluest Eye indicates not only fundamental misunderstanding of the work but also precisely why Oklahomans ought to read it. Its frank portrayal of poverty, misogyny, and racism, still all too common in Oklahoma, helps readers to empathize with those affected by oppression. By giving them the tools to understand the world around them, The Bluest Eye equips readers to change that world.

continue reading Read This: The Bluest Eye

In The Know: Treatment of immigrants divides Tulsa police and sheriff’s office

by | June 9th, 2014 | 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. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

Download today’s In The Know podcast here or play it in your browser:

Today you should know that the New York Times examined tensions between the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office and Tulsa city police over how to treat undocumented immigrants. While the County Sheriff has led a crackdown on immigrants, city police say it is hurting their ability to fight dangerous crime by scaring immigrants from reporting when they are victimized. The New York Times also tells the story of an undocumented immigrant in Tulsa who had to give up his successful business due to Oklahoma’s 2007 anti-immigration law. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said it plans to use Fort Sill in Lawton to house up to 1,200 children fleeing violence and poverty in Central America.

A multiple-article feature in the Oklahoman discusses the problem of “food deserts” in Oklahoma, places where residents don’t have nearby access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. The Tulsa World gave a round-up of the three Republicans and four Democrats running for state superintendent. The OK Gazette shared a profile of new Oklahoma City Schools superintendent Robert Neu, who previously served as superintendent of a district south of Seattle. A new Pew Report finds that Oklahoma releases the 4th highest percentage of inmates directly to the streets without any supervision or services.

The Red Dirt Rangers wrote an op-ed for the Oklahoman on their struggles to access health care after a helicopter crash and why Oklahoma should accept federal dollars to expand coverage. A new music video by the Red Dirt Rangers and 50 other Oklahoma musicians seeks to raise awareness about Oklahoma leaders’ refusal to expand coverage. The Tulsa World spoke to residents of Yale, Oklahoma, a small town that’s experienced some of the largest earthquakes in the state. The Muskogee Phoenix examined how much still needs to be done to complete the American Indian Cultural Center, which is in limbo after costing about $91 million so far. The Oklahoman editorial board praised an OK Policy blog post showing how lawmakers used accounting tricks to conceal what’s really happening in the FY 2015 state budget.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahoma inmates who were released directly to the streets with no parole supervision or services in 2012, more than twice the national average. In today’s Policy Note, Demos discusses some ideas that experts on both the left and right agree could help reduce long-term unemployment.

continue reading In The Know: Treatment of immigrants divides Tulsa police and sheriff’s office