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In The Know: Budget deal gives flat funding for common ed, cuts for colleges

by | May 20th, 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.

Legislative leaders and Governor Fallin have reached a budget agreement for next year that provides flat funding to common education flat and cuts appropriations for colleges and universities by $24.1 million. OK Policy released a statement calling on lawmakers to reject the budget and demand a balanced plan that includes sustainable revenue options. The budget would cut most state agencies by up to 7.25% while using up hundreds of millions in one-time revenues that will immediately create another large budget hole for next year. You can see a list of all of the proposed appropriations here and a summary of the budget agreement here.

While the Department of Agriculture’s appropriations have dropped by more than 25 percent since 2008 and would see another $1.2 million cut in the proposed budget, Oklahoma House members spent much of yesterday complaining about rules that would increase fees for the Department’s testing services by about $200,000. Lawmakers ultimately approved those rules and more than 300 others while disapproving three, including one that would include harassment based on sexual orientation in the definition of a hostile work environment for alcohol wholesalers.

Today OK Policy will be live blogging our analysis of the budget from the state Capitol. You can follow our updates here. On the OK Policy Blog, we described some of the ways that under-investment by the state is harming Oklahoma families and the economy. A $25 million bond proposal to build a museum of popular culture in Tulsa has cleared the Oklahoma Senate, one day after the same bill failed when a senator said he mistakenly pressed the wrong button. 

University of Oklahoma President David Boren issued a statement defending his position as a member of the Continental Resources Board of Directors, after Bloomberg News reported that the company’s CEO Harold Hamm tried to get OU researchers fired for linking earthquakes to the oil and gas industry. Stillwater officials continue to refine new regulations for oil and gas drilling inside city limits as they wait for the Legislature to finalize a bill that would stop cities from banning drilling. The deaths of 9 oilfield workers who inhaled fumes from chemicals, including one in Oklahoma, have prompted federal officials to warn about the dangers around crude production tanks.

The Oklahoma chapter of The National Alliance on Mental Illness celebrated its 30-year anniversary, looking back at efforts to advocate in the Legislature for Oklahomans affected by mental illness. With more rain expected this week, Oklahoma is on track for its wettest month ever recorded.

The Number of the Day is $74.3M – the overall decrease in funding for state services in Oklahoma’s fiscal year 2016 budget proposal compared to this year. In today’s Policy Note, The American Prospect examines what the contrast between Minnesota and Wisconsin tells us about the best policies for achieving high wages and economic growth.

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STATEMENT: Lawmakers should reject unbalanced budget deal

Oklahoma Policy Institute released the following statement in response to a state budget deal announced today:

Lawmakers faced a difficult task with a $611 million budget hole. Even so, this budget proposal ignores sensible revenue options by allowing a tax cut to go forward that was never meant to happen in these conditions and failing to do anything about wasteful tax breaks, such as the double deduction for state income tax.

The result is a budget that does not keep up with rising costs for common education and health care and continues to ratchet down support for the arts, economic development, state parks, and other areas that are already at least 20 percent below pre-recession funding levels. Oklahomans can expect continued teacher shortages and larger class sizes, higher fees and tuition, and less access to medical care, among the many bad consequences of this budget.

The budget deal barely maintains some vital services only by using up hundreds of millions in one-time revenues that will immediately dig another large budget hole for next year. Oklahoma will not be able to kick this can down the road much longer. Legislators should reject this budget and demand a balanced plan that includes sustainable revenue options.

The real damage of budget cuts, and the latest bad excuse for tax cuts

by | May 19th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Taxes | Comments (1)

Photo by Geraint Rowland / CC BY-NC 2.0

Photo by Geraint Rowland / CC BY-NC 2.0

Lawmakers are planning a budget for next year that from most reports looks likely to cut funding for most state agencies while refusing to halt a scheduled tax cut or reign in tax breaks. As some pre-budget spin in defense of these decisions, The Oklahoman editorial board and the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs have pointed to $40 million spent on “swag, advertising, and memberships” as evidence that Oklahoma can afford to reduce taxes further even during a budget shortfall.

It’s worth noting that the source of the $40 million figure is never shared, nor is what they specifically mean by “swag, advertising, and memberships,” even when they put it in quotation marks. But if we take them at their word that this is unnecessary spending, that’s still not an argument to cut taxes again. We can just as easily find examples of how severe under-investment by the state is harming Oklahoma families and the economy.

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In The Know: House votes to cap motor vehicle tax revenue going to education

by | May 19th, 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.

The House Appropriations and Budget Committee passed a dozen bills to cap how much funds are transferred off-the-top to education, roads, tourism, and other services. Since the early 2000s, just over a third of motor vehicle tax revenues have been automatically transferred to local school districts, but HB 2244 caps that amount to never exceed what schools get this fiscal year, with the rest going to the General Revenue Fund. With two months left in the fiscal year, schools have so far received $230.7 million from automatic motor vehicle tax transfers.

The House approved an additional $25 million to complete the long-delayed American Indian Cultural Center in Oklahoma City, while a bill to provide $25 million for a museum of popular culture in Tulsa failed in the Senate by one vote. But the author of the measure, Senate Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, indicated he would seek another vote. Sen. Bryce Marlatt, R-Woodward said he accidentally changed his vote to no seconds before the vote was closed, and he intends to vote for it when Senate President Pro Tem Bingman brings it up for another vote.

An investigation by The Frontier found that for the past five years, state and federal auditors have repeatedly criticized the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office for lax oversight of inmate trust accounts — but those warnings prompted little change and some of the funds went missing. The Oklahoma attorney general’s office has elected not to pursue charges after reviewing a state audit that examined allegations of criminal wrongdoing in a private contract awarded for demolition work on the Tar Creek Superfund cleanup site.

On the OK Policy Blog, research fellow Cassidy Hamilton looks at the pros and cons of vote-by-mail elections. Legislation to make municipalities pay if they adopt ordinances which restrict the development of oil and gas has been granted a conference committee hearing in the Oklahoma House. A former Norman high school student pleaded no contest to rape, a crime that led hundreds of his fellow students to walk out in November and demand punishment for incidents they said were not being taken seriously. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison with eight years of the sentence suspended.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of renting households in Oklahoma whose total rent consumes more than half of the household’s income. In today’s Policy Note, The Atlantic examines how the gap between the richest and poorest in the U.S. has grown so wide that fewer Americans are calling themselves middle class.

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Should Oklahoma adopt all voting-by-mail elections? (Guest Post: Cassidy Hamilton)

by | May 18th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Elections | Comments (0)

Cassidy Hamilton is one of the 2014-2015 OK Policy Research Fellows. Cassidy graduated magna cum laude with a degree in Economics and is currently pursuing a Masters of Public Administration at the University of Oklahoma. She has also contributed a blog post on infant mortalityvote-by-mail.

Last year, Oklahoma was ranked 49th in the nation in voter engagement in a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Less than half of eligible Oklahomans voted in the 2012 presidential election and only three-fourths of eligible Oklahomans are even registered, putting Oklahoma 46th nationally in voter registration.

To address our state’s poor voter participation, State Senator David Holt introduced a package of ten bills that if enacted, would fundamentally restructure Oklahoma’s election process. These bills ranged from SB 313, which would establish and allow online voter registration, to SB 310, which would transition Oklahoma to conduct its elections entirely by mail by 2020.

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In The Know: Email reveals oil CEO tried to get university quake scientists dismissed

by | May 18th, 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.

In an e-mail obtained via a public records request, a University of Oklahoma dean said that oil tycoon Harold Hamm was pushing the university to fire scientists who were investigating links between earthquakes and the oil and gas industry. An oil wastewater disposal well near the epicenter of Oklahoma’s largest recorded earthquake was drilled too deep, which some say contributes to earthquakes. The well’s owner, New Dominion, has sought state approval to make it shallower, but they still deny any connection between their wells and earthquakes. New Dominion faces at least two lawsuits over the earthquake, and one of them is before the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

KFOR examined the legal costs paid by taxpayers of defending numerous bills passed by the Legislature that were later ruled unconstitutional. The Tulsa World warned against a bill that would eliminate income taxes for people moving into Oklahoma counties where population has been declining. A very similar tax break in Kansas has not increased migration to declining counties. The Legislature sent to Governor Fallin a bill to eliminate a property tax exemption for new wind farms beginning in 2017.

Legislative leaders and the governor’s office are still trying to hash out a budget that is expected to make more cuts to nearly every state agency. On the OK Policy Blog, Steve Lewis wrote that lawmakers have shuffled money around while slashing taxes for years, and now we’re seeing the real costs come out in damage to education, health, mental health, social services and public safety. The Senate voted to override Gov. Fallin’s veto of a bill that would decouple the pay of statewide elected officials from that of judges.

Oklahoma Watch reported that a large percentage of Oklahoma’s incarcerated women show symptoms of PTSD due to emotional and sexual abuse. Preliminary results show that 14.6 percent of third graders, or 7,311 students, are at risk of repeating the third grade after scoring “unsatisfactory” on the state’s reading exam. The okeducationtruths blog looked at how media and the state Department of Education differed in portraying the results.

Eleven Republicans with presidential aspirations will be in Oklahoma City this week for the Southern Republicans Leadership Conference. A U.S. Supreme Court decision could make Oklahoma’s numerous licensing boards vulnerable to criminal and civil antitrust actions because they are dominated by existing members of the industry they are regulating. Oklahoma Policy Institute announced that Andrew Tevington, who was a top advisor to former Governor Henry Bellmon, and Felicia Collins Correia, who served 25 years as CEO of major non-profit organizations in Tulsa, have been elected to our Board of Directors.

The Number of the Day is 63.4% – the percentage of managed honeybee colonies lost in Oklahoma from 2014 to 2015. It was the worst loss in the nation. In today’s Policy Note, CityLab looks at how cities and states have shot far past Congress in successfully raising the minimum wage.

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The Weekly Wonk May 17, 2015

by | May 17th, 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.

We are accepting applications to our third annual Summer Policy Institute through May 26th! College students who attend will get to dig deep on a wide range of policy issues, learn from top researchers and policymakers, and network with people with similar interests. Watch this preview to learn more.

OK Policy is excited to welcome two new board members. Andrew Tevington previously served as a top adviser to former Governor Henry Bellmon, and Felicia Collins Correia has more than 25 years of experience as CEO of major nonprofits in Tulsa. You can learn more about our board here. We’ve redesigned our website to make it mobile-friendly and more accessible. Let us know what you think here.

On the OK Policy Blog, we explain that the state budget deficit is a structural problem, and not just due to oil prices. A guest post by the Oklahoma Primary Care Association’s Steven Goldman explains how enrollment data shows that Oklahomans are actively engaging with the Affordable Care Act. In his Capitol Update, Steve Lewis argues that lawmakers’ habit of shuffling money around while slashing taxes is beginning to create serious problems for education, health, mental health, social services and public safety.

Nikki Hager, former OK Policy intern and Midwest regional director of the millennial advocacy group Common Sense Action, writes in the Journal Record that the Legislature’s habit of engineering short-term fixes to long-term problems is harming investment in the state. In his weekly Journal Record column, Executive Director David Blatt explains that halting the tax cut doesn’t need a supermajority. You can read about the topic in greater detail here. The Edmond Sun quoted Blatt in a discussion of a bill to reform civil asset forfeiture in Oklahoma. Policy Director Gene Perry was quoted in a Huffington Post piece on education testing.

Weekly What’s That:

Earned Income Tax Credit

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a tax credit that subsidizes work for low-income families. More than 26 million households will receive a total of $60 billion in reduced taxes and refunds in 2015, according to the Tax Policy Center, making the EITC the nation’s largest cash or near cash assistance program after the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). Read more.

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

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Former Bellmon top advisor, non-profit director join OK Policy board

Oklahoma Policy Institute is pleased to announce that Andrew Tevington, who served for many years as a top advisor to Governor Henry Bellmon, and Felicia Collins Correia, whose experience includes over 25 years as CEO of major non-profit organizations in Tulsa, have been elected to its Board of Directors.

“We are delighted to add two widely-admired and respected individuals who have made outstanding contributions to our state through their professional careers and community service,” said Vince LoVoi, OK Policy’s Board Chair. “Felicia and Andrew will add to our tradition of building a strong, nonpartisan board that is thoughtful, far-sighted, policy-focused, and comprised of individuals who bring a wide range of personal and professional experiences to the table.”

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State budget writers try to pass the buck (Capitol Updates)

by | May 15th, 2015 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates | Comments (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.

The budget process is winding its way toward an announcement that a “budget deal has been reached.”  My guess is legislative leaders and the governor have decided to patch together a budget, by putting lipstick on a pig as the saying goes, and get out of town as soon as possible.  At this point in the session there’s not much else to do.  Budgeting, in concept, is pretty simple.  If you have more expenses than revenue you can either increase your revenue, cut your expenses or move money from one pocket to the other so you can meet the expenses you absolutely have to and let the others wait for better times.

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In The Know: Legislative committees pass $25 million bond plans for Indian and OKPOP museums

by | May 15th, 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.

Oklahoma legislative committees approved separate $25 million bond proposals to complete the unfinished American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City and build the proposed Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture in Tulsa. Gun rights advocates are seeking to get the Legislature to override Gov. Fallin’s veto of a bill that restricts businesses from banning guns at parks, fairgrounds and recreational areas. 

After a coalition asked for a moratorium on the use of injection wells that are linked to Oklahoma’s earthquake surge, Governor Fallin responded with a copy of an editorial from The Oklahoman defending the state’s response to earthquakes. Oklahoma economists said there are signs that the downturn in oil prices and drilling activity will not last long.

The executive director of the state Pardon and Parole Board has resigned after just six weeks at the agency. The board has faced public criticism for their unwillingness to recommend parole for most offenders. Slate examined how death penalties across the country are being pursued in just a few isolated counties — former Oklahoma County district attorney Bob Macy sent 54 people to death row before retiring in 2001, but over the past five years, Oklahoma County has had only one death sentence.

The New York Times reported that Moore, Oklahoma has gone far beyond any other city in the nation in adopting tornado-resistant building codes. On the OK Policy Blog, Steven Goldman discussed how the latest enrollment data shows Oklahomans are actively using the Affordable Care Act to get health insurance. The Blue Bell corporation and state agencies in Texas and Oklahoma announced a voluntary agreement to institute safeguards before resuming ice cream production, following the discovery of listeria bacteria in its products.

Tulsa-area pediatricians are joining a campaign to encourage parents to read, talk, and sing more to their children to close early literacy gaps. Students attending one of Oklahoma’s four-year public colleges or universities paid $1,192 extra in tuition this year compared to 2008, according to a report released this week by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The report found that Oklahoma has cut state funding for higher education by $2,251 per student, or 23.5 percent, since 2008. The Number of the Day is 10,105 students – the drop in enrollment at Oklahoma colleges and universities over the past year, a decrease of 5.5% between Spring 2014 and Spring 2015.

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