Options for a balanced approach to solve Oklahoma’s budget gap

Photo by 401kcalculator.org.

Photo by 401kcalculator.org.

Download this fact sheet as a pdf here.

Oklahoma’s huge budget shortfall this year is the result of both falling gas prices and past policy choices that have weakened revenue collections and left less money available for appropriation by lawmakers. Officials projects give lawmakers $611 million less for next year compared to this year.

The shortfall is only the latest in a prolonged budget crisis since the last recession. This year’s budget is already $680 million smaller than six years ago when adjusted for inflation. Years of budget cuts and flat funding continue to be felt in the form of larger class sizes, uncompetitive salaries for teachers and state employees, understaffed correctional facilities, and long waiting lists for critical services. In addition, many agencies require substantial funding increases next year simply to maintain services at current levels.

In this context, relying on deeper funding cuts to balance the budget would inflict serious harm to Oklahomans’ health, safety, and economic well-being. However, state leaders have appropriately indicated that “all options are on the table” in closing the budget gap. Here are 7 feasible and responsible options that deserve serious consideration. The first four options would strengthen the state’s fiscal outlook both next year and over the long-term, while the final three would offer one-time solutions to help get us through this rough patch.

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In The Know: Legislators target state payroll deduction for teachers’ union dues

by and | March 17th, 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.

In what one lawmaker termed a poke in the eye to teachers, a divided Senate committee approved a House-passed bill Monday to prohibit tens of thousands of Oklahoma educators from paying union dues by state payroll deduction. A House committee approved two bills to reduce the number of state-mandated tests in schools, a bill to make it easier for districts to hire teachers certified in other states but not Oklahoma, and an expansion of tobacco-restrictions on school property.

Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Rob Neu vowed to correct a history of disproportionately suspending minority students that is part of a federal civil rights investigation of the district. KGOU looked at a small group of black student activists at the University of Oklahoma who were thrust into the national spotlight last week. A two-part series (1, 2) by Fox25 investigates evidence that the state is overselling the impact of Quality Jobs payments to private companies. OK Policy previously published a report that found gaps in oversight of the program.

The Tulsa World reported that as problems with lethal-injection executions have multiplied in recent years, so have the secrecy statutes that limit what people can find out about the process. There was so much secrecy surrounding the rush to develop a new execution drug protocol in Oklahoma last spring that even the director of the Department of Corrections didn’t know the state had found a new source for drugs. Oklahoma Watch explained why a bill to end marriage licenses in Oklahoma would not eliminate state involvement in marriage.

Oklahoma tag agencies across the state are getting a major upgrade to computer systems for the first time in over 20 years, switching from an outdated DOS system to a Windows-based program. The Cushing oil storage facility is nearing operational capacity with nearly 51.5 million barrels of oil. During Spring Break, the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma’s mobile eatery is working to bring meals to kids who do not have steady access to food while out of school.

The Number of the Day is the median annual earnings for women employed full-time, year-round in Oklahoma, lower than in 42 other states. In tdday’s Policy Note, The Marshall Project investigated how debtors’ prisons live on in America despite being ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

continue reading In The Know: Legislators target state payroll deduction for teachers’ union dues

In The Know: Furor over Oklahoma fraternity’s racist song may lead to lasting changes

by and | March 16th, 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.

The Los Angeles Times examined how reaction to a fraternity’s racist video is reshaping the culture at the University of Oklahoma. A lawyer for the fraternity chapter banished from the University of Oklahoma is seeking “some other resolution to this matter” and, failing that, may take the university to court. Member’s of Oklahoma’s business community said a reputation for racism and offensive bills filed in the Legislature is making it harder to attract business to the state. A federal appeals court has given new life to a Holocaust survivor’s claim that the University of Oklahoma is unjustly harboring a painting that the Nazis stole from her father during World War II.

Governor Fallin’s office released more than 5,000 pages of interview transcripts and other records related to the botched execution of Clayton Lockett. The release is the first public records request provided by the Governor’s office in 11 months, despite a backlog of requests from members of the media and other Oklahomans. A year after the Tulsa World examined hopes for improvement at a high-poverty elementary school, the school is still struggling with many inexperienced new hires and mid-year teacher resignations.

The Tahlequah Daily Press wrote that Oklahoma legislators’ failure to delay another income tax cut in the midst of a huge budget hole is creating a “train wreck.” The Oklahoman editorial board pointed out that one proposal in the Legislature could delay the second round of Oklahoma’s scheduled income tax cuts by instead diverting the money to education. A Kansas legislative committee has broached the idea of reversing part of a big break for business owners to help close a budget shortfall that arose after lawmakers aggressively cut personal income taxes.  

The president of the Oklahoma Hospital Association said Oklahoma must work to get more residents health insurance and improve statewide health outcomes in order to achieve the goal of reducing health-care spending. A lawsuit filed Thursday asks the state Supreme Court to find that the State Pension Commission violated the Oklahoma Constitution because two of its seven members are legislators. After almost three years of litigation, the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes have received the nearly $6.5 million in trust funds frozen since 2012.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahoma inmates in prison for nonviolent offenses. In today’s Policy Note, the New Yorker surveys several recent books on income inequality in the United States, which has grown wider than in any other democracy in the developed world.

continue reading In The Know: Furor over Oklahoma fraternity’s racist song may lead to lasting changes

The Weekly Wonk March 15, 2015

by | March 15th, 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 on the OK Policy Blog, we explained how a nonsensical double-dip tax break is costing Oklahoma millions. Almost one year after introducing a new school meals program to help kids in poverty, we checked back in and found that it saves money, allows schools to allocate staff more efficiently, and means students eat better. In his Capitol Update, Steve Lewis writes that public support can help two sexual abuse awareness bills advance in the Legislature.

Oklahoma Assets Network invites you to Who Pays More?, a town hall forum on predatory lending in Oklahoma on April 15th at 6:30pm at the OU Faculty House. The forum will feature remarks from Dr. Haydar Kurban, the author of new research on payday lending patterns in the state, “The Demographics of Payday Lending in Oklahoma,” followed by a panel discussion. Click here to RSVP.

We here at OK Policy are committed to providing you with timely and accurate analysis about a wide range of state policy issues – but we want to make sure that what we’re doing is helpful to you. Should we spend more time making infographics? More in-depth reports? A mobile app? We want to know what you think, and you can let us know by taking our survey.

This week in his Journal Record column, Executive Director David Blatt discussed a new documentary film, Children of the Civil Rights, and the legacy of the civil rights movement. Blatt was also interviewed on KWGS about solutions for solving the state’s $611 million shortfall. (Click here for an inexplicable but entertaining gibberish version.)

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 here.

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

continue reading The Weekly Wonk March 15, 2015

Advocacy could make the difference on sexual abuse awareness bills (Steve Lewis Capitol Updates)

by | March 13th, 2015 | Posted in Capitol Updates | Comments (0)
Photo Credit: Peter Bulthuis

Photo Credit: Peter Bulthuis

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.

Senate Bill 303 by Sen. Wayne Shaw (R-Grove) and Rep. Lee Denney (R-Cushing) is a bill that requires the State Department of Education, in collaboration with the Department of Human Services and others to develop and make available to school districts age-appropriate sexual abuse and assault awareness and prevention education for grades kindergarten through twelve.

The bill also provides that beginning with the 2016-2017 school year, the board of each school district shall adopt a policy to provide age-appropriate sexual abuse and assault awareness and prevention education for grades kindergarten through twelve.  The bill has an opt-out provision for parents who do not want their children to receive the information.

continue reading Advocacy could make the difference on sexual abuse awareness bills (Steve Lewis Capitol Updates)

In The Know: State Senate passes online voter registration bill

by | March 13th, 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.

The Oklahoma Senate has approved three bills designed to increase voter turnout. The bills (SB 313SB 315, and SB 312) would allow Oklahomans with a valid drivers license to register to vote online and join a permanent absentee voter list, and consolidate local elections to one cycle in the fall or spring. We previously suggested a number of reforms to boost voter turnout in Oklahoma. The Senate also passed a bill (SB 298) that would alter the procedure for insurance companies to connect people to unclaimed life insurance benefits, over State Treasurer Ken Miller’s objections. Miller has previously said he would sue were the law to pass. The Senate has passed a bill (SB 383) reforming Oklahoma’s liquor laws, but the bill’s author doesn’t expect it to advance and says she’ll try again in 2016.

NewsOK identified a bill (SB 696) that would make it easier for food entrepreneurs to sell their goods. A resolution (HJR 1012) that would alter the state Constitution to include a guarantee of a “right to farm” has cleared the House and is expected to pass easily through the Senate. It would then appear on the  ballot in 2016. KGOU identified a number of bills that were not heard in their chamber of origin by Thursday’s deadline. The Tulsa World wrote that shelving a bill that would have created a school voucher system is a victory for schools. Michael Carnuccio wrote in his Journal Record column in support of HB 2168, which would implement licensing reform for ex-offenders whose crime does not substantially relate to the occupation for which they are seeking the license.

A town hall forum on predatory lending hosted by Oklahoma Assets Network will be held on April 15th in Oklahoma City. The state seasonal flu death total has reached 98, with more than 2000 hospitalized. The state Board of Education has approved a process and timeline for developing new academic standards following the repeal of Common Core math and English benchmarks last year. StateImpact explains why Oklahoma’s newest lake might be built by Fort Smith, Arkansas. In Pawnee County, a district attorney and judge are embroiled in a months-long dispute over the process of creating a county drug court. The Number of the Day is the percentage of all nonfarm employees in Oklahoma who worked in the government sector in 2013. In today’s Policy Note, The Atlantic examines the many causes of America’s decline in crime, and finds that mass incarceration isn’t one of them.

continue reading In The Know: State Senate passes online voter registration bill

Who Pays More? A Town Hall Forum on Predatory Lending in Oklahoma

Oklahoma Assets Network (OAN) is pleased to invite you to save the date for a town hall forum on predatory lending. This event is free and open to the public. The forum will feature remarks from Dr. Haydar Kurban, the author of new research on payday lending patterns in the state, ‘The Demographics of Payday Lending in Oklahoma.‘ Dr. Kurban is an Associate Professor of Economics at Howard University whose previous research has been published in the National Tax Journal and Economic Development Quarterly.

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Wednesday April 15th, 2015
6:30pm Heavy hors d’oeuvres
7:00-8:30pm Remarks & discussion

OU Faculty House
601 Northeast 14th Street
Oklahoma City, OK 73104

Please click here to RSVP

Please join Dr. Kurban and our local panel of experts for a discussion about the disproportionate share of predatory lenders located among particular communities and demographics, including:

  • Military families
  • Older Oklahomans
  • Lower income earners
  • Single parent households
  • Young adults
  • Communities of color

 

 

 

Following Dr. Kurban’s remarks, we will take questions and comments from the audience, and host a discussion featuring local experts and practitioners: 

  • [Moderator] Damario Solomon-Simmons, Legislative Liaison with Oklahoma Policy Institute 
  • Kate Richey, Coordinator for Oklahoma Assets Network
  • Cristy Cash, Vice President of Central Oklahoma Consumer Credit Counseling 
  • Tina Pollard, Consumer Lending Manager with Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation

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In The Know: Legislator pulls controversial school voucher bill

by and | March 12th, 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.

State Sen. Clark Jolley announced Wednesday that he was pulling a piece of legislation that would have created school vouchers to use taxpayer funds for private school tuition. Public Opinion Strategies, a polling firm that found a majority of Oklahomans oppose school vouchers, responded to criticisms from Sooner Poll, which had different findings on the issue. Separate pieces of legislation calling for a US Constitutional Convention advanced through the Oklahoma Senate and House of Representatives on Wednesday. The OK Policy Blog previously discussed why a Constitutional Convention is dangerous and unnecessary.

The University of Oklahoma’s decision to expel two fraternity members who led a racist chant on a bus provoked criticism from legal experts who said the students’ words were protected by the First Amendment. A FOX Sports columnist contrasted OU’s zero tolerance response to the students with the university’s much more lenient response to a football player who assaulted a fellow student and made an anti-gay slur. Oklahoma Watch shared statistics on how blacks in Oklahoma continue to face unequal life chances in numerous areas. David Blatt’s Journal Record column discussed the legacy of children who worked to desegregate Oklahoma.

The former Muskogee County Jail superintendent and assistant superintendent were sentenced to federal prison Wednesday, more than a year after being convicted of regularly using excessive force on jail inmates and conspiring to violate their civil rights. The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs endorsed a bill (HB 2168) to remove some of Oklahoma’s job licensing bans for ex-felons. On the OK Policy Blog, we previously discussed why restricting employment for ex-felons is counterproductive and how Oklahoma puts up numerous barriers to rebuilding a life after prison. The House approved legislation (HB 1518) intended to allow judges to hand down shorter sentences for some crimes that now require mandatory minimum prison time.

A new plan from state health officials sets of goal of making Oklahoma no longer among the states with the worst health in the nation in five years. You can read the Oklahoma Health Improvement Plan 2020 here. The Oklahoma Senate voted unanimously to approve a pair of bills that would limit tax incentives for the wind energy industry. The Senate also approve sending to the voters a state question that would have the Legislature dedicate every other year exclusively to writing a state budget. A bill that creates a commission to evaluate state tax incentives won’t include oversight from the state auditor’s office, despite requests by State Auditor Gary Jones to be included. David Blatt spoke with Public Radio Tulsa about ways that Oklahoma could close its $611 million budget shortfall.

On the OK Policy Blog, we discussed how the first year of community eligibility is helping Oklahoma schools feed more kids while reducing their expenses. The Muscogee (Creek) Nation tribal council voted 12-0 for a resolution of no confidence in Chief George Tiger after a Tulsa World investigation uncovered Tiger’s secret contract with a casino developer. Amid a continuing severe drought, Lawton is moving forward with a project to dredge built up silt from the bottom of Waurika Lake that’s making what little water is left in the lake harder to access.

The Number of the Day is the percent of Oklahomans who were uninsured in 2014. In today’s Policy Note, NPR reported on why some schools serve local food while others can’t or won’t.

continue reading In The Know: Legislator pulls controversial school voucher bill

This new school meals program helps high-poverty kids and schools

by | March 11th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Education, Poverty | Comments (0)
Photo by Bread for the World used under a Creative Commons license

Photo by Bread for the World used under a Creative Commons license

Last spring, we reported on a powerful new tool to fight hunger in high-poverty schools. Community Eligibility, part of 2010’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, allows certain high-poverty schools, groups of schools, or school districts to offer breakfast and lunch to all students free of charge. Recently, we with talked the Nutrition Services Directors at Oklahoma City Public Schools (OKCPS) and Shawnee Public Schools (SPS), to hear about their first year of community eligibility.

Oklahoma City Public Schools adopted community eligibility in 51 of 79 of it schools, which means that 26,000 of 44,000 students in the district receive breakfast and lunch every day, free of charge. Shawnee Public Schools has adopted community eligibility in 5 of 7 schools. In both districts, the vast majority of affected students are in elementary school, when nutrition experts say that healthy meals are crucial to physical and neurological development.

continue reading This new school meals program helps high-poverty kids and schools

In The Know: Oklahoma House votes to do away with state marriage licenses

by and | March 11th, 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.

Should we spend more time making infographics? More in-depth reports? A mobile app? We want to know what you think. Take our survey at http://okpolicy.org/take-our-survey.

Oklahoma would stop issuing marriage licenses under legislation passed Tuesday afternoon by the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Representative Emily Virgin has proposed an amendment to a bill that would allow businesses in the marriage industry to discriminate based on their religious beliefs. The amendment requires a public posting of the refusal of service to specific members of the community. 

As the University of Oklahoma expelled two students for leading a racist song that sparked outrage across the country, the fraternity involved said it would investigate questions over the chant’s use by members at other universities. A black former member of the SAE fraternity at OU wrote an essay on his experience at the fraternity and reaction to the song. OU President David Boren held a press conference to discuss the university’s response to the incident. A group of Oklahoma City black ministers and the NAACP called for an ongoing investigation and dialogue about racial tension at college campuses across the state.

A total of 126,115 Oklahomans signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act in the most recent enrollment period, and more than half were new enrollees who did not have marketplace coverage before November. On the OK Policy Blog, we discussed how ending a nonsensical state income tax deduction for state income taxes could bring in millions of dollars to help close the state’s budget hole. The state’s higher education chancellor told state lawmakers that proposed budget cuts to Oklahoma’s colleges and universities could have devastating consequences for the schools and their students.

NPR shared research on income mobility in Massachusetts and Oklahoma that shows the gap between the affluent and the poor is getting wider each year. The House overwhelmingly passed legislation that would make it a felony crime to perform embryonic stem cell research in Oklahoma. Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman is continuing to push a resolution to make the Legislature consider non-budget policy issues only in odd-numbered years

The Tulsa World editorial board wrote that a recent incident in the Oklahoma Legislature demonstrates the importance of vigilance to keep government transparent. A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit that challenges a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Oklahoma state Capitol. The Number of the Day is the percentage of businesses in Oklahoma owned by immigrants. In today’s Policy Note, a New York Times infographic details how the  types of jobs that pay middle-class wages have shifted since 1980.

continue reading In The Know: Oklahoma House votes to do away with state marriage licenses