In The Know: Oklahoma budget hole reaches $611 million

by and | February 18th, 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 agencies in Oklahoma are being told to brace for budget cuts after a state board led by Gov. Mary Fallin certified that the Legislature will have $611 million less to spend this year. OK Policy released a statement that the budget shortfall cannot be blamed only on the slowdown in the energy industry, as legislators have repeatedly voted to cut taxes and expand tax breaks. State officials said all options are on the table to address the budget hole, but ruled out canceling a cut to the top income rate that adds $50 million to the shortfall this year.

Two bills that would require stricter oversight of various state tax credits and incentives have cleared a Senate committee. Members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education approved measures that would boost teacher salaries and pump more money into Oklahoma classrooms, while acknowledging they do not know how to pay for them. Together Oklahoma discussed seven ways to get your legislators’ attention about an issue.

An Oklahoma Watch investigation showed how two private companies that provide banking services in prisons are extracting onerous fees from inmates’ family members. Tulsa has seen a rash of self-defense shootings this year by civilians or security guards. A House committee moved forward two bills that would discontinue state marriage licenses and forbid state and local government employees, including judges, from complying with federal rulings on same-sex marriage. Another Oklahoma bill would require couples to prove they don’t have a communicable disease before getting a marriage license.

Oklahoma’s attorney general is praising a ruling by a federal judge in South Texas who has temporarily blocked President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration. The number of heroin deaths increased tenfold during a recent five-year period, according to a recently updated state Health Department report, but the increase could be due to both more heroin usage and better reporting. Chesapeake Energy Corp filed suit Tuesday alleging its founder and former chief executive, Aubrey K. McClendon, stole confidential company data during his last months on the job in order to launch his new oil and gas empire.

Oklahoma City is looking at building a 29-mile pipeline to move more water from reservoirs in the south to the drought-stricken north side of the city. Efforts to save monarch butterflies in Oklahoma and nationwide are underway after years of declining population. The Number of the Day is the estimated lifetime earnings of an Oklahoma City Public Schools teacher, lowest out of all 125 large districts studied in a national report. In today’s Policy Note, Vox debunks the myth that there are more black men in prison than in college.

continue reading In The Know: Oklahoma budget hole reaches $611 million

Oklahoma Equalization Board Certifies $611 Million Shortfall (KGOU)

by | February 17th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Media Coverage | Comments (0)

By Associated Press and KGOU Staff

State agencies in Oklahoma are being told to brace for budget cuts after a state board led by Gov. Mary Fallin certified that the Legislature will have $611 million less to spend this year.

The State Board of Equalization met Tuesday in Oklahoma City and formally certified the amount of revenue that is available for the Legislature to appropriate to state agencies for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

“The gap more than doubled,” Secretary of Finance, Administration and Information Technology Preston Doerflinger said in a statement. “We were prepared to climb the hill we faced before and we’re prepared to climb the mountain we face now. It will be difficult, but all options are on the table and the state will meet the challenge.”

The Oklahoma Legislature appropriated about $7.2 billion for the budget for the current fiscal year. But the amount available for them to spend on next year’s budget is about $6.6 billion.

Fallin already had suggested legislators tap state agency revolving funds and the state’s Rainy Day Fund to help ease the budget cuts for state agencies.

Doerflinger blamed the shortfall in part on a 55 percent drop in oil prices since June, citing Oklahoma Tax Commission figures indicating the state may lose 3,800 energy sector jobs this year. 

“We have monitored the oil situation closely for months through regular contact with energy firms, analysts, financial firms and others. The energy sector is certainly facing short term pain, but experts we talk with doubt it is facing a long term bust. Once market prices return to profitable levels, state revenues should start rebounding, as well,” Doerflinger said.

Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb said shortly after the numbers were certified that even though Oklahoma will always rely on the oil and gas industry, economic diversification should be top of mind. 

“We need to re-examine the certification process,” Lamb said. “When the December projections were given, we all intuitively knew they would not hold.  We must find a way to improve this process so numbers like today are not so far away from initial projections.”  

Oklahoma Policy Institute Executive Director David Blatt says the state could close the budget gap by canceling a scheduled cut to the top income tax rate, tapping a portion of the Rainy Day Fund, or accepting federal funds for expanded health coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act.

http://kgou.org/post/oklahoma-equalization-board-certifies-611-million-shortfall

 

STATEMENT: Bleak revenue estimate shows need to look at all options

by | February 17th, 2015 | Posted in Budget, Press Releases | Comments (2)

Oklahoma Policy Institute released the following statement in response to state officials certifying that Oklahoma faces a $611.3 million budget shortfall in the coming year:

This news that Oklahoma’s revenue picture has gone from bad to worse cannot be blamed only on the slowdown in the energy industry. Choices by the Legislature and Governor have helped dig this budget hole. State leaders need to make better choices to avoid calamitous cuts to our children’s schools, our health care safety net, and public safety.

Oklahoma has several responsible options to close the budget gap. These include canceling a scheduled cut to the top income tax rate, ending pointless tax breaks like the double deduction for state income taxes, closing a loophole in the corporate income tax by adopting combined reporting, slowing down off-the-top funding diversions like uncapped Quality Jobs subsidies and ROADs fund hikes, and tapping a portion of the Rainy Day Fund. Accepting federal funds for expanded health care coverage will also bolster the state budget while helping over 150,000 Oklahomans and our state’s health care providers.

If our state lawmakers don’t look at all options to balance the budget, they will be responsible for the crisis that results.

In The Know: Oklahoma’s prison inmate homicide rate leads nation

by and | February 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.

Oklahoma has the highest rate of prison homicides in the nation, with state inmates killed at a rate more than three times the national average, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. At the first meeting of Gov. Mary Fallin’s Justice Reform Steering Committee, officials said the state’s budget problems won’t put the brakes on criminal justice reform. KGOU discussed the many barriers faced by convicted felons leaving Oklahoma prisons with a mountain of debt and few chances to get a job.

A House committee approved a bill to ban the teaching of AP US History, and some opponents of Common Core are questioning the legality of teaching any Advanced Placement courses in Oklahoma schools. On the okeducationtruths blog, an Oklahoma teacher refuted some of the misinformation being spread about the AP US History curriculum. Three national experts advised Oklahoma education leaders on Monday to look to other states’ examples of proven math and English/language arts standards. 

The reported distribution of Bibles in several Oklahoma public schools by the son of a state representative has sparked letters of complaint from the Freedom from Religion Foundation. A Senate panel passed a bill Monday that would let public education dollars go toward private and home schooling. KGOU examined how the frequent earthquakes caused by the oil and gas industry are impacting a small community in Oklahoma. On the OK Policy Blog, the Scholars Strategy Network’s Rachael V. Cobb discussed her research showing the many benefits of online voter registration.

Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw – has filed a bill to allow anyone with a license to carry a handgun to take the weapon into the state Capitol. A bill to ban texting while driving cleared a House committee. NewsOK reporter Jaclyn Cosgrove examined challenges faced by thousands of Oklahoma who struggle to pay heat bills each year. StateImpact Oklahoma discussed the geographic divide in Oklahoma between those who have plenty of water and those who desperately need it. Northeastern Oklahoma will have access to a new digital broadcast channel devoted to Native American and indigenous content starting March 1.

The Number of the Day is the approximate number of Oklahoma high school students who scored high enough on the AP US History exam in 2013 to earn college credit. In today’s Policy Note, Robert Greenstein discussed why a constitutional convention could be the single most dangerous way to ‘fix’ American government.

continue reading In The Know: Oklahoma’s prison inmate homicide rate leads nation

The many benefits of online voter registration (Guest post: Rachael V. Cobb)

by | February 16th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Elections | Comments (1)

Rachael V. Cobb is Associate Professor of Government and Chair of the Government Department, Suffolk University. She is a member of the Scholars Strategy Network Working Group on Expanding and Protecting the Right to Vote. This is an edited version of a brief for the Scholars Strategy Network and is reposted with permission.

RegisterIn order to vote, every American must register first – except in North Dakota, which has no voter registration. Making registration secure, efficient, and easily accessible for voters should be a goal for every state. Online voter registration accomplishes all of these objectives. Providing an online tool that eligible citizens can use to register to vote reduces administrative costs, minimizes data entry errors, and increases the accuracy of state voter lists. More accurate lists, in turn, reduce delays and lines at the polls on Election Day or during early voting.

continue reading The many benefits of online voter registration (Guest post: Rachael V. Cobb)

In The Know: Budget cuts might mean more State Park closures in 2015

by and | February 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 Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department is considering more state park closures as the state faces a budget hole of more than $600 million dollars. A children’s mental health program at Hillcrest Medical Center is shutting down due to a loss of federal funding because of Oklahoma’s refusal to accept Medicaid expansion dollars. Tulsa Public Schools made the White House’s top 100 list for U.S. school districts at risk of taking the largest federal funding hit if House Republicans succeed with a measure to limit the federal role in public education.

On the OK Policy Blog, Steve Lewis commented on 5 ideas to fix the state budget. OK Policy’s Gene Perry wrote an op-ed in The Oklahoman on why Oklahoma needs to remove barriers to rebuilding a life after prison. We previously discussed this issue at greater length on the OK Policy Blog. Oklahoma charges one of the highest rates in the US to friends and family members who want to make a phone call to their loved ones in prison. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority board voted to clarify rules that limit some adult Medicaid recipients to one pharmacy and one physician when obtaining powerful painkillers and anti-anxiety medications.

At least three bills have been filed in the Legislature to eliminate the state’s nearly six-decade ban on carrying switchblades. The Tulsa World examined how Oklahoma has spent nearly $70 million on an initiative to encourage marriage. An OK Policy Blog series previously discussed whether the state of Oklahoma should be promoting marriage with funds meant to fight poverty. The Oklahoma Standards Setting Steering Committee will hold a forum Monday and Tuesday to hear from national experts on the processes used in other states to set K-12 academic standards. Two workers who were injured on the job have filed a legal challenge to a provision that allows employers to opt out of Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation system.

NewsOK spoke to an obesity researcher at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center about how rates of obesity got so bad in Oklahoma. A former Tulsa County sheriff’s deputy was bound over for trial for alleged sex crimes involving two women he encountered while on duty. New federal research says small earthquakes shaking Oklahoma and southern Kansas daily are dramatically increasing the chance of bigger and dangerous quakes. Scientists have linked these quakes to the wastewater disposal wells used by the oil and gas industry. Oklahoman editorial board editor J.E. McReynolds announced his retirement.

The Number of the Day is how many years Oklahoma has gone without raising its gas tax, second only to Alaska. In today’s Policy Note, the American Conservative explains why Virginia’s Republican ex-attorney general is taking on the incarceration state.

continue reading In The Know: Budget cuts might mean more State Park closures in 2015

The Weekly Wonk February 15, 2015

by | February 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, Steve Lewis suggested five ways to fix the budget. We explained what you need to know about this year’s health insurance open enrollment period, which ends today. With the debate over wind energy heating up, we asked four participants in that debate to share their perspectives.

Intern Nikki Hager examines what President Obama’s recent executive order on immigration means for Oklahoma. We posited that gaming revenues might have peaked. The Oklahoma Assets Network event “Who Pays More?”, a townhall forum on predatory lending, on March 4th in Oklahoma City. The “What’s That?” archive has been updated to include HB 1017, the franchise tax and the gross production tax.

In his Journal Record column, Executive Director David Blatt suggested that the best way for Gov. Fallin to reach her stated goal of nearly halving the state’s uninsured rate by 2019 would be to accept federal funds to expand health coverage for low-income Oklahomans. Blatt was also quoted in an article about why doing so isn’t getting traction at the Legislature this year. We’ve previously written about why accepting the funds would be a good deal for Oklahoma.

Blatt wrote in the Tulsa World that Oklahoma lawmakers have set the state up for long-term budget shortfalls, and discussed the Governor’s hiring freeze in the Journal Record. KWGS shared audio of state officials discussing the need for greater oversight of business incentives and tax breaks at our 2015 State Budget Summit.

continue reading The Weekly Wonk February 15, 2015

Thoughts on 5 ways to fix the budget (Steve Lewis Capitol Updates)

by | February 13th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Capitol Updates | Comments (1)

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.

Photo by 401kcalculator.org.

Photo by 401kcalculator.org.

Last week Wayne Greene of the Tulsa World wrote a commentary in which he offered 5 suggestions to “reform” the state budget process.  None would require a constitutional amendment or vote of the people.  I think he has some good ideas.  His suggestions:

  1. Stop taking tax revenue off the books for future legislatures, and stop funding state government on “excess” fees.
  2. Stop the secret budget talks.
  3. Involve the entire legislature.
  4. Don’t use a general appropriations bill;
  5. Don’t wait until the end of the session to pass a budget.

The bad news is, as I’m sure Wayne knows, all 5 of his suggestions will never happen, at least all at once.  The good news is they don’t have to — in pure form and every year.  In order of each suggestion:

continue reading Thoughts on 5 ways to fix the budget (Steve Lewis Capitol Updates)

The ACA’s second Open Enrollment Period is almost over. Here’s what you need to know.

by | February 13th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (0)
Image used under a Creative Commons license

Image used under a Creative Commons license

The Affordable Care Act’s second Open Enrollment Period was largely a quiet affair. Without the headline-grabbing website glitches that plagued its predecessor, it has largely coasted under the radar.

In fact, open enrollment has been substantially more successful this time around. Last year’s open enrollment ran from November 15th through May 1st – over six months, with a last-minute two-week grace period. Nearly 70,000 Oklahomans enrolled. This year, consumers have had half that time – but in that time, nearly 110,000 Oklahomans have signed up for 2015 health plans on Healthcare.gov since November, according to the US Department of Health and Human. Over 4 in 10 are likely new consumers who didn’t choose a plan last year.

continue reading The ACA’s second Open Enrollment Period is almost over. Here’s what you need to know.

In The Know: Officials say state budget hole has doubled to $600 million

by | February 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.

State officials say that the state’s budget hole has doubled to more than $600 million, due in part to falling oil prices. The state Board of Equalization will release an official estimate on Tuesday. Corrections officials say that at least one state prison is operating at double its capacity, and most others are holding 20 percent more inmates than they were designed for. Bills aimed at reducing prison overcrowding by allowing inmates to begin working towards early release earlier in their sentence and dropping the top threshold of maximum sentences from life to 20 years passed a Senate panel on Thursday.

The state House has passed a bill that would grant immunity from civil liability to ministers who refuse to officiate same-sex marriages. A bill that would prevent local governments from banning oil and gas drilling in their city limits has advanced through committee and will next be heard by the House. The state’s unemployment agency says it’s preparing for further oil and gas company layoffs. On the OK Policy Blog, intern Nikki Hager examines the effect of President Obama’s executive order on immigration in Oklahoma. 

StateImpact writes that politicians’ views on water legislation in Oklahoma are divided by geography, not by party. Asked about nitrogen hypoxia executions, Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton said that little is known about the method. Oklahoma’s vaccination rate for human papillomavirus (HPV) in teen girls is below the already-low national average, according to the CDC, although the state has outpaced the national average for teenage boys receiving the vaccine.

Health officials say that the flu has killed 82 Oklahomans this season, breaking last year’s record of 72. The Number of the Day is the number of female homicide victims and domestic violence-related deaths in Tulsa in 2014, a 26-year high. In today’s Policy Note, Governing breaks down who will lose their health care coverage if the Supreme Court rules against the Affordable Care Act this summer

continue reading In The Know: Officials say state budget hole has doubled to $600 million