Definition of two small words could have large consequences

by | August 6th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (0)

dictionaryIs a bill that adjusts the tax rates on production of oil and gas a “revenue bill” under the terms of the Oklahoma Constitution? This is the question for the Oklahoma Supreme Court to decide in a challenge filed by Oklahoma City Jerry Fent to HB 2562. Along with a similar challenge to a bill , SB 1246, that cuts the top income tax rate, the Court’s answer could have a dramatic effect on Oklahoma’s fiscal and political landscape.

HB 2562 was the outcome of one of most contentious political battles of the past year. Currently, Oklahoma assesses a standard 7 percent severance tax on oil and gas but offers lower tax rates as a way to support and incentivize various forms of production. The most generous tax break – a 1 percent rate on horizontal wells for the first 48 months of production – is set to expire at the end of June 2015. With an overwhelming share of drilling activity in Oklahoma and elsewhere having shifted to horizontal production in recent years, the question of whether to continue the tax break became one with significant budgetary and economic implications.

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In The Know is on hiatus

by | August 4th, 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.

 No In The Know this week as we are busy putting on the Summer Policy Institute (SPI), a 4-day seminar for 50 college students from across the state. You can follow the going’s on at SPI with the Twitter hashtag #okspi.

Have you heard our new weekly podcast? What began as a daily podcast summarizing the In The Know headlines is now a longer weekly podcast with in-depth discussion of major Oklahoma news stories, interviews with OK Policy staff and others, and key numbers of the week. There’s even some good news to end the podcast each week!

The podcast comes out on Fridays. You can check out the first two episodes here.

Thanks for reading!

Results on the first year of Obamacare are in. What’s it look like for Oklahoma?

by | August 4th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (0)
obamacare awesome

Image by Will O’Neill used under a Creative Commons license

The Affordable Care Act’s first open enrollment period, when eligible Americans could compare and purchase health insurance on the online marketplaces, was a bit of a roller coaster. But despite considerable hiccups with the launch of Healthcare.gov in October, eight million people had signed up nationwide when enrollment closed on March 31st, a number that exceeded earlier estimates. The nationwide uninsured rate has dropped precipitously thanks to the marketplaces and to expansions of Medicaid coverage in states that accepted federal funds. And those with new health insurance coverage report being pleased with it.

However, much of the ACA’s positive benefits in Oklahoma have been muted by the state government’s obstruction of the law, especially by its refusal to accept federal funds and expand coverage. Here’s what’s happening.

continue reading Results on the first year of Obamacare are in. What’s it look like for Oklahoma?

The Weekly Wonk August 3, 2014

by | August 3rd, 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 examined some ways to improve Oklahoma’s budget forecasting. OK Policy intern Rosie Nelson discussed the importance of the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship program. OK Policy previously broke the story that Oklahoma lawmakers were attempting to divert funds from the scholarship to fill a budget hole.

We reported that the error rate for SNAP (food stamps) is at a record low – and explained why that isn’t entirely good news. On the second episode of our new weekly podcast, we discussed a variety of topics, including new research on how term limits affected the Oklahoma legislature, a lawsuit that could shake up tax politics in Oklahoma, Oklahoma City’s first community school, and more! You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS.

In his Journal Record column, Executive Director David Blatt discussed the power and triumph of the #oklaed movement in defeating State Superintendent Janet Barresi in a recent primary election. Last week, Blatt guested on the Common Ground radio show, talking about Russia, air travel, a Biblical perspective on handgun safety, and more. In our Editorial of the Week, UCO Business Dean Mickey Hepner wrote in the Edmond Sun that Oklahoma’s cuts to the health care safety net could have been avoided by legislators.

OK Policy is pleased to invite you to attend as we present the 2014 Good Sense/Good Cents award to former Oklahoma Governor and US Senator Henry Bellmon, followed by a panel discussion of the Bellmon legacy. The presentation and panel will take place on Monday, August 4th, from 1:00 to 3:00pm at the Lorton Performance Center on the University of Tulsa campus. Refreshments will follow.

The award and panel are part of OK Policy’s annual Summer Policy Institute, a 4-day program that brings together 50 top students from across Oklahoma for an intensive immersion in state policy issues. We’ll be live-tweeting the program; you can follow it on Twitter with the hashtag #okspi.

Quote of the week

“We are now cutting personnel, cutting services and trying to see where there might be alternate sources of income, which is mostly donations. We are in a very difficult and untenable position.”

- Jim McCarthy, CEO of Community Health Connection, one of over a dozen community health centers in Oklahoma that provide services regardless of ability to pay in underserved areas. These health centers are under threat because the state’s uncompensated care fund ran dry last December and will not be replenished until January (Source: http://bit.ly/XhVzn6).

See previous Quotes of the Day here.

Numbers of the Day

  • 10,050,000 – Bushels of soybeans produced by Oklahoma farmers in 2013.
  • 50.2% – Percentage of Oklahomans with “minimal fruit consumption”; the national average is 37.7%.
  • $38,639 – Debt held by the average Oklahoma household in 2013.
  • 212 – Number of unaccompanied child migrants who have been placed with sponsor families in Oklahoma, less than 1 percent of the 30,340 child migrants who have been placed nationwide.
  • 7 – Occupational fatalities per 100,000 workers in Oklahoma. The national average is 4.1.

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

What we’re reading

OK Policy Podcast: Episode 2

by | August 1st, 2014 | Posted in Podcast | Comments (0)

radio micOn the 2nd episode of our weekly podcast, topics include some surprising new research on how term limits affected the Oklahoma legislature, a lawsuit that could shake up tax politics in Oklahoma, Oklahoma City’s first community school, and more!

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunesStitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

Click here to download the most recent episode or play it in your browser:

More information about stories referenced in this episode:

In The Know: State passes up federal health care grant

by and | August 1st, 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.

In The Know will be on hiatus next week because OK Policy will be hosting our second annual Summer Policy Institute! You can follow the event on Twitter under the hashtag #okpsi.

 This summer, the state of Oklahoma declined to apply for a federal grant that would have allowed the state to develop more efficient ways of delivering health care, Oklahoma Watch reports. This continues a pattern of the state bypassing federal money intended to improve health care in the state. The Oklahoman’s Editorial Board praised the growing use of telemedicine to deliver mental health care, particularly in rural areas.

Despite significant outcry following last year’s deadly tornadoes, little progress has been made in the effort to install storm shelters in more Oklahoma schools. The President of the Oklahoma PTA called for less political grandstanding and for politicians to compromise to develop better educational standards. The OK Policy Blog reported on recommendations made by the Oklahoma Tax Commission to make better state budget predictions in the future. QuikTrip Corp. has made more than $1.5 million in payments to nearly four dozen disabled people in a federal complaint over discrimination at its gas stations and convenience stores.

The state Workers’ Compensation Commission, which has been under fire for violating the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act, postponed a scheduled meeting on Thursday. Writing in the Tulsa World, a local physician points out that the city lacks a dedicated Level I trauma center, which represents the highest standard of expertise and care. A sales tax holiday starting today and extending over the weekend will allow residents not to pay sales tax on clothing and shoes. Last year, the sales tax holiday weekend saved shoppers over $7.2 million in tax.

Residents of an Oklahoma town that have been without a local source of clean water since 2002 had been hopeful that city officials will be able to construct a well on the grounds of a local prison, but now say that corrections officials are waiting until the legislature can address the issue. Ozarka Water Company has announced that it is moving its entire production to Oklahoma. It had previously outsourced some production to another company. The chairman of the Arkansas River Infrastructure Task Force has suggested that a funding package for dams on the Arkansas River could be on the ballot in the spring.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission said Thursday that 480 barrels of fracking-related hydrochloric acid, enough to fill an Olympic swimming pool, had spilled out of a tank in in an alfalfa field in Kingfisher County. The cause of the spill is under investigation. KGOU asked if fracking could be tied to the increasing number of earthquakes in the state. State and federal officials are investigating the deaths of several birds at a neglected oil field site in northwestern Oklahoma. Despite recent rain, over 80 percent of the state is under some level of drought, requiring continuing water conservation efforts.

Teachers from Spain, recruited and employed by Tulsa Public Schools, have begun arriving in town. The guest teachers are part of a pilot project for school systems facing a critical world language teachers shortage. The Tulsa World has updated its searchable database of public school employee salaries. The Number of the Day is the number of occupational fatalities per 100,000 workers in Oklahoma, nearly twice the national average. In today’s Policy Note, Slate reports that the American middle class is now poorer than it was in 1984.

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Can Oklahoma make better budget predictions?

by | July 31st, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (0)

Poster_of_Alexander_Crystal_SeerOklahoma’s state budget was thrown into turmoil this year when much less money came to the General Revenuef fund than was expected. For the full year, General Revenue was 4.8 percent below the estimate; if the shortfall had reached 5 percent, nearly all state services could have been forced to make budget cuts in the middle of the year. The problem is not just with this year’s budget either. A report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities ranked Oklahoma last in the nation (tied with South Dakota) for how well the state does long-term budget planning.

In response, a new report by the Oklahoma Tax Commission analyzes Oklahoma’s forecasting failures and makes recommendations for what the state might do to avoid them in the future. The Tax Commission identified several trends that have made forecasting more volatile in recent years:

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In The Know: Community health centers cut staff and services due to state budget shortfall

by and | July 31st, 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.

Community health centers in Oklahoma have been forced to cut staff and services because they have not received any money from the state’s uncompensated care fund since December, and the state is proposing that they wait another six months before receiving any more money. The OK Policy Blog previously discussed the role of these clinics and how they have been put in limbo by the state. A program to attract physicians to rural Oklahoma is struggling due to federal sequestration budget cuts. StateImpact Oklahoma shared arguments presented to the state Supreme Court in a lawsuit challenging the bill that makes permanent a generous tax break for oil and gas drilling.

David Blatt’s Journal Record column discussed how the primary defeat of state Superintendent Janet Barresi came out of a huge grassroots organizing effort. Gov. Fallin’s campaign issued a press release stating that she is working on her education agenda with state superintendent candidate Joy Hofmeister. Joe Dorman, the Democratic challenger for governor, released an education plan that would eliminate high stakes third-grade reading and end-of-instruction tests and assess all high school students with the ACT. KJRH examined some of the pros and cons of holding students back in school in light of third grade reading test results.

Since it began operations in February, the Workers Compensation Commission has spent $30,000 furnishing its commissioners’ offices and signed a $4,500 contract with a consultant for a “communications strategy” at the same time it employed a full-time public information officer. The assistant attorney general blamed for giving incorrect Open Meeting Act advice to the Workers’ Compensation Commission no longer works for the attorney general, and a report by two attorneys who served on Fallin’s Commission on Workers’ Compensation Reform calls for the firing of the commission’s Executive Director. 

The Fifth U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans has blocked a Mississippi law that requires doctors who perform abortions to obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, after it was found the measure would force the closure of the state’s only abortion clinic. A similar Oklahoma law was approved by the Legislature this year but has not yet gone into effect. The OK Policy Blog discussed a new report showing that the error rate for SNAP nutrition assistance benefits is at a record low. A mobile grocery store is seeking to help Tulsa residents get reasonably priced, healthy foods in “food desert” areas of the city without a building-based grocery store.

Unemployment rates increased last month in 72 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties. A large portion of northeast Oklahoma City was declared “blighted” by the Oklahoma City Council. Supporters of a medical marijuana petition in Oklahoma said they have registered 24,000 new voters while distributing the petition.

An agreement to loan three facilities at Fort Sill, Texas and California to the Department of Health and Human Services for housing unaccompanied migrant children from Central America has been extended to Jan. 31. Jenks Public Schools officials said they are successfully incorporating 575 students from an influx of Burmese refugees in Tulsa. Just 212 unaccompanied child migrants from Central America have been placed with sponsor families in Oklahoma, less than 1 percent of the 30,340 child migrants who have been placed nationwide. A new Kaiser Family Foundation survey reveals many legal immigrants in California have been afraid to enroll in Affordable Care Act health coverage because they worry it would expose an undocumented relative to investigation and deportation.

continue reading In The Know: Community health centers cut staff and services due to state budget shortfall

Oh SNAP: Food assistance program errors at record low

by | July 30th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (1)
seftali

Photo by Bruce Tuten used under a Creative Commons license

The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP for short, sometimes referred to as food stamps) is a lifeline in Oklahoma, providing food assistance to nearly one in six Oklahomans. Now a new report shows that the error rate for SNAP is at a record low. This report also means that virtually all Oklahomans receiving SNAP benefits qualify for them honestly — another reminder that Oklahoma’s economic prosperity is leaving many behind.

New data from the USDA shows that SNAP’s error rates are at an all-time low, after seven consecutive years of decreasing error rates. Overall, the national overpayment rate is now at 2.6 percent, and the underpayment rate at 0.6 percent, for a combined error rate of 3.2 percent.

Oklahoma didn’t achieve quite the same level of success, but the picture is still encouraging: its combined error rate of 3.99 percent places it cleanly in the middle of pack (26th). Its ranking for overpayment errors (3.11 percent) was the same. However, Oklahoma’s underpayment rate — that is, the rate of people erroneously denied some or all of their benefits — was higher. At 0.88 percent, Oklahoma has the 13th highest underpayment rate in the nation, indicating that SNAP administrators in Oklahoma are erring on the side of caution more than their counterparts in other states when evaluating applicants for benefits.

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In The Know: Oklahoma City experiments with community school to address poverty

by and | July 30th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, 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.

The Oklahoma Gazette reported on Oklahoma City Public School’s first experiment to combat poverty using the community schools model at Edgemere Elementary. The OK Policy Blog previously discussed the promise of community schools to reach the most at-risk children in the state. Five former employees have filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission, claiming the firings violated the state Workers’ Compensation Act and Open Meeting Act and also were a case of age discrimination. 

An audit of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections found that the agency is violating a law that requires centralized food purchases, has an outdated computer system that does not adequately track the status of inmates and needs improved financial oversight. You can see the audit’s recommendations here. StateImpact Oklahoma shared five things to know about the lawsuit challenging the state’s recent changes to taxes on oil and gas drilling. The Oklahoman Editorial Board discussed OK Policy’s research finding the impact of term limits in the Oklahoma Legislature has been less straightforward than most people thought.

Callers to an Oklahoma Department of Human Services’ hotline for abuse and neglect have been facing wait times as long as 30 minutes. In an Oklahoman op-ed, Scott Meacham criticized repeated state budget cuts to the OCAST program, which provides seed capital to science and technology start-ups. Scott Carter discussed how the Oklahoma Governor’s race is looking to be much closer than most people thought. The only supermarket for miles in North Tulsa closed its doors for good Monday, and many residents are struggling to get groceries without access to a car. 

The Department of Environmental Quality has cited the city of Mustang for arsenic levels above drinking water standards. Work on a $5.8 million bridge project has stopped after federal officials told an Oklahoma county that its construction method could harm a threatened fish species. An airline ticket out of Tulsa dropped by $12 a seat during the first quarter, but the city still has one of the nation’s least affordable airports. Gas prices continue to drop in Oklahoma as demand nationwide dropped below 9 million barrels per day. Oklahoma native Krista Tippett, creator and host of the public radio show “On Being,” was honored with a National Humanities Medal in a ceremony at the White House.

The Number of the Day is the amount of debt held by the average Oklahoma household in 2013. In today’s Policy Note, a new poll shows nearly three quarters of Americans said they favor offering migrant children shelter and support and not rushing to deport them while determining whether they are eligible to stay in the country.

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