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Is Oklahoma due for a change in direction on the budget? (Capitol Updates)

by | January 6th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates, Taxes | 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.

The turning of a new year is a time when people tend to reflect on the past and look toward the future. I’ve been thinking about the past few legislative sessions and what they mean for the upcoming session. A famous quotation from Shakespeare comes to mind that says “what’s past is prologue.” I’m not strong on interpreting literature, but I suppose this means that what has happened in the past leads to what will happen next. Or said another way, it could mean that the past provides the context for what will happen next. Or it could simply mean we’re in for more of the same.

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In The Know: Why Oklahoma and Other Red States Might Pump Up Gasoline Taxes to Fill Budget Holes

by | January 6th, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. 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.

Today In The News

Why Oklahoma and Other Red States Might Pump Up Gasoline Taxes to Fill Budget Holes: Oklahoma lawmakers are staring into a budget hole that’s nearly $900 million deep — and they might not be able to cut their way out of it. Legislators are considering tax increases to help fund state government, and one idea is gaining traction: Hiking taxes on gasoline and diesel. State taxes on motor fuel haven’t been touched since 1987  [StateImpact Oklahoma]. Another idea worth considering is to adopt a temporary gas tax increase that only stays in effect as long as gas prices are low [OK Policy].

Oklahoma House takes a deep dive into department budgets: This year, the entire Oklahoma House of Representatives is taking on the budget in a new way. For the first six days of the session, the five largest state departments will present their budget proposals to the entire House. Wednesday, the Department of Education started the process with a day-long session dedicated to presentations from State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister and her staff in the morning and questions from representatives in the afternoon [Norman Transcript]. State Transportation Department Director Mike Patterson explained his budget needs to a couple dozen representatives in the House chambers [NewsOK].

Oklahoma’s prisons are still on a path to disaster: Even with positive and important criminal justice reforms passing in the Legislature and in the ballot box this year, the Oklahoma prison population is on track to grow by 25 percent – about 7,200 inmates – in the next ten years. Unless we do something to prevent this growth, it will cost nearly $2 billion in new prison construction and operating costs in that time [OK Policy].

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Oklahoma’s prisons are still on a path to disaster

by | January 5th, 2017 | Posted in Criminal Justice | Comments (2)

Even with positive and important criminal justice reforms passing in the Legislature and in the ballot box this year, the Oklahoma prison population is on track to grow by 25 percent – about 7,200 inmates – in the next ten years. Unless we do something to prevent this growth, it will cost nearly $2 billion in new prison construction and operating costs in that time. Governor Fallin’s Justice Reform Task Force, a group of stakeholders tasked with putting forth proposals to curb that growth, is confronting an incarceration problem that’s among the most severe in the nation and quickly getting worse. 

Those projections come from the Crime and Justice Institute (CJI) and the Pew Charitable Trusts, which are providing technical assistance to the Task Force as it develops its proposals. Their analysis of data from the Department of Corrections and Administrative Office of the Courts paints a striking picture of a system that is ever more bent toward incarceration, even as state leaders are finally acknowledging the steep human and financial costs of the status quo.

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In The Know: Oklahoma Superintendent Joy Hofmeister seeks $221 million boost for schools

by | January 5th, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. 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. 

Today In The News

Oklahoma Superintendent Joy Hofmeister seeks $221 million boost for schools: Despite a nearly $870 million shortfall in next year’s Oklahoma state budget, state school Superintendent Joy Hofmeister says public schools need an additional $221 million in the upcoming fiscal year. Hofmeister delivered a budget presentation Wednesday to Oklahoma House members ahead of the legislative session that begins next month. Oklahoma’s public schools received about $1.87 billion in legislative appropriations last year [Tulsa World]. It will take more than passing a sizable pay raise for teachers to solve Oklahoma’s education funding needs, according to the state’s public schools chief [Oklahoma Watch]. However you count it, Oklahoma’s per pupil education funding is way down [OK Policy].

New Speaker of the House details session goals: “It’s a challenge, this is a challenging cycle no doubt about it,” said Representative Charles McCall in his first television interview as Speaker of the Oklahoma House. He knew when he was elected that the legislature would be facing another uphill battle. “The budget we ended up with last year was not, was nowhere near close to $1.3 billion less than the previous year budget,” McCall told [FOX 25]. Revenues are expected to remain low [OK Policy].

Exclusive interview: Rep. Dan Kirby questions settlement: ‘If there was no sexual harassment, why was there a payment?’: Rep. Dan Kirby on Tuesday questioned the $44,500 the House spent on a settlement to his former assistant and her attorneys to resolve a sexual harassment and wrongful termination grievance. In an interview with the Tulsa World, Kirby said a House investigation into the matter revealed there was no sexual harassment. “I don’t understand why there was a payment,” he said. “If there was no sexual harassment, why was there a payment?” [Tulsa World].

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In The Know: Oklahoma House seats lawmaker accused of sexual harassment

by | January 4th, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. 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.

Today In The News

Oklahoma House seats lawmaker accused of sexual harassment: The Oklahoma House voted along partisan lines Tuesday to seat a Republican lawmaker who rescinded a letter of resignation he submitted after being named in a sexual harassment complaint. The GOP-controlled chamber voted to seat Rep. Dan Kirby of Tulsa following a debate between Democrats and Republicans in which Kirby denied the allegations and said he acted too quickly when he submitted a letter of resignation to House Speaker-designate Charles McCall, R-Atoka [Associated Press].

Expulsion is option in inquiry into lawmaker’s actions: A committee investigating a woman’s sexual harassment and wrongful dismissal allegations against a state representative will have a broad range of disciplinary options at its disposal under the Oklahoma Constitution, including expulsion of the lawmaker. House Speaker Charles McCall said beginning this week, the House Rules Committee would look into the case involving Rep. Dan Kirby, R-Tulsa, who announced his resignation on Dec. 23 after the allegations became public and then rescinded that resignation on Dec. 28 [NewsOK].

OK House Schedules Agency, Budget Hearings in House Chamber: The Oklahoma House of Representatives will begin holding public hearings to review the five largest appropriated state agencies’ budgets next week at the state Capitol. Those five agencies received $5.36 billion – or 77 percent – of the $6.91 billion FY – 2017 appropriated budget. House Speaker Charles-elect A. McCall said the hearings will give citizens and lawmakers – particularly the 32 new members of the House – valuable insight into how agencies develop programs and spend taxpayer dollars and will help lawmakers develop funding priorities earlier than usual [The Okie].

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Six takeaways from Oklahoma’s new budget estimates

by | January 3rd, 2017 | Posted in Budget | Comments (0)

In late December, the State Equalization Board met and approved a preliminary estimate of state revenues for the upcoming budget year, FY 2018. This estimate will be the basis of Governor Fallin’s Executive Budget, to be  released on the first day of session in February. The Board will meet later in February to approve revised revenue estimates that will be binding on the Legislature as it develops the FY 2018 budget. The Board also reviewed revised estimates for the current year.

Here are six things you should know about Oklahoma’s budget outlook based on the December certification:

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In The Know: Oklahoma Speaker-Elect To Investigate Sexual Harassment Settlement

by | January 3rd, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. 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.

Today In The News

Oklahoma Speaker-Elect To Investigate Sexual Harassment Settlement: The Speaker-elect of the Oklahoma House of Representatives has announced plans for an investigation into a payment to settle a sexual harassment complaint by a former legislative assistant. State Rep. Charles McCall, R-Atoka, announced Thursday his first action after officially becoming Speaker will be to authorize an investigation into the wrongful termination settlement agreement paid to Hollie Bishop, who was fired in November 2015 after less than a year working for state Rep. Dan Kirby, R-Tulsa [KGOU]. The Oklahoma House has a sketchy recent history with policing its own [Tulsa World].

Republican leaders in Oklahoma rethinking income tax cut: Republican leaders in Oklahoma are reconsidering whether to keep an income tax cut that could be triggered as early as next year. Their decision comes at a time when the state has a budget hole of nearly $870 million and declining revenue collections. The trigger for the individual income tax rate cut from 5 percent to 4.85 percent is when tax collections increase by about $100 million annually — enough to cover the cost of the tax cut [Associated Press]. The Oklahoma state auditor [NewsOK] and the Tulsa World Editorial Board recently endorsed repealing the trigger [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma gas tax may be raised: An increase in Oklahoma’s gasoline tax will likely be on the table next legislative session as it’s one of the smallest in the nation, it hasn’t been adjusted in nearly three decades, fuel prices are comparatively low and state leaders are seeking new revenue. While Oklahoma’s gas tax has remained constant at 17 cents since 1987, No. 47 in the nation, other states have been increasing theirs, including seven that have approved hikes that will go into effect on Sunday [NewsOK]. Raising the fuel tax is among the revenue options to address Oklahoma’s budget shortfalls [OK Policy]. Oklahoma Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger urged lawmakers to consider several several revenue-raising measures [News9].

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Five reasons NOT to donate to OK Policy

by | December 27th, 2016 | Posted in Blog, OK Policy | Comments (0)

At this time of year, lots of terrific organizations are offering you compelling reasons to donate to them. We have developed a contrarian tradition of trying to convince you why you should NOT  donate to OK Policy.  Here are five reasons why you might decide that a donation to OK Policy is a bad idea.

1. Facts don’t matter

Facts, schmacts – who needs ’em?? If you believe that public policy debates and decisions should be guided by party affiliation, ideological beliefs, and ill-informed opinion, please do NOT donate to OK Policy. Because our role is to provide independent, data-driven information, analysis, and ideas on the major policy issues facing Oklahoma. Our legislative primer, county facts,  and budget highlights all provide the facts you’ll want to avoid

2. You really needed that tax cut

Last year, in the midst of two revenue failures and a $1.3 billion budget shortfall, our legislators allowed a quarter-point cut in the top income tax rate to take effect. The tax cut provided less than $4 a month to the average Oklahoma family, while ensuring deeper cuts for public schools, colleges and universities, health care services, and other building blocks of a prosperous state. We know most Oklahomans agreed with us that the tax cut should’ve been cancelled or deferred. But if that tax cut was your idea of good public policy, then you likely should not donate to help OK Policy fight for better fiscal decisions (you can use our online calculator to see how much the tax cut was worth to you).

3. You shouldn’t know how the state budget is spent

OK Policy works to explain the appropriations process, show where state revenues come from and how they are spent, and track budget trends over time, guided by the belief that an informed citizenry is vital to a healthy, functioning democracy. With an ever-shrinking Capitol press corps, many people count on OK Policy to shine a light on what’s happening behind the curtains. But if you prefer to remain in the dark, then making a tax-deductible contribution to OK Policy is most certainly a bad idea.

4. Oklahoma invests too much in education and other core services

Since 2008, Oklahoma has slashed state support for public schools by among the most in the nation and we are falling ever further behind in paying our hard-working teachers and state employees fair and competitive wages. Meanwhile, severe understaffing of our prisons puts the safety of corrections officers at risk and thousands of those with developmental disabilities and mental illness languish on waiting lists. Now we are facing another year of gaping budget shortfalls. Some say we will just need to cut deeper and not look at options that would put more revenue on the table. If you agree, you should not donate to OK Policy.

5. 49th is OK, 50th is Better

In Oklahoma, one in six of us, and one in four children, live in households that earn too little to stay above the poverty line. On a whole range of health and social indicators, Oklahoma ranks among the states with the worst outcomes, leading some to suggest that our state motto should be “Thank God for Mississippi.” One of OK Policy’s core convictions is that we need purposeful strategies aimed at expanding opportunities for all Oklahomans. We put forward thoughtful, practical policy proposals that will lead to a more prosperous, healthier state (you cam see our Agenda for Better Jobs and Opportunities here). But if you think we just need to work harder to outdo Mississippi in the race to the bottom, donating to OK Policy is probably not a good idea.

Kidding aside, we sincerely hope you will make a tax-deductible one-time or recurring year-end donation to OK Policy to help ensure that our work continues to have an impact in 2017. We greatly appreciate your support, and we wish you all the best during this holiday season.

PS: The best way to stay uninformed about the budget crisis facing Oklahoma is to not attend our State Budget Summit on Thursday, January 26th in Oklahoma City. And if you do decide to attend, please wait until after January 5th to buy your tickets so as not to be eligible for our special early-bird registration price of $75!

In The Know: With state facing $868 million budget hole, revenue will fall short of triggering income tax reduction

by | December 22nd, 2016 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. 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 The Know will be taking a break for the holidays and return on January 3rd. Early-bird registration is now open for our 2017 State Budget Summit. In addition, we’re hiring a policy analyst and spring research interns. 

Today In The News

With state facing $868 million budget hole, revenue will fall short of triggering income tax reduction: The state, facing an $868 million budget hole, will not have enough growth revenue to reduce its top income tax rate to 4.85 percent, Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger said Tuesday. His comments came in advance of a meeting Wednesday of the State Board of Equalization, which will certify how much money will be available for Gov. Mary Fallin to prepare her fiscal year 2018 executive budget proposal. The board will revisit that figure in February [Tulsa World]. Read our statement on the revenue shortfall for 2017 [OK Policy].

Sexual harassment complaint against Oklahoma legislator settled in secret: A fired legislative assistant and her attorneys were secretly paid $44,500 in state funds in November to settle her sexual harassment complaint against a state representative from Tulsa, records show. Hollie Anne Bishop, 28, complained Rep. Dan Kirby, 58, began sexually harassing her shortly after she started working for him in January 2015. She complained she was fired without explanation on Nov. 20, 2015, in retaliation for reporting the harassment. She accepted a $28,414.20 payment, online records show. Her Edmond attorneys accepted a $16,085.80 payment [NewsOK]. Rep. Kirby has remained silent on the accusation amid calls for his resignation [Tulsa World].

Short on revenue, Oklahoma’s governor eyes taxes on cigarettes, tattoos and car washes: Looking at a budget hole approaching $900 million, Gov. Mary Fallin and her finance officials said Wednesday they likely will ask the Republican-dominated Legislature to do something that goes against conservative orthodoxy — approve new taxes. Top state officials, who have been saying for years that Oklahoma has a spending problem, not a revenue problem, now say the state simply has to take in more money if it is to adequately fund government priorities like public safety, health and education [NewsOK].

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STATEMENT: Revenue certification brings tidings of discomfort and woe

by | December 21st, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Taxes | Comments (2)

Oklahoma Policy Institute issued the following statement after the State Equalization Board certified $869 million less for next year’s budget than this year’s authorized budget:

As we enter the holiday season, Oklahomans today learned that the state faces a budget shortfall of over $850 million for the year ahead. The news of another massive shortfall is especially troubling to the tens of thousands of dedicated teachers and state employees who have already gone years without a raise; to children subject to larger class sizes and inexperienced teachers; to those on long waiting lists for critical mental health, substance abuse, and disability services; to health care and social service providers whose reimbursement rates have been repeatedly cut; and to all Oklahomans who have seen a steady decline in public services after years and years of budget cuts.

This year’s shortfall is the result not only of a struggling economy but of policy choices that have shrunk our revenue base and resorted to one-time revenues to plug budget holes. The result is a structural budget deficit that won’t be fixed just by a recovery in oil and gas prices.

This session, lawmakers will have to make the difficult decisions to boost recurring revenues in order to avoid devastating cuts and to address the teacher pay crisis and other urgent needs. All options should be on the table, including reversing some of the $1.5 billion in tax cuts that have been enacted in recent years, as well as closing tax loopholes, broadening the sales tax to more good and services, and raising certain excise taxes.

The one silver lining to today’s announcement is that another ill-timed tax cut is now unlikely to be triggered automatically next year. Already, overall state appropriations are 15 percent below where they were a decade ago when adjusted for inflation and will likely fall again next year. Knowing that it will take at least several years for revenues to recover to where they were before this latest economic downturn, lawmakers this session should cancel the next tax cut or ensure that it can only take effect once the budget has time to recover.