In 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.
Today you should know that Gov. Fallin called for more cuts to the top income tax rate and new spending on child welfare services and mental health care in her state of the state address. A raise for Oklahoma’s state employees, who have not seen a cost-of-living increase since 2006, was not included in her budget. OK Policy released a statement that the Governor’s budget falls far short of our needs for schools, public safety, and other core state services.
Gov. Fallin’s proposed alternative to accepting federal money for health care includes letting cities pass stricter smoking restrictions. House Speaker T.W. Shannon expressed doubts that this proposal would work to reduce smoking. UCO economist Mickey Hepner writes that he expects Oklahoma will experience below-average growth in the coming year.
NewsOK provided an overview of the 2,400 bills filed for this legislative session. Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater is making a new allegation the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board have illegally changed their votes.
The Number of the Day is how many people receive assistance through the Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services in Oklahoma. In today’s Policy Note, the American Prospect reports on how the Equifax credit reporting agency is selling information about Americans’ paychecks and health care usage to debt collectors, even while many employees are forbidden from sharing the information themselves.
In The News
Governor Fallin outlines legislative goals for 2013
Gov. Mary Fallin laid out her vision for Oklahoma in her annual State of the State address today, calling for cuts in the income tax rate, a plan for health care and repairs to the Capitol. Speaking before a joint session of the Legislature, Fallin touched on both accomplishments over the past few years as well as some of the initiatives and measures she hopes to implement over the coming year. Among the issues she hopes to see movement on this legislative session are: • a cut of the top state income tax rate, from its current level of 5.25 percent to 5 percent; • a $13.5 million increase to education funding; • the continued conversion of state vehicles from gasoline-burning to compressed natural gas; • the performance evaluation and possible sale of some state buildings; and • $10 million to fund repairs to the Capitol building.
No pay raises for state workers in Governor’s budget
Gov. Mary Fallin’s proposal to cut the highest bracket of Oklahoma’s personal income tax rate, a much more modest plan than her idea last year that fell flat with lawmakers, is part of a nearly $7 billion budget that her chief budget adviser calls gimmick-free. A pay raise for the state’s approximately 34,000 employees is not included in her budget. She, like Republican legislative leaders, opposes a cost-of-living increase. Instead, she is proposing $200,000 to develop a study to look at the pay of state employees with the goal to move toward a performance-based compensation system. The study also will look at what private businesses are paying workers who perform similar tasks as state employees. State employees haven’t had an across-the-board increase since October 2006.
STATEMENT: Governor’s proposed budget falls far short
Oklahoma Policy Institute released the following statement in response to Governor Fallin’s state of the state address and budget proposal: It is a positive sign for Oklahoma that the Governor has significantly scaled back her tax cut proposal from last year. Unfortunately, she continues to push for a cut that would take $106 million from Oklahoma schools, public safety, and other core state services without offering any way to pay for it. The Governor rightfully recognized a need to invest in mental health care, drug treatment, and child welfare to fix longstanding problems in those areas. Yet in other areas her budget falls far short. Governor Fallin’s common education proposal restores less than 5 percent of what Superintendent Barresi says our schools need to fund new mandates passed by the legislature, restore teacher cuts, and keep up with rising enrollment and class sizes.
Fallin explains her alternative to health-care law, endorses ability of cities to set own smoking regulations
Gov. Mary Fallin rolled out details of her “Oklahoma Plan” alternative to the federal health-care law on Monday, including her endorsement of a plan to let cities pass smoking restrictions that are more stringent than state law. “Our current national health-care system is, in fact, a ‘sick-care’ system that is actually contributing to our problems,” Fallin said in her State of the State speech. “Rather than encouraging healthy living and wellness, it waits to provide expensive treatment to people who are already sick, driving up health-care costs.” In the speech, Fallin reiterated her opposition to accepting federal Affordable Care Act funding to expand the state’s Medicaid program, which would mean health-care coverage for some 180,000 Oklahomans with the federal government picking up 100 percent of the cost of new benefits for the first three years.
Mickey Hepner: Expect state tax collections to suffer
In the coming days the State Board of Equalization will certify the official state revenue estimates — the estimates that will guide the Legislature in crafting the fiscal year 2014 state budget. If the early indications hold, though, I think their forecasts will be much too optimistic. In December the State Equalization Board certified the initial state revenue estimates for the next fiscal year, which forecast a 4.8 percent increase in state General Revenue Fund collections to $5.9 billion next year. Generally, a 4.8 percent increase in collections is consistent with normal economic growth — a decent, but not great year. However, there is mounting evidence that next year might not qualify as even a “decent” year for revenue growth. Therefore, I’m a little less optimistic.
Oklahoma Legislature to discuss guns, texting and driving, and drones in new session
It’s easy to determine the issues of the day with a quick glance at the 2,400 bills filed by Oklahoma lawmakers for the legislative session that starts Monday. More than 100 concern firearms regulations, or lack thereof, and twice that amount concern health care. Nearly 100 more mention workers’ compensation, though only about a third of these concern actual changes to the law. Fifty-four bills filed in the Oklahoma Senate and House of Representatives strengthen or loosen privacy and confidentiality laws in regards to the state’s open records and meetings acts, eight concern the use of cellphones while driving, and one would call for a contest to name the state’s “cowboy song.”
Oklahoma County DA makes new allegation about parole board
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater is making a new allegation about the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board — that members have illegally changed their votes. “Additionally, any time they changed a previously cast vote, outside of public scrutiny, I view that as a violation as well,” Prater wrote the board’s defense attorney last week. Board members have denied violating the law. The board’s chairman, Tulsa minister Marc Dreyer, acknowledged Monday that a board member sometimes changes his or her vote an hour or a day after the initial vote. He said any changes, though, will be before the meeting ends. He said a monthly meeting lasts three to four days, and an announcement is made each day that votes are not final until the board adjourns.
Quote of the Day
The governor offered a tax cut plan that would reduce state revenues by over $120 million. When you’ve got only $170 million of growth revenue, and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of needs that she outlined today, we simply don’t see how the math adds up.
-House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City
Number of the Day
Number of persons receiving assistance through the Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services in Oklahoma, 2010
Equifax knows quite a lot about you
Just when we imagined that credit-reporting firms couldn’t be more invasive and profiteering, NBC News breaks this story: “The Equifax credit reporting agency, with the aid of thousands of human resource departments around the country, has assembled what may be the most powerful and thorough private database of Americans’ personal information ever created, containing 190 million employment and salary records covering more than one-third of U.S. adults.” Based on data voluntarily provided by thousands of U.S. businesses and public employers (from local public schools to federal agencies) Equifax’s product, The Work Number, includes information many of us would prefer to keep private, from week-by-week paystubs to information on personal “health care providers”—perhaps including the name of your psychiatrist or gynecologist. Employers themselves may not know what the credit reporting giant does next: “Equifax turns around and sells some of this data to third parties, including debt collectors and financial services companies.”
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