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All articles by David Blatt

Oklahoma has many good options to resolve the teacher walkout

by | March 15th, 2018 | Posted in Budget, Education, Taxes | Comments (10)

The Oklahoma Education Association last week called on the Legislature to support an ambitious proposal to increase funding for public education and state services. The association, which represents nearly 40,000 teachers and school employees across the state, warned that “If the Legislature cannot fund education and core state services by the legal deadline of April 1, we are prepared to close schools and stay at the Capitol until it gets done.” The Oklahoma Public Employees Association, which is the largest group representing state employees, has announced that their members would join the teachers’ walkout on April 2nd unless lawmakers pass a significant state employee pay raise.

Oklahoma’s tax and budget policies have led to the current crisis

The threatened actions by the two associations follow years of budget cuts that have left teachers and state employees severely underpaid and the schools and agencies they work for desperately ill-equipped to do their jobs. To cite just a few examples, Oklahoma teachers have not seen an increase in the minimum salary schedule in a decade and our teachers are now the third-lowest paid in the nation. State funding for school operations is $180 million less than a decade ago, and Oklahoma schools have absorbed by far the deepest cuts in per pupil general state funding in the nation. Most state employees have gone eight to ten years without a raise; during this time, average salaries for state employees have fallen to 24 percent below the competitive labor market. State employee turnover has reached 20.5 percent, which is a nearly 40 percent increase from a decade earlier.

continue reading Oklahoma has many good options to resolve the teacher walkout

Legislature should resist efforts to weaken agency independence

by | March 8th, 2018 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (1)

Are Oklahomans better served by state agencies that preserve their independence or that are more directly subject to the Governor’s control? That’s the key question for Oklahoma legislators this session as they consider a series of bills that would fundamentally alter the appointment and governing authority for some of the state’s largest agencies.

Currently, most major agencies are governed by boards or commissions, with the Governor, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and President Pro Tem of the Senate sharing appointment authority for board members. These boards have the authority to appoint and dismiss agency directors, as well as adopt the formal rules governing the agency’s operations, subject to review by the Governor and Legislature.

continue reading Legislature should resist efforts to weaken agency independence

Life after Step Up?

by | February 28th, 2018 | Posted in Budget | Comments (0)

Earlier this month, HB 1033xx, the main revenue measure based on proposals from the Step Up Oklahoma coalition, failed to gain the three-quarters support in the House needed to pass a revenue bill. Unlike a similar measure that failed in November’s special session with not enough Republican support, this time the bill’s fate was sealed by opposition from Democrats objecting to the mix of tax increases in the Step Up package.

HB 1033xx and its companion measures were projected to generate over $700 million in recurring revenue from a mix of new and increased taxes. This amount was expected to be enough to provide a substantial pay raise for teachers and, perhaps, state employees, and avert additional budget cuts for the upcoming budget year. 

The failure of the Step Up proposal has consequences for both the current FY 2018 budget and next year’s budget. But the prospects for another comprehensive revenue package in the aftermath of its defeat may not be as dire as many think.

continue reading Life after Step Up?

‘This is not OK’: Cuts are hitting all aspects of public education

by | February 22nd, 2018 | Posted in Budget, Education | Comments (3)

Miami Public Schools in Ottawa County serves about 2,500 K-12 students in seven schools. This year, four school librarian positions were eliminated, leaving the district without a single librarian.

In Newkirk, there is no librarian and no speech or drama classes. In Edmond, elementary school students no longer learn Spanish. In Agra, the band program has been eliminated and there are 45 students in a choir class. In Tulsa, the PTA and school foundations are covering teacher salaries with private funds at several schools. There are no security officers employed in any of Oklahoma City’s elementary schools.

These are just a few of dozens of stories I heard recently when I asked members of a Facebook education group to share examples of how their schools or their children’s schools have been affected by budget cuts in recent years.

continue reading ‘This is not OK’: Cuts are hitting all aspects of public education

Step Up Oklahoma plan adds to the consensus that new revenues are essential

by | January 24th, 2018 | Posted in Budget, Taxes | Comments (5)

Note: This post was edited on Jan. 28th to reflect updated revenue estimates from the Step Up coalition

The new Step Up Oklahoma coalition, a bipartisan group of business and civic leaders and organizations, has put forward a comprehensive plan aimed at stabilizing Oklahoma’s budget and reforming state government. While far from perfect, their plan is a serious and laudable attempt to address the budget problems that have plagued our state for years.

The most significant aspect of the coalition’s plan is its clear recognition that Oklahoma has a structural budget deficit that can be fixed only through approval of substantial new permanent revenue. The proposal is projected to generate $750 million through a combination of higher taxes and the elimination of various tax breaks. In conjunction with an improving budget outlook, this amount would end the longstanding reliance on one-time funds and accounting gimmicks to balance the budget. The plan includes a $5,000 raise for teachers; although other critical spending priorities, including raises for state workers and more support for schools are not spelled out, the plan should generate enough revenue to meet those goals while preserving essential state services.

continue reading Step Up Oklahoma plan adds to the consensus that new revenues are essential

Oklahoma’s budget outlook is improving, but major challenges remain

by | January 4th, 2018 | Posted in Budget | Comments (1)

For the first time in four years, lawmakers may begin the 2018 session with more money to appropriate than the year before. This is undeniably good news, coming after multiple sessions when lawmakers started the year with shortfalls ranging from $180 million to over $1 billion.

At the same time, the anticipated revenue growth is modest, and by the time this year’s budget is finalized, next year’s projected surplus may turn into a deficit. In addition, the state faces significant increased costs to meet its spending obligations next year, as well as mounting pressures to address urgent funding needs across state government. The bottom line is that approval of permanent new revenues remain essential to put the budget on a stable and sustainable course.

Here are four major takeaways from the initial FY 2019 revenue estimates presented to the State Board of Equalization on December 20th:

continue reading Oklahoma’s budget outlook is improving, but major challenges remain

Meet our new Board members!

by | January 2nd, 2018 | Posted in OK Policy | Comments (0)

Oklahoma Policy Institute is excited to announce the appointment of three new members to our Board of Directors – Kara Berst of Ada, Dr. Jason Kirksey of Stillwater, and Erika Lucas of Oklahoma City.

Kara Berst

“Kara, Jason, and Erika are all successful young professionals who will add geographic, occupational, ethnic, and political diversity to OK Policy’s governing body and ensure that the organization continues to expand its scope and impact among key constituencies across Oklahoma,” said current Board chair Ann-Clore Duncan of Edmond. 

continue reading Meet our new Board members!

Five reasons to donate today to OK Policy

by | December 27th, 2017 | Posted in Blog, OK Policy | Comments (0)

We know there are many worthy organizations and causes reaching out to you this time of year asking for support. Whether you are a first-time donor or long-time supporter, here are 5 reasons to make a tax-deductible donation to Oklahoma Policy Institute today.

1. Facts Matter: On the state policy issues that matter most – from the budget and taxes to health care, poverty, and criminal justice – you know you can always rely on OK Policy to put out reliable, research-driven data and analysis. Resources such as our Online Budget Guide, County Fact Sheets, and Legislative Primer, as well as our daily In The Know, are among the sources of information that you count on every day throughout the year to understand public affairs in Oklahoma. Your donation will help us continue to dig up and publicize the facts.

2. There are Two Sides to Every Debate: When one side controls the legislature and all statewide offices, competing perspectives can easily be overlooked or overwhelmed. Through our issue briefs, blog posts, op-ed columns, and presentations, OK Policy often is the most credible and compelling voice arguing the other side, whether it’s making the case for protecting our revenue base or opposing the expansion of predatory consumer loans. Your donation will ensure that two sides will continue to be heard.

3. 49th is Not OK:  Even though Oklahoma’s economy is improving, about one out of every six Oklahomans, and more than one in five children, continue to live below the federal poverty level. On a whole range of health and social indicators, Oklahoma ranks among the states with the worst outcomes. 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, better educated state.  Your support allows us to conduct the research and advocacy that will lead to better policy outcomes.

4. We’re Having an Impact: Not so long ago, OK Policy was a lonely voice sounding the alarm about the state’s structural budget deficit, the underfunding of state services, and the need for new permanent revenues. Today, thanks in part to OK Policy’s steady, effective work, these themes are expressed by  elected officials from both parties and broad swaths of the population. While the state’s onerous supermajority requirement prevented passage of a widely-supported bipartisan revenue package last month, we’ve had some real victories, including repeal of the next scheduled income tax that would have further hampered efforts to bring the budget back into balance. Please donate now to help us continue to make a difference.

5. There’s More Work To Do: The year ahead is going to be an especially crucial one for Oklahoma. We will have the chance to enact long-pursued solutions to address chronic budget shortfalls, make our state tax system fairer, and revisit State Question 640. At the same time, critical medical and food safety net programs serving hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans will be under unprecedented threats from federal and state lawmakers. We need your help to marshal the research and coordinate the advocacy that will ensure real progress is made in 2018.

We hope this is reason enough to convince you to make a one-time or recurring year-end donation to OK Policy  We greatly appreciate your support, and wish you all the best during the holiday season.

Hunger by the Numbers: How many football stadiums…

This fall, the US Department of Agriculture released its annual report on household food security, which measures the share of households who don’t have enough food to lead an active, healthy life in the last year. For the three-year period from 2014-16, an average of more than 1 in 7 Oklahoma households, or 15.2 percent of the population, experienced food insecurity, the 8th-highest rate in the nation, tied with Indiana. 

But what does this mean for Oklahoma? Given Oklahoma’s population of 3.92 million, and assuming that households experiencing food insecurity are the same size as the average of all households, this means 595,000 Oklahomans live in households that struggle with basic access to adequate food. 

Now imagine that on a Saturday afternoon this fall, everyone who experienced food insecurity in Oklahoma were all invited down to Norman and Stillwater to attend football games.

continue reading Hunger by the Numbers: How many football stadiums…

Cost of oil and gas tax breaks continues to approach $400 million

by | December 21st, 2017 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (2)

Tax breaks for the oil and gas industry will continue to cost Oklahoma close to $400 million this year and next, based on new data from the Oklahoma Tax Commission.

At the December Board of Equalization meeting, the Tax Commission submitted forecasts of gross production tax (GPT) revenues for FY 2018 and FY 2019. In FY 2018, total GPT from oil and gas is projected at $638 million. Based on these revenue projections, OK Policy calculates that GPT collections will be $397.5 million less than the state would collect if all production was taxed at the standard 7 percent rate. Instead, new wells are being taxed at 2 percent for the first three years of production. Some older wells were being taxed at lower rates but lawmakers raised the rate on these “legacy wells” to 4 percent in regular session and to 7 percent in the first special session. The state is also expected to pay $2.0 million in credits and adjustments in FY 2018.

In FY 2019, which will begin on July 1, 2018, gross production tax revenues are projected at $722.0 million. That is $333.5 million less than what collections would be if all wells were taxed at 7 percent, rather than new wells benefiting from the 2 percent rate for their first 36 months. In addition to the tax break for new wells, the state is projected to pay out $39 million in rebates, credits, and adjustments to producers.

For FY 2018, the effective rate for all production is projected to be 4.3 percent; in FY 2019 the effective rate is expected to rise to 4.8 percent. That’s an increase over the effective rate of 3.2 percent calculated for 2016 in a study released earlier this year by the Covenant Consulting Group prior to the tax on legacy wells being raised from 1 to 7 percent, but it still puts Oklahoma’s effective rate well below that of other major energy producing states. In a fair comparison of all taxes on the value of oil and gas combined, producers pay an effective rate of 8.3 percent in Texas and North Dakota, 13.3 percent in Louisiana and 13.4 percent in Wyoming, according to the Covenant Group report.

While the bills to raise the tax rate on older wells have reduced the cost of oil and gas tax breaks, Oklahoma continues to forsake hundreds of millions of dollars annually by taxing new oil and gas production at just 2 percent, and this continues to be a major contributor to the state’s continued budgets shortfalls. Whether in special session or regular session, Oklahoma lawmakers should further curtail or end altogether these costly tax breaks to put the state budget on a sound and sustainable path. If lawmakers do not rise to the challenge, Oklahoma voters may do it for them.

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