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All articles by David Blatt

Nobody wants to go back for a second special session. Here’s why it’s still necessary.

by | December 11th, 2017 | Posted in Budget | Comments (0)

For eight long weeks this fall, Oklahoma lawmakers met in special session, trying to produce a budget agreement that would fill an immediate funding hole for three state agencies and produce a longer-term solution to continuing budget shortfalls. That attempt ended with disappointment, frustration, and angry recriminations, after legislators failed to approve permanent new revenues and Governor Fallin mostly vetoed their cash-and-cuts budget.

In light of the failure of the first special session, few lawmakers are excited about a sequel. Still, Governor Fallin has called a second special session to begin on December 18th — a time that conflicts with holidays and vacations and bumps up against the regular 2018 session that begins February 5th. During this time, lawmakers and legislative staff are busy drafting and preparing to introduce the more than 2,000 bills and resolutions that are typically filed each session.

So why even bother with a second special session? Why not just wait until February and pick things back up in regular session? There are three main factors that argue for tackling the budget in a second special session.

continue reading Nobody wants to go back for a second special session. Here’s why it’s still necessary.

Senator Lankford ignores the example of his own state if he thinks tax triggers are responsible

by | November 29th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Taxes | Comments (4)

The United States Senate is poised to vote as early as this week on a major tax overhaul bill.  Although tax reform is the highest priority of Congressional Republicans and the White House, crafting legislation capable of securing a 51-vote majority in the narrowly-divided Senate has been a huge challenge for Republican leaders.

For several Republican Senators, including Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford, the main concern with the tax bill is the huge amount it would add to the federal deficit. According to the official estimate from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the Senate bill would increase the deficit by $1.4 trillion from 2018 to 2027. Other respected estimates show an even larger deficit increase resulting from this plan.

continue reading Senator Lankford ignores the example of his own state if he thinks tax triggers are responsible

We’re Hiring! Applications now open for Advocacy and Outreach Coordinator & Communications Associate positions

by | November 15th, 2017 | Posted in Blog, OK Policy | Comments (0)

OK Policy is excited to announce that we are now accepting applications for two full-time positions as an advocacy and outreach coordinator and as a communications associate. We will be accepting applications for both positions until Monday, December 4th and are looking to have the positions filled by late January.

The new advocacy and outreach coordinator will fill the position being vacated by Kara Joy McKee, who is leaving our staff in December. We are seeking an experienced and effective individual to lead our grassroots efforts to bring Oklahomans together in support of a policy agenda that ensures adequate and fair funding of public services and expanded opportunity and economic security for all. The work will involve building and supporting grassroots coalitions in one or more issue areas, as well as conducting public education and mobilization. The main qualification is for someone with fantastic people skills, excellent organizational and project management skills, and demonstrated experience working in, and preferably leading, advocacy campaigns and building and sustaining diverse and effective coalitions.  Click here for the job description, including a list of job duties and responsibilities, qualifications, salary range, and instructions on how to apply.

continue reading We’re Hiring! Applications now open for Advocacy and Outreach Coordinator & Communications Associate positions

In the Know is on break

by | November 14th, 2017 | Posted in Blog | Comments (0)

In The Know will be on a break for the remainder of the week due to an all-staff conference. We will return next Monday, November 20th. We will continue to post content to our blog and  Facebook page. We will also provide updates on Special Session on our website, where you can find our assessment of the budget plan announced yesterday and see our Frequently Asked Questions about Special Session.

 

New budget is a squandered opportunity of massive proportions

by | November 13th, 2017 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Media, Press Releases & Statements | Comments (11)

Here is our assessment of the budget unveiled on Nov. 13th by House and Senate leaders. UPDATE: The new General Appropriations bill, HB 1019X, has now passed the House and Senate and awaits action by the Governor.

Lawmakers had plenty of sensible options for recurring revenues that could have balanced the budget responsibly. Instead, they are doubling down on one-time money and cuts. This is the inevitable but unfortunate consequence of last week’s failed vote in the House of Representatives on HB 1054.

For those fearing the worst cuts, the new budget represents a partial reprieve. Overall funding is just $30 million, or 0.4 percent, less than the budget passed in May, according to our preliminary analysis. It avoids further cuts to Common Educations, Corrections, and several other critical agencies. In addition, it mostly fills the massive shortfalls that were facing the Medicaid agency, DHS and Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. This will hopefully allow these agencies to rescind the devastating cuts they would otherwise be forced to make starting December 1st.

But the costs of this new budget will be substantial. A majority of agencies, many of which have seen their funding slashed by 20- 40 percent over the past decade, are hit with a further 2.4 percent cut. The list includes Higher Education, the Arts Council, the Department of Public Safety, and agencies responsible for protecting the environment, providing care to veterans, and ensuring labor standards.

Rather than beginning to climb out of a hole, lawmakers are digging themselves in deeper. The new budget relies on an additional $138 million in one-time dollars from the Rainy Day Fund and multiple agency revolving funds, while using up almost two-thirds of last year’s cash surplus. Along with one-time money appropriated in May, the new budget includes over $480 million in cash. When known obligations are considered, the state is staring at another budget deficit for FY 2019 of some $650 million.

This new budget is another instance of a failed approach that has left Oklahoma stuck in a permanent budget crisis and has led to a steady and continual erosion of the public services Oklahomans expect and deserve. Oklahomans will have to express their dissatisfaction and intensify the pressure to ensure that next session finally brings a different and better approach.

What now?

by | November 10th, 2017 | Posted in Budget | Comments (0)

A week ago we wrote: “At this point (barring further surprises), special session is likely to conclude with a new budget that averts the doomsday scenario facing the three health and social services agencies but does not address Oklahoma’s chronic budget problems.”

Since then, there have been several surprises, moments of new hope and great disappointment — but the prognosis remain about the same. This post is intended to get readers caught up on where we are and where things may be headed. For a full overview, see our regularly updated frequently asked questions about special session.

continue reading What now?

This is Oklahoma’s last chance

by | November 7th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Taxes | Comments (1)

Note: This post has been updated to reflect the most recent information (11/7/17: 9:00 pm)

You are needed right now to contact your Representative and urge him or her to support the comprehensive budget plan contained in HB 1054.

Monday, the State Senate passed with a bipartisan vote of 37-5 a revised version of HB 1035 which includes a $1.50 cigarette tax increase, a 6 cent fuel tax increase, and a 4 percent gross production tax on new wells. This comprehensive revenue plan, also dubbed Plan A+ or the “Grand Bargain”, must pass with a three-quarters majority to take effect in time to save lives threatened by the state’s budget emergency.

Tuesday, a new version of the comprehensive plan containing identical language to HB 1035 was introduced as HB 1054 and passed out of the House JCAB committee on a 19-6 vote. The bill number has changed but the plan is the same.

HB 1054 is expected to be heard by the full House today (Wednesday).

The deal contained in HB 1035/HB 1054 is the only solution left to avert devastating budget cuts, provide desperately needed raises for teachers and state employees, and restore the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income workers. House members from both parties must support HB 1035/HB 1054so that it reaches the supermajority needed to pass a revenue bill.

This is it. This is the last chance for a comprehensive, fair, and long-term solution to the budget crisis. The hard reality is that there is no choice between HB 1054 and some better deal. The only choice is between HB 1054 and a far worse deal or no deal at all. The far worse deal, which has been promoted by House Republican leadership in recent days, involves a combination of one-time cash and cuts that would deepen next year’s budget hole, put our credit rating at risk, and do more damage to important state services needed by Oklahoman families. If there’s no deal at all by December 1st, Oklahomans’ health care and social services will be devastated.

The Senate vote means that there is now a realistic path to a good outcome — but it will take House members knowing that they have their constituents’ support for a tough vote. Please contact your House member today in support of HB 1054. Be sure to share how the failure to resolve the budget crisis will affect your family, your business, or your community. See our Advocacy Alert for talking points and additional resources and our Special Session Frequently Asked Questions for more information.

Here is our full statement on why OK Policy supports the comprehensive budget plan that is on the table and that requires passage of HB 1035/HB 1054:

The comprehensive budget plan based on HB 1054 is the best possible outcome and the only good outcome under our current  circumstances. It recognizes that the state budget can only begin to be fixed with new recurring revenues and provides an important measure of fairness by curbing the tax break for oil and gas companies and restoring the earned income tax credit.  Most urgently, it averts catastrophic cuts to our health care system and social safety net while providing crucial pay raises for teachers and state employees. There is still much more work to do in the next regular session to ensure a fairer tax system and a budget that meets the needs of Oklahomans, but now is the time to approve this compromise and bring the budget emergency to an end. We  urge all House members to support HB 1054.

What now? With clock ticking, Legislature weighs options to avert Doomsday

by | November 1st, 2017 | Posted in Budget | Comments (11)

Last week, lawmakers’ attempt to address the state budget crisis in special session collapsed. They rejected proposals that would have filled the entire budget hole and averted imminent and catastrophic cuts to the three health care and social service agencies — the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services , Oklahoma Health Care Authority, and Department of Human Services — that lost $214 million in funding when the State Supreme Court found a cigarette fee passed earlier this year unconstitutional.

At this point (barring further surprises), special session is likely to conclude with a new budget that averts the doomsday scenario facing the three health and social services agencies but does not address Oklahoma’s chronic budget problems. It would also impose a new round of cuts on most or all state agencies. In the meantime, with each new day that passes without an agreement, the hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans served by the three agencies must grapple with rising anxieties that the crisis won’t be resolved and that they will lose the services that their health, and even their lives, depend on. 

continue reading What now? With clock ticking, Legislature weighs options to avert Doomsday

Turnover of state workers climbing as their salaries fall further behind

by | October 31st, 2017 | Posted in Budget | Comments (1)

We expect a lot from the Oklahomans who work for state government. These are the men and women we entrust to care for victims of abuse and neglect, supervise the most dangerous criminal offenders, stop the spread of infectious diseases, and ensure that our laws are applied fairly.  We expect them to be well-trained, to work hard, and to maintain the highest ethical standards. Unfortunately, a decade of budget shortfalls have made it increasingly difficult to pay state workers competitive wages. The result is that state compensation is lagging further behind the private sector, leading to increasingly expensive employee turnover.

A newly-released study  finds that average salaries for state employees fell to 24 percent below the competitive labor market in 2016, “a continued deterioration of the state’s salary position to the market.” As compensation fell further behind, the state employee turnover rate rose to 20.5 percent in 2016, which is a nearly 40 percent increase from a decade earlier. Employee turnover cost the state over $135 million in 2016, the report found.

continue reading Turnover of state workers climbing as their salaries fall further behind

Frequently asked questions about Oklahoma’s special session

by | October 10th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Matters, Featured Home Page | Comments (11)

Special Session adjourned on Friday November 17th following eight weeks trying to pass a new budget to fill the hole triggered by the Supreme Court ruling striking down the smoking cigarette fee passed in May. Gov. Fallin quickly used her line-item veto authority to veto all but five sections of the General Appropriations bill sent to her that morning, stating that the bill “does not provide a long-term solution to the recurring budget deficits”. She announced she would call a new special session “in the near future.” On December 7th, Gov. Fallin set the second special session for December 18th but postponed issuing an executive order, or official call.

Our Frequently Asked Questions has been updated to reflect the outcome of the special session and what transpired over the previous eight weeks, as well as what may happen next.

 (Last Updated: Nov. 29th).

continue reading Frequently asked questions about Oklahoma’s special session

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