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All articles by David Blatt

Will 2018 be the Year of the Woman in Oklahoma?

by | October 9th, 2018 | Posted in Blog, Elections | Comments (0)

Across the United States, 2018 is being heralded as the Year of the Woman in American politics. Building on a surge of activism following the election of Donald Trump, including the national women’s marches and the #metoo movement, the “Pink Wave” in electoral politics has led this year to a record number of women running for Congress and securing party nominations.  There will be 239 women on the ballot for House seats in November, compared to a previous high of 167, and 23 women on the ballot for Senate, breaking the prior record of 18. There will also be a record number of female nominees for Governor (16) on the ballot this November.

Oklahoma currently has among the lowest levels of female political representation. With only 21 female legislators out of 149 members of the Legislature (14.1 percent), we rank ahead of only Wyoming in the percentage of female legislators, and well below other states in our region.  And the situation isn’t improving – the number of women in the Legislature has been stuck between 19 and 21 since 2012.  Two years ago, when there were 43 new members elected to the Legislature, only five were women, although two additional women have since won seats in special elections. At the federal level, despite Oklahoma, in 1921, having elected the second-ever female Congressperson, only one other woman – Mary Fallin – has been elected to Congress in state history. 

Will Oklahoma make gains in increasing the number of female lawmakers in 2018? A careful look at candidate filings and results from the state’s primary elections shows that there is almost certain to be some increase in the number of women elected to the Legislature in November. But with few female Republicans on the ballot, any chance of a wave of women being swept into office will depend on Democrats making significant gains in November.

continue reading Will 2018 be the Year of the Woman in Oklahoma?

With SQ 800, Oklahoma voters to decide on saving fossil fuel revenues in a long-term endowment

by | September 26th, 2018 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (1)

Oklahoma will begin to set aside a portion of future oil and gas revenues for a new reserve fund if voters approve State Question 800 in November.

SQ 800 creates a new trust fund known as the Oklahoma Vision Fund in the state Constitution.  Five percent of the collections from the gross production tax on oil and gas would be deposited in the Fund beginning July 1, 2020 (FY 2021), and this allocation would increase by two-tenths percentage points every year. The fund would also consist of investment and income returns and any other appropriations made by the Legislature.

As of July 1, 2020, 4 percent of the average annual principal amount of the Fund over the preceding five years would be deposited to the General Revenue Fund. Up to five per cent of the monies in the Fund could also be used for debt obligations issued by the State of Oklahoma or local government entities.

continue reading With SQ 800, Oklahoma voters to decide on saving fossil fuel revenues in a long-term endowment

OKVotes: Your guide to the 2018 State Questions

by | September 3rd, 2018 | Posted in Blog | Comments (1)

Today Oklahoma Policy Institute published a series of fact sheets on each of the state questions on Oklahoma ballots this year. In addition to state and national races, voters will decide five state questions on November 6th:

  • State Question 793 – a citizen-initiated referendum to allow optometrists and opticians to operate in retail establishments;
  • State Question 794 – expanding the constitutional rights of crime victims, known as ‘Marcy’s Law’;
  • State Question 798 – providing for the election of Governor and Lieutenant Governor on a joint ticket starting in 2026;
  • State Question 800 – creating a new budget reserve fund, the Oklahoma Vision Fund, to receive a portion of gross production tax revenues;
  • State Question 801 – allowing local building fund revenues to be used for school operations.

Several other ballot initiative efforts, including ones to allow recreational marijuana and place medical marijuana in the state Constitution, failed to gain enough signatures and will not be on the ballot. A veto referendum effort to overturn HB 1010xx, the bill raising several taxes to fund pay raises for teachers and other workers, was struck down by the courts.

Each fact sheet includes a brief summary of the state question, background information, what supporters and opponents are saying, the full ballot language, and links to other resources, such as media coverage and the websites of campaigns for and against the state question. On our website (okpolicy.org/okvotes) we have also compiled general election resources, including information on voter registration deadlines, links to lists of candidates, and much more. We’ll continue to update and add to these resources as we get closer to Election Day.

Let us know if you have any questions about this resource or suggestions for what we can add to help inform you about the important decisions you’ll be making on November 6!

The state budget is growing but is not fully recovered

by | August 23rd, 2018 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (1)

As Oklahoma heads into a new budget year and closes the books on FY 2018, two things are especially clear: Oklahoma’s fiscal situation is much improved, but we still have a long ways to go to recover from a decade of deep budget cuts.

State revenue grew strongly last year

After several consecutive years of shortfalls and lagging collections, last year (FY 2018) was a good one for state tax collections. Total collections to the General Revenue (GR) fund, the principal funding source for most Oklahoma government operations, reached $5.85 billion in FY 2018, which was an increase of $810 million, or 16.1 percent from FY 2017. Last year’s GR collections were the largest since the start of the Great Recession in 2009, but they were still some $100 million below the pre-recession peak of 2008, as can be seen from the chart.

All major General Revenue sources saw growth in 2018 compared to 2017, with increased sales tax collections (+$285.9M) being the largest contributor to overall revenue growth, followed by the individual income tax (+$208.8M), gross production taxes (+$195.9M), and corporate income tax (+$62.2M). Legislative changes approved during the 2017 regular session and 2018 special session, which included adding a 1.25 percent sales tax on motor vehicle purchases and raising the tax rate on older horizontal wells to 7 percent, accounted for approximately $358.9 million of the total GR increase in FY 2018, according to the state budget office.

Gross Receipts to the Treasury — a broader measure of tax collections before any tax rebates, tax refunds, and remittances to cities and counties are paid out, and that includes earmarked revenues which do not go to the General Revenue Fund — increased by $1.2 billion, or 11.1 percent, in FY 2018. Total Gross Receipts in FY 2018 reached an all-time high of $12.2 billion, which is some $900 million, or 7.9 percent, above the prior annual peak of $11.3 billion back in FY 2008.

Last year’s General Revenue collections exceeded the official estimate by $381.6 million, or 7.0 percent. The full amount of this surplus will be deposited in the state Rainy Day Fund, in accordance with the constitutional provision stating that GR collections above 100 percent of the final certified estimate are deposited in the Fund. This year’s RDF deposit is the largest since the Fund was created in 1988 and brings the current balance to $453.8 million (see chart). The cap on the Fund, which is 15 percent of the current revenue estimate for the General Revenue Fund, is just above $750 million.

 

The current revenue outlook is positive

State appropriations for the current budget year, FY 2019, are $7.567 billion — an increase of $718.5 million, or 10.5 percent, compared to last year. Of the total budget growth, about $500 million is a result of revenue increases approved earlier this year primarily to pay for pay raises for teachers and other employees, with the rest attributable to economic growth. The major tax increases on cigarettes, motor fuels, and new oil and gas production took effect July 1st.

Initial tax collections for FY 2019 are mixed. Gross Receipts to the Treasury for July 2018 were up 10.8 percent compared to the prior year. Treasurer Ken Miller noted, “continued improvement in state employment, notably in the oil fields, and positive numbers in other economic indicators are continued signs of ongoing growth.” However, while General Revenue collections for July were up 9.2 percent from a year ago, they fell short of the official estimate by $9.6 million, or 2.1 percent.

We still have a long ways to go to make up for years of cuts

The revenue increases approved by the Legislature in 2017 and 2018, in conjunction with a growing economy, have stabilized the budget and allowed for some critical investments in the state’s most urgent needs. Yet there’s still a great distance to be climbed before we are out of the hole created by a decade of cuts and shortfalls.

As Senate Appropriations Chair Kim David stated during debate on the FY 2019 appropriations bill, “this budget in no way makes everyone as complete and whole as we were in 2009.” This year’s budget remains 9.4 percent ($788 million) below the budget of FY 2009 when adjusted for inflation, as can be seen from the chart above. As noted above, General Revenue collections, which are the primary funding source for most government operations, have not even fully returned to where they were over a decade ago, even without accounting for inflation and population growth. The effects of sustained cuts can still be seen across much of state government. For example:

  • State support for K-12 school operations will remain $145 million less than in FY 2009 (not including the new money that must be dedicated to teacher and school staff pay raises), even as school enrollment has grown by over 50,000 students. The Legislature managed to increase state aid funding by only $17 million last session, just enough to offset mid-year cuts but not enough for most school districts to be able to replace teachers, counselors, librarians, and other positions lost in recent years. Most school districts are reporting that the teacher shortage is worse compared to last year and that they will continue to need emergency certification of teachers to fill vacancies.
  • The Regents for Higher Education received an additional $7.5 million for concurrent enrollment programs, but no additional money to support operations of colleges and universities. Higher education funding will remain $263 million, or 25.3 percent, below its FY 2009 levels.
  • State funding for the Department of Corrections is 2.8 percent above what it was in 2009, but the state’s inmate population has grown by close to 10 percent during this time, along with growing costs for medical care and other fixed expenses.
  • The Adult Protective Services division within the Department of Human Services has lost 30 percent of its workers since 2014, while the number of investigations it is responsible for has jumped more than 50 percent. 
  • State employees will receive raises of $500 to $2,000 depending on their salary this year, but a study last year found that average salaries for state employees fell to 24 percent below the competitive labor market in 2016. There were more than 4,000 fewer state employees in 2017 than in 2009.
  • Overall, of 65 agencies funded with state appropriations, 39 are operating with at least one-fifth less state support than in 2009, without adjusting for inflation.

The Legislature took bold but partial steps last year to change direction after a prolonged period of shrinking investments in our public institutions. There is still a very long ways to go before we have restored our public resources to levels needed to build a thriving, prosperous state.

Five things we know about Oklahoma’s 2018 legislative elections – pre-runoff update

by | August 2nd, 2018 | Posted in Blog, Elections | Comments (3)

Several months ago, we wrote about this year’s Oklahoma elections following the candidate filing period. Based on the unusually high numbers of open seats, candidates filing for office,  and challenges to incumbents, it already looked as if 2018 could be a landmark year in Oklahoma politics. Now, following what was an historic primary election in June, we know for certain that this is one of the most interesting and unexpected election years in Oklahoma in a long time. As we approach the runoff elections on August 28th, here are five things we know.

continue reading Five things we know about Oklahoma’s 2018 legislative elections – pre-runoff update

What we know – and don’t know – about the revenue bill veto challenge

by | May 23rd, 2018 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Education, Elections, Taxes | Comments (3)

In late March, on the eve of an anticipated teacher walk-out, Oklahoma lawmakers approved a series of bills intended to provide pay raises for teachers, school support staff, and state employees. To pay for the raises, lawmakers approved a number of revenue measures, including HB 1010xx, which managed to overcome the three-quarter supermajority requirement for tax increases established under State Question 640.

In May, a group called Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite launched a veto referendum petition drive that, if successful, would submit HB 1010xx to a vote of the people to approve or reject the new law. This effort has been designated Repeal Petition 25 (R.P. 25); if it gets on the ballot, it will be State Question 799. On June 22nd, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down the referendum petition, ruling that it was misleading and fatally flawed. The organizers subsequently announced that they were abandoning the petition effort, ensuring that both the tax increases and the pay raises would take effect on schedule.

This post addresses key questions related to the veto referendum effort. Language in bold reflects the Supreme Court’s June 22nd ruling, which renders moot much of the discussion on this page.  (Last Updated: July 9th)

continue reading What we know – and don’t know – about the revenue bill veto challenge

What we know about Oklahoma’s 2018 legislative elections

by | May 10th, 2018 | Posted in Blog, Elections | Comments (2)

The filing period for the 2018 elections concluded on April 13th, one day after the Oklahoma Education Association announced the end to the two-week teacher walkout that brought tens of thousands of educators and their supporters to the Capitol on a daily basis. Many teachers vowed to turn their energy to the upcoming election campaigns, committing themselves to work to support pro-education candidates on the primary and general election ballots.

We don’t know yet what impact the mobilization of educators, or other local and national trends, will ultimately have on the election results, but here are five things we do know about the 2018 elections:

continue reading What we know about Oklahoma’s 2018 legislative elections

The FY 2019 Budget: Been down so long this looks like up

by | May 2nd, 2018 | Posted in Budget | Comments (1)

In the 1960s, the New York City poet and folksinger Richard Fariña published a novel titled “Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me.” This title certainly applies to Oklahoma’s FY 2019 state budget, approved by the House and Senate last week. After several straight years of large shortfalls and repeated rounds of budget cuts, including mid-year cuts the past three years, lawmakers were finally able to pass a budget that kept funding for all agencies at least flat, provided modest increases for some critical programs and services, and included over $350 million for teacher pay raises.

State agencies next year will be appropriated a total of $7.567 billion in SB 1600, which is the annual General Appropriations bill. This is an increase of $718.5 million (10.5 percent) compared to the initial FY 2018 budget approved last May, and an increase of $601 million (8.6 percent) compared to the final FY 2018 budget, which included various mid-year cuts and increases. Next year’s appropriations will be the largest in state history, surpassing the $7.235 billion budget in FY 2015; however, when adjusted for inflation, next year’s budget remains 9.4 percent ($788 million) below the budget of FY 2009.

continue reading The FY 2019 Budget: Been down so long this looks like up

Unheralded law puts increased funding in doubt

by | April 18th, 2018 | Posted in Budget, Taxes | Comments (3)

Image by photosteve101/Creative Commons via flickr

Lawmakers this year have approved over half a billion in new taxes to pay for a package of spending measures, including increased pay for teachers, support staff, and state workers, and increased operating support for schools. While the new obligations are almost fully funded for the first year, in future years legislators are counting on growth revenue from an expanding economy to meet the spending commitments they’ve already made and to do more for education and other critical priorities.

But leaving economic uncertainties aside, there’s a hitch. Under a law passed quietly in 2016, several hundred million dollars could be directed automatically to a new budget reserve fund in FY 2020, rather than being available to meet funding commitments. Unless lawmakers revisit the law this session, they may find themselves facing major unexpected budget problems a year from now.

continue reading Unheralded law puts increased funding in doubt

Will the teacher raise be delayed by a veto petition?

by | April 12th, 2018 | Posted in Education, Taxes | Comments (19)

Tom Coburn speaking at OK Taxpayers Unite press conference

[Note: The post has been edited to correct the information regarding HB 1024xx]

On March 28th, just hours before Oklahoma Senators were to vote on pay raises for teachers and other employees funded by new taxes, a group calling themselves “Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite” held a press conference at the State Capitol. Led by former-U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, the group warned lawmakers that they would lead a citizen initiative to overturn any tax increase. Senators disregarded the warning by approving HB 1010xx with the three-quarters support needed for revenue bills, and the Governor quickly signed the measure into law on  March 29th. But is the tax increase – the first to be approved by Oklahoma lawmakers in over 25 years – now in danger of being overturned at the ballot and dragging the pay raises down with it?

continue reading Will the teacher raise be delayed by a veto petition?

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