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All articles by Gene Perry

Oklahoma taxes are the lowest in our region, and falling

by | October 18th, 2017 | Posted in Taxes | Comments (0)

This week the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services began alerting care providers that they will have to shut down the state’s entire outpatient behavioral health system, with just a few exceptions, if lawmakers don’t find ways in special session to fill the agency’s $75 million budget hole. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority is planning to cut rates paid to doctors, hospitals, and nursing homes by 9 percent — a scenario that would likely put more rural hospitals out of business at a time when pregnant women in rural Oklahoma already are being forced to travel long distances for basic care. Teachers are continuing to flee the state as one study found those who left Oklahoma are making on average $19,000 more per year.

With headlines like these, few can dispute that Oklahoma’s state budget is deeply deficient. The details of how Oklahoma ended up in its latest budget mess are complicated. However, the big picture reason why Oklahoma struggles year after year to fund basic services is simple — we’ve slashed our revenue base.

continue reading Oklahoma taxes are the lowest in our region, and falling

New poll finds Oklahoma voters want comprehensive revenue deal in special session

by | October 6th, 2017 | Posted in Budget | Comments (2)

A new poll shows a large majority of Oklahoma voters (67 percent) want lawmakers to pass a comprehensive revenue plan in special session that avoids further cuts and funds a teacher pay raise and other critical needs. That compares to just 15 percent of voters who want only a tobacco tax increase without other revenue options and just 11 percent who say the legislature should not pass revenues and allow budget cuts to take effect. Increasing the cigarette tax, raising income tax rates on the highest earners, ending the capital gains tax break, and increasing the initial oil and gas production tax are all options for raising new revenue that a majority of Oklahomans support.

The poll of 400 Oklahoma registered voters was commissioned by Oklahoma Policy Institute and conducted by nationally-respected opinion research firm Global Strategy Group. The full poll results and a memo from Global Strategy Group are available here.

continue reading New poll finds Oklahoma voters want comprehensive revenue deal in special session

Two big myths that distort Oklahoma’s education funding debate

by | October 3rd, 2017 | Posted in Education | Comments (7)

For years now, how we fund our schools has been the number one controversy in Oklahoma politics. Education funding has been the subject of numerous bills and proposals, state, national, and international media coverage, and the largest Capitol rally in state history. The symptoms of a crisis in education are all around us: dozens of districts going to 4-day school weeks; a skyrocketing number of teacher jobs being filled by emergency-certified teachers, because there was no applicant with a required teaching license; and hundreds of Oklahoma’s best teachers moving out of the state or quitting the profession so they can earn a living wage.

Despite this evidence, some lawmakers continue to resist admitting that Oklahoma needs to increase revenues for education — especially if it means raising taxes. Lawmakers and anti-tax interest groups have felt the pressure from the large numbers of Oklahomans upset about what’s happening in public schools, so they put a lot of energy into coming up with excuses for why more revenues are not the answer. They have manipulated data and cherry-picked numbers to claim that lack of funding isn’t the problem. Here are two big myths that have distorted Oklahoma’s education funding debate:

continue reading Two big myths that distort Oklahoma’s education funding debate

Bills filed in special session put many options in play

by | September 26th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Taxes | Comments (0)

Yesterday was the first day of the special legislative session called by Governor Fallin to fix Oklahoma’s chronic budget problems. One day in, the outcome of special session is still very much up in the air. With so much at stake, it’s an essential time for Oklahomans to call, write, and visit lawmakers. Read on for analysis of the bills filed so far and what you can do to influence the result.

Although Governor Fallin promised to veto any budget that makes further cuts to state agencies, House Speaker Charles McCall continues to insist that the only revenue on the table will be another try at a cigarette tax. At this point in the year, the cigarette tax by itself will only close about half of Oklahoma’s current budget shortfall. And if the Legislature still does not have a three-fourths majority needed to pass the tax, sending it to a vote of the people means the soonest it could go into effect would be 2019, far too late to avoid life-threatening cuts to health care.

continue reading Bills filed in special session put many options in play

Lawmakers have good revenue options for special session if they have the will to use them

by | September 18th, 2017 | Posted in Budget | Comments (1)

Governor Fallin has officially called the Oklahoma Legislature into a special session beginning September 25 in order to fix the state budget, which has a more than $200 million hole due to the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s rejection of a cigarette fee. However, the specific way that lawmakers address the budget hole is still up for grabs, and various state leaders have laid out very different visions of what they hope to come out of it.

Even before the court threw out the cigarette fee, Oklahoma’s state budget massively underfunded core services. The budget was worsening the teacher shortage, forcing the closure of senior nutrition sites, cutting support for foster families, taking money out of child support, and not even beginning to undo the damage to our communities caused by years of cuts. On top of that, its use of more than $400 million in one-time funds has already dug a large budget hole going into next year. With the upcoming special session, lawmakers have a second chance to fix the budget by passing widely-supported revenue options.

continue reading Lawmakers have good revenue options for special session if they have the will to use them

New Census data shows Oklahoma fell further behind the U.S. on poverty and uninsured rate in 2016

by | September 14th, 2017 | Posted in Healthcare, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (2)

New Census data shows the percentage of families living in poverty in Oklahoma increased in 2016, even as the national poverty rate declined to its lowest point since 2008. In 2016, almost one out of six Oklahomans (16.3 percent) were making less than the poverty line ($24,230 a year for a family of four) before taxes. About 9,500 more Oklahomans had incomes below the poverty line in 2016 than in 2015.

Oklahoma’s poverty rate increased even as the poverty rate for the United States as a whole fell to 14.0 percent. These national improvements widened the gap between Oklahoma and the U.S. as a whole. Oklahoma’s poverty rate in 2016 was 9th highest out of all 50 states.

continue reading New Census data shows Oklahoma fell further behind the U.S. on poverty and uninsured rate in 2016

Statement: Don’t waste second chance to get the budget right

by | September 6th, 2017 | Posted in Blog, Press Releases & Statements | Comments (0)

Oklahoma Policy Institute released the following statement on Governor Fallin’s announcement that she is calling a special session beginning September 25:

Governor Fallin did what’s right for Oklahoma by calling a special session to prevent severe cuts to basic health care services for our people. Now lawmakers have a second chance to get the budget right, and they shouldn’t waste it. They have many good options to raise the revenues needed to protect our schools, health care, and public safety from yet another round of damaging cuts. It’s time to get beyond political gridlock, make the agreements necessary to pass recurring revenues, and stop kicking the can down the road with one-time funds or across-the-board cuts.

Statement: Court ruling confirms that Oklahoma lawmakers have good options to fix budget in special session

by | August 31st, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Press Releases & Statements | Comments (1)

Oklahoma Policy Institute released the following statement on today’s Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling upholding a law that partially ends the state sales tax exemption for auto sales:

​The court’s ruling confirms that lawmakers have numerous options to fill the budget hole in special session and prevent devastating cuts. Now that the court has established the scope of the problem, lawmakers must return to special session as soon as possible with the political will to come together and pass solutions.

Lawmakers should continue to seek a three-fourths supermajority to restore a cigarette tax, reverse recent income tax cuts for very high incomes, and restore the gross production tax. In addition, this ruling means that they can use special session to repeal tax exemptions with a simple majority. Lawmakers should take a serious look at ending tax breaks that do nothing for average Oklahomans, like the more than $100 million tax break for capital gains of wealthy stockholders and commercial real estate owners. Lawmakers have good options to not only prevent life-threatening cuts to health care, but also to finally meet widely agreed-on needs like a pay raise for teachers and other public workers.

If lawmakers wait until regular session to address the budget hole, it will already be too late to approve new revenues and protect core services this year. They will have failed in one of the most basic responsibilities that we elected them to do. Unfortunately, it’s regular Oklahomans who would pay the price.

continue reading Statement: Court ruling confirms that Oklahoma lawmakers have good options to fix budget in special session

If lawmakers wait until regular session to fix the budget, it will already be too late

by | August 29th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Taxes | Comments (1)

Now that the Oklahoma Supreme Court has thrown out a key part of the budget passed by lawmakers earlier this year, it’s clear the lawmakers must return to the Capitol for a special legislative session to fix the problem. Oklahoma faces a major crisis if lawmakers don’t replace the cigarette fee revenues thrown out by the court that provided more than $200 million to cover basic health care and protections for vulnerable children, seniors, and people with severe disabilities. The court has also not yet announced their decision on whether partially removing a sales tax exemption for auto sales was constitutional; if they rule that it wasn’t, another $100 million plus will disappear from the budget.

Some lawmakers and anti-tax activists have suggested that we can wait until the regular session in February to fix the problem. That’s a bad mistake for a few reasons. First, even if agencies can get by without cuts until then (which is not at all a sure thing), it would create huge uncertainty and fear among those Oklahomans who depend on the three agencies most affected by the loss of the cigarette fee. That means foster families and children, low-income seniors who rely on state nutrition sites, and people with mental illness would be living with months of anxiety over whether their services will survive.

continue reading If lawmakers wait until regular session to fix the budget, it will already be too late

Statement: Lawmakers must go back to special session and finish job of funding core services

by | August 10th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Press Releases & Statements | Comments (7)

The SOS Coalition, which includes Oklahoma Policy Institute and 20 other organizations, released the following statement on today’s Oklahoma Supreme Court decision that threw out a cigarette fee and created a $214 million hole in the budgets of SoonerCare ($70 million loss), the Oklahoma Department of Human Services ($69 million loss), and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services ($75 million loss):

“This ruling confirms that the Legislature did not complete its job this year of crafting a balanced budget that pays for the core services Oklahomans expect and need.

Governor Fallin shouldn’t wait a single minute to call a special session and instruct the Legislature to find additional revenue, fix the broken budget, undo cuts to core services, and invest in education. The Save our State Coalition has issued a blueprint for a better budget that does just that, and we urge lawmakers to take it seriously.

Countless Oklahomans whose lives depend on state services are waiting for our Legislature to do the right thing. If the Legislature does not find new revenues to replace those rejected by the Court, the consequence will be unimaginable cuts to health care and other protections for our state’s most vulnerable citizens — with the greatest harm on children, seniors, and people with severe disabilities.”

You can read the court decision here, find our pre-decision analysis of the Supreme Court case here, see Governor Fallin’s statement about the decision here, read the Save Our State Coalition’s Blueprint for a Better Budget here, and see other revenue options for a better budget here.

Please contact your two legislatorsHouse Speaker Charles McCall, and Senate President Mike Schulz and tell them it is their duty to go into special session and find the revenues to prevent even more cuts to the core state services that Oklahomans expect and need.

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