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Today is the final day to purchase tickets for the 2018 State Budget Summit! Get your tickets here.

‘Step Up’ Coalition adds to the conversation, but plenty of work left to do (Capitol Update)

by | January 19th, 2018 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates | Comments (0)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

There were significant developments this past week regarding the budget crisis. A group of about 70 business leaders who voluntarily associated themselves together under the name, “Step Up Oklahoma,” has announced agreement on revenue increases amounting to $790.7 million from multiple sources.

The largest amounts would come from the $1.50 per pack cigarette tax ($243.9 million); individual income tax “reform” ($175 million); a 6-cent per gallon motor fuel tax increase ($170.4 million); and increasing the gross production tax from 2 percent to 4 percent during the first three years of production ($133.5 million.) Smaller amounts would be generated from increases on other forms of tobacco, a new wind generation tax, reducing transferable and refundable tax credits, and allowing new kinds of gambling with dice and cards in tribal casinos.

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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:

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Our 10 most popular posts in 2017

by | December 28th, 2017 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Education, Healthcare | Comments (1)


When it comes to Oklahoma politics, 2017 was one of the most tumultuous and unpredictable in history. The year was consumed by a long, still unresolved showdown over the state budget and need for new revenues, with shifting coalitions, unusual alliances, and numerous high stakes votes. Throughout the year we did our best to keep you informed and provide the information you need to advocate for constructive solutions. Of all the articles we published on our blog this year, these were the 10 most popular:

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What will it take to force action on passing recurring revenue? (Capitol Update)

by | December 15th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates | Comments (0)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

Chinese water torture is a process in which water is slowly dripped onto a person’s forehead allegedly making the restrained victim insane. It’s been found to be quite effective, capable of causing emotional cracks within a short time even in a controlled environment. Legislators must be wondering if this is Governor Fallin’s latest tactic to force action on passing recurring revenue measures.

To review, on August 10th the state Supreme Court ruled the cigarette fee passed last session to be unconstitutional, thus creating an unbalanced budget. After nearly a month, on September 6th the governor announced she would call a special session to deal with the Supreme Court ruling. But the governor didn’t say when the session would start. Later, on September 15th she issued the call to begin on September 25th and added a range of issues, including a teacher and state employee pay raise. After weeks of on again, off again session the legislature, having passed only a small amount of recurring revenue, passed a measure to appropriate cash on hand and cuts to various agencies, then adjourned on November 17th.

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Join us for the 2018 State Budget Summit

by | December 12th, 2017 | Posted in Blog, Budget, OK Policy | Comments (0)

As Oklahoma’s 2018 legislative session approaches, the state continues to struggle with huge and chronic budget shortfalls and an inability to make the critical investments needed to ensure our prosperity and well-being. We are seeing real and encouraging signs of progress towards the adoption of smarter policies, but obstacles still stand in our way.

OK Policy’s 5th Annual State Budget Summit will bring together Oklahomans with an interest in state policy issues to gain a clearer sense of our challenges and how they can be resolved.  The event will be held January 25th, 2018 at the Downtown/Medical Center Embassy Suites in Oklahoma City. Our special early-bird registration price of just $75 is available through January 12th. The cost as of January 13th is $90

Click here for the full program or, to purchase tickets, click here

The event will include an overview budget presentation by our Executive Director David Blatt, panel discussions involving leading experts on the state budget and criminal justice, and an exciting keynote speaker, Vanessa Williamson, whose talk is titled, “Why Americans Are Proud To Pay Taxes.”

A limited number of partial and full scholarships are available. Click here to apply for a scholarship by January 5th.  Legislators and other elected officials may attend the State Budget Summit free of charge by contacting the OK Policy office (918-794-3944; for a special promo code.

Our keynote speaker, Vanessa Williamson, is a Fellow in Governance Studies at Brookings. She studies the politics of redistribution, with a focus on attitudes about taxation. She is the author of the new book Read My Lips: Why Americans Are Proud to Pay Taxes.

Williamson is also the author, with Harvard professor Theda Skocpol, of The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism, which was named one of the ten best political books of the year in the New Yorker. She has testified before Congress and written for a variety of outlets including, The Atlantic, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and her hometown newspaper, the Sacramento Bee. Williamson previously served as the Policy Director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. She received her Ph.D. in Government and Social Policy from Harvard University. She has a master’s degree from NYU’s Institute of French Studies, and received her B.A. in French language and literature from NYU.

The State Budget Summit offers you a unique opportunity to be better informed on the critical issues facing Oklahoma as we head into the 2018 session. Click here to register now. We look forward to seeing you on January 25th!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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