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Thwack!

by | April 14th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (0)

As the economic downturn worsens, Oklahoma’s budget has begun to resemble a boxer up against the ropes. The news from the March revenue report released today by the Office of State Finance just dealt another blow. General Revenue (GR) collections for the month were down $93 million, or 19.1 percent, compared to the year prior. Every major tax came in below a year ago, with gross production taxes (down 40.7 percent from March 2008), motor vehicle taxes (down 25.4 percent), and personal income tax collections (down 22.3 percent) taking the worst hits.

rev-vs-py-mar091As can be seen from the chart, this is the third consecutive month of steep revenue declines. For the year, FY ’09 revenues are a slim $33 million, or 0.8 percent above last year.

Compared to the certified estimate, March’s collections fell $81.8 million, or 17.2 percent, short. That is a slight improvement from February, when collections missed the mark by a whopping 30.3 percent. For the year, revenue collections have now dipped slightly below the certified estimate. Since the Legislature only appropriates at 95 percent of the estimate, it leaves a 5 percent cushion to avert or minimize budget shortfalls when the economy declines. Treasurer Meacham today declared that, “we expect collections for the next three months to also fall below original estimates, but they are not forecasted to fall enough to require cuts between now and the end of June.”

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Je Ne Parle Pas Francais

by | April 14th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Capitol Matters | Comments (0)

Before the Cajun culture was celebrated, largely due to the discovery of our food, my grandparents lived through a time when being a Cajun was not welcomed in this country…or even in their home state of Louisiana. I can’t help but think about that time in my family’s history when I read through SB 1156, the English as “the official language” bill. In the debate over this bill, proponents say it’s not about tribal languages. They even put a native languages exception into the bill, but all of this sounds disturbingly familiar to me.A section of the SB 1156 reads: “5. This phrase does not authorize bilingual education programs which maintain a student in a language other than English.” There was once a similar provision under Louisiana law. We may be able to learn from their past.

 In The English Only Question, Dennis Baron gives a history of how this issue came about in Louisiana. The education issue first came up in 1864, not to prohibit French but to require at least some English in all schools. At the time, there were many schools and even whole parts of the state where English was rarely used. The 1864 state constitutional convention included language that was specifically written so as to not exclude or prohibit French, but to require English: “The general exercises in the common schools shall be conducted in the English language.” Another provision was also added at that time stating that the laws and proceedings of the state were required to only be written in “the language of the U.S. Constitution”. The 1921 Louisiana Constitution once again required only English in the schools, although still being careful not to forbid French.

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Step away from the scissors?

by | April 13th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Capitol Matters | Comments (3)

Two hundred economists from 37 states–including the University of Tulsa’s Steve Steib have joined the rising chorus of voices cautioning states against solving short-term deficits by cutting budgets and public services.  They’re urging states to:

Maintain the public services that are critical to the health of the economy and the well-being of working families. Cutbacks at this time would further slow the economy and harm those already hardest hit by the downturn.

Budget cuts make the economic downturn worse, they argue, because almost every dollar of state spending–whether for salaries, supplies, or assistance–hits the local economy immediately. So budget cuts equal less overall spending, which equals an even weaker economy. The damage could be as bad, or worse, over the long run since the services state and local governments invest in–education, transportation, public safety, and a stronger social fabric–are essential to the long-term economic health of the state and the nation.

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The incredible shrinking press corps

by | April 10th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Capitol Matters | Comments (1)

A new report from the American Journalism Review provides some concrete data to back up what is readily evident to anyone who follows state politics and (still) reads a newspaper these days: Capitol press corps are shrinking. The NCSL blog summarizes the report’s findings:

AJR just released its 2009 count of state house reporters and found 355 newspaper staff reporters are still on the capitol beat full time. The tally is a precipitous drop from the magazine’s last survey in 2003, when 524 reporters were on the beat. Trends in the newspaper business in the last six years, however, made it inevitable that the statehouse press corps would shrink substantially.

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An expenditure by any other name

by | April 9th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (0)

As states across the nation face a worsening fiscal crisis and the prospect of deep spending cuts, some policymakers and advocates are attempting to shine additional light on the traditionally dark corner in which reside the large and ever-growing array of credits, deductions, and exemptions written into state tax codes. Our friends at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities have released an important and timely new report on tax expenditures, making the case for states to do a better job at providing information on the provisions written into the tax code that reduce state revenue.

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OkABC hosting the Economic Security for Oklahomans Conference

During the months of March and April, the Oklahoma Asset Building Coalition (OkABC), a group with the goal of identifying and establishing practices and policies to help families achieve economic security, hosted a series of listening sessions across the state to gather ideas and generate enthusiasm for asset building opportunities in Oklahoma.

On April 22, the OkABC is hosting the Economic Security for Oklahomans Conference to present the results of these sessions. This conference will directly address programs and strategies to help strengthen economic opportunity during these increasingly difficult times.

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Tribes and the Recovery Act

by | April 8th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Stimulus | Comments (0)

In addition to the multiple funding streams made available to state governments by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), tribal governments are also in line to receive substantial assistance for programs serving Native Americans. This website of the National Congress of American Indians provides detailed and comprehensive information, including a handy tribal summary spreadsheet (PDF) available for download. As with state governments, tribes will receive some funds through formula allocations, while in other cases, tribal governments will be eligible to apply along with other government entities for competitive grants.

For Oklahoma, tribal funding can amount to considerable sums of money. For example, in the case of housing, Oklahoma’s formula-based allocation allocated to native housing authorities through the Native American Housing Block Grant is $37.4 million, which is considerably more than the $25.1 million going to non-native public housing authorities in Oklahoma through the Public Housing Capital Fund.

Falling short?

by | April 7th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (0)

Oklahoma’s Constitution includes several fiscally prudent budgeting measures aimed at averting or minimizing budget shortfalls.  One of these is the 95 percent appropriations rule: the Legislature may only appropriate up to 95 percent of the certified estimate for the upcoming year to the General Revenue fund, as well as several smaller funds. This creates a 5 percent cushion in case revenues fall short of the estimate. However, if revenues do come in below 95 percent, the Office of State Finance is required to implement proportional across-the-board cuts to keep the budget in balance (Article X-23 of the Constitution, Section 10). This occurred in both 2002 and 2003 during the last economic downturn.

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Safeguarding Medicaid eligibility in the budget downturn

by | April 7th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (2)

During the last state fiscal crisis, from 2002 -04, funding for Oklahoma’s Medicaid program was hit hard. In FY ’02 and FY ’03, as revenues began to plummet, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) put coverage of almost all non-mandatory benefits and eligibility categories on the table for cuts. The agency ended up eliminating dental coverage for adults, reducing prescription drug coverage for seniors and persons with disabilities in home- and community-based waivers, limiting hospital in-patient coverage, and abolishing the medically needy eligibility program for individuals facing large medical bills, among other measures. Only an 11th-hour promise of supplemental funding by legislative leaders and some serious arm-twisting led OHCA’s Board to reverse a decision that would have eliminated eligibility for over 50,000 low-income children and pregnant women.

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Less bang for the tax cut buck

by | April 6th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (0)

Mickey’s Musings, the policy blog of UCO Economics Professor Mickey Hepner, is consistently one of the best local sources for credible information and thoughtful opinion on economic and fiscal issues facing Oklahoma and the nation. One of Mickey’s favorite themes, which he revisits in this recent post, is that because of the interaction between federal and state tax laws, cutting  the state income tax is of limited economic benefit to Oklahoma. 

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