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HB 3384: New mandate on schools would be costly, onerous and legally perilous

by | March 22nd, 2010 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (4)

Our public schools already shoulder a great deal of responsibility. They are expected not only to teach our children reading, writing and arithmetic, but also, in many cases, to help make sure that they are adequately fed and nourished, to help them cope with disabilities, to instill in them core values of good citizenship, and to help those who come from afar integrate into our community. But should our schools also have the responsibility to serve as arms of the immigration enforcement authorities?

That, in practice, is what a bill introduced this legislative session by Representative Randy Terrill would force our schools to become. HB 3384, under the guise of collecting data on the population of students who are not lawfully present in the United States, would require the presentation by parents “for inspection to a designated school official at the school in which the child is enrolled of official documentation establishing the citizenship or immigration status of the child.”  Each school district would be required to make a determination of the student’s legal status and then compile and report this information to the State Department of Education.

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Shameless Self-Promotion Dept: Budget forum at UCO

by | March 18th, 2010 | Posted in Blog, Upcoming Events | Comments (0)

Straight off the press release. Note especially the “free and open to the public” part. Come cheer me on!

The University of Central Oklahoma Policy Institute will be host for a panel discussion – “Oklahoma’s budget crisis in the midst of recession: What policies should the state pursue to minimize the budget shortfalls?” – from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. March 25 at UCO’s Nigh University Center.

Panelists will include state Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond; state Rep. Ken Miller, R-Edmond; and David Blatt, director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute.

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Stop digging! Top income tax rate cut should be suspended until revenues have recovered

by | March 18th, 2010 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (0)

Even assuming that we are in the early stages of what will eventually be a robust economic recovery, Oklahoma’s budget crisis is not going to end anytime soon. Revenue collections this year and next are projected to come in 20 to 25 percent below their levels of FY ’08, the year prior to the onset of the downturn. The Legislature has been able to use substantial amounts of non-recurring revenue from the federal stimulus bills and the state’s Rainy Day Fund to soften the shortfall and thus far avoid the catastrophic impact of budget cuts in the 20 – 25 percent range across the full range of state government.  However, next year’s cuts look to be substantially deeper than this year’s. After FY ’11, most or all of the non-recurring revenues will likely be exhausted. As shown in the chart below, we project that  revenue collections are likely to remain 10 percent below those of FY ’08 in FY ’12, and may not return to pre-downturn levels until at least FY ’13.

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Guest Blog (Amy Santee): Turning The Tide On Female Incarceration

by | March 17th, 2010 | Posted in Blog, Criminal Justice | Comments (4)

From time to time, we use the OK Policy blog to post submissions we receive from Oklahomans who have interesting perspectives on important policy issues for the state. This entry is from Amy Santee, Senior Program Officer with George Kaiser Family Foundation in Tulsa. The opinions stated below are not necessarily the opinions of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. This blog is a venue to help promote the discussion of ideas from various points of view and we invite your comments and contributions. To see our guidelines for blog submissions, click here.

Currently, the State of Oklahoma incarcerates more women per capita than any other state in the nation, a rate of 134 per 100,000, compared to a national average of 69 per 100,000. Tulsa County incarcerates at an even higher rate, 169 women per 100,000.

This practice has a devastating impact on thousands of children around our state.  There are an estimated 4,500 minor children in Oklahoma with their mothers in prison.  These children are at greater risk of school failure, depression, drug and alcohol abuse. Without a successful intervention, they are likely to become the next generation of inmates at the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.  Incarcerating non-violent female offenders does not make economic sense, nor does it protect the public safety.  Is it not better public policy to provide these women with treatment and the tools to become better parents and productive citizens?

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Piling on the Sunshine: New measures would make more spending information publicly available

by | March 16th, 2010 | Posted in Blog, Capitol Matters | Comments (1)

If, as Judge Louis Brandeis famously stated, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant”, the Oklahoma Legislature seems to be on a bit of a cleaning frenzy. Several bills making their way through the legislative process this session HB 3422, SB 1633 and HB 3253 – would expand the amount of information on public expenditures that is made available online to the public.

The measures all build on the 2007 Taxpayer Transparency Act, authored by Sen. Randy Brogdon, which led to the state’s OpenBooks website. The site makes available data on expenditures by each state agency by year and purpose, including detailed payroll and vendor information. OpenBooks also provides information on individuals and businesses who claimed tax credits against the income tax (see our post on this subject).

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Hurting all over: A survey of some recent state and local budget cuts

by | March 15th, 2010 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (0)

As revenues have come in significantly below estimates this year, funding to state agencies was cut 5 percent a month from August to November and 10 percent each month since (see our updated fact sheet). OK Policy’s intern Matt Gardner has been tracking media reports of the ways that cuts in state funding over the course of the downturn. He provides this report of some of what’s transpired in recent months.

Budget cuts in recent months appear to have affected Oklahomans from all walks of life. Many agencies have been forced to cut jobs, offer bailouts, or implement furlough days, but cuts have required agencies to go further and eliminate services altogether.

Some examples:

  • The Bill Willis Community Mental Health Center faces more cuts, despite having eliminated its 20-bed men’s substance abuse program. That was to save $1.2 million. Now, the center has been asked to trim $300,000 more. According to Executive Director Margaret Bradford, “without this type of treatment you’re going to see more and more people end up in the criminal justice system,” costing the state more money than the treatment.

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Of tax increases, revenue bills, SQ 640… and ducks

by | March 11th, 2010 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (2)

With Oklahoma facing a gaping budget hole for the upcoming fiscal year of anywhere from $850 million to $1.6 billion,  depending on one’s calculations, the search for new revenues to fill the gap and avoid devastating cuts to services has assumed real urgency. The Governor in his FY ’11 Executive budget proposed a long laundry list of revenue enhancing proposals that were estimated to generate over $700 million in additional revenue for FY ’11. His proposals ranged from appropriating unused balances in agency revolving funds and issuing bonds to raising fees, eliminating tax credits, and collecting taxes on online purchases.

But what about SQ 640? Few discussions of revenue options in Oklahoma get very far before being met with: “But what about SQ 640″?. Last week, for example, House Democrats tried unsuccessfully to argue that a bill containing a fee increase should be ruled out of order due to SQ 640. But while the specter of SQ 640 casts a giant shadow over policy discussions, its actual scope is not always well understood.

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Guest blog (Tom Daxon): Putting tax expenditures on the right TRACC

by | March 10th, 2010 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (2)

From time to time, we use the OK Policy blog to post submissions we receive from Oklahomans who have interesting perspectives on important policy issues for the state. This entry is from Tom Daxon, an Oklahoma City CPA who served as State Finance Director from 1995 – 2001 under Governor Frank Keating and is a noted conservative voice in Oklahoma. The opinions stated below are not necessarily the opinions of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. This blog is a venue to help promote the discussion of ideas from various points of view and we invite your comments and contributions. To see our guidelines for blog submissions, click here.

State government spends too much money.  It should spend less.  However, even this strong conservative realizes some government is necessary and further, we should pay for it currently.  As former Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes observed, “Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society.”

Good tax policy dictates that when we tax, we should impose the tax on the largest possible base to keep the rate to a minimum.  Unfortunately, all the tax credits, exclusions and preferences that riddle Oklahoma’s tax code have led some to note that our tax code resembles Swiss cheese.

Perhaps we should consider a “TRACC” – tax realignment and credit commission – modeled after BRACC that successfully closed unneeded military bases at the federal level.  TRACC would be a bipartisan committee including both House and Senate members with participation from the Governor’s office.  TRACC would prepare a list of tax expenditures for elimination.  The legislature would then consider the list in a straight up or down vote, without amendment.

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Ambidextrous revenue report: One the one hand…on the other hand…

by | March 9th, 2010 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (0)

The latest state revenue collections announced today provided mixed news:

State revenue collections in February exceeded the official estimate for the first time since December 2008, but fell short of prior year collections for the same month, State Treasurer Scott Meacham announced today.

Preliminary reports show General Revenue Fund collections in February are $220.6 million. That amount is:

  • $17.3 million, or 7.3 percent below the prior year; but,
  • $0.8 million, or 0.4 percent above the estimate.

February collections were buttressed by $25 million in gross production taxes on oil that were allocated to the General Revenue Fund and by stronger-than-expected income tax collections. After tax refunds, the state took in net income tax collections of $10.7 million in February, whereas the official estimate was for a net loss of $9.1 million in income tax payouts.

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Hurry up and wait: Even with federal approval, Oklahoma coverage expansions left on hold

by | March 8th, 2010 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (0)

According to the latest U.S. Census figures, 565,000 Oklahomans, or 15.8 percent of the total population, were without health insurance in 2007-2008. The uninsured rate is just under 10 percent for children but over 20 percent for adults ages 18-64.

The Oklahoma Legislature has made several efforts in recent years to chip away at the number of uninsured by expanding eligibility for Insure Oklahoma, a program that provides public subsidies towards the purchase of employer-sponsored coverage for employees of small businesses or a public product for those without access to employer coverage. Eligibility for Insure Oklahoma goes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($44,000 for a family of four) and is available to employees of businesses with up to 250 employees.

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