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In The Know: Another Budget Special Session Is Ahead

by | November 21st, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

Another Budget Special Session Is Ahead: Gov. Mary Fallin will ask the Oklahoma Legislature to return to the state Capitol for a special session to address the state’s ongoing budget shortfalls that have jeopardized funding for state services. Fallin spokesman Michael McNutt said Monday the governor is working to pin down potential dates and define the parameters of her special session call that will determine what kind of bills lawmakers can consider. The Republican governor caught legislative leaders from her own party off guard last week when she vetoed a bill that would have closed a $215 million hole in the budget through a combination of cuts to agency budgets and raids on state savings accounts [AP]. The vetoed budget was a squandered opportunity of massive proportions [OK Policy]. Frequently asked questions about Oklahoma’s special session, including an update after Gov. Fallin’s veto [OK Policy].

Fallin’s bold move to force a better state budget needs public help: Just when it looked like Oklahoma was doomed to more legislative negligence at the behest of big oil companies, Gov. Mary Fallin asserted her authority and insisted that things must change. On Friday, Fallin vetoed most of an unacceptable state budget, which lawmakers had thrown at her as they fled the state Capitol, falsely declaring their work done. It was a bold move, and the right one [Editorial Board / Tulsa World]. Thanksgiving and Gov. Fallin’s courage [Ted Streuli / Journal Record].

More fights expected during second special session: The Oklahoma Legislature will convene for a second special legislative session this year, and if Friday was any indication, the Senate will be a force to be reckoned with. The Senate was broken into two factions during its vote on the budget deal Friday: a group that wanted to kill the bill and keep trying for a better package, and a group that said the bill was terrible but had to pass. Friday’s debate highlighted an already visible divide between the two chambers. About 8 p.m. that night, hours after the Senate lamented, then passed House Bill 1019 by a vote of 29-14, Gov. Mary Fallin announced she had line-item vetoed almost all of it [Journal Record].

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This district is all-in on school meals

by | November 20th, 2017 | Posted in Education, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (1)

It’s a tough time to be an educator in Oklahoma. Between low teacher pay, stretched support staff, and the deepest per pupil funding cuts in the country, there’s little wonder morale is low. At the same time, Oklahoma’s already-high poverty rate ticked up this year, and more than one in four Oklahoma kids are at risk of hunger. But a rare bright spot for Oklahoma schools is the opportunity to combat child hunger through their nutrition programs, and one district in southeastern Oklahoma has gone all in.

Jason Lindley is the superintendent of Hartshorne Public Schools, a three-school district a few miles east of McAlester. Lindley found that with a combination of programs, Hartshorne could ensure three meals a day for all students. The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) allows districts like Hartshorne to serve breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge, and moving breakfast into the classroom maximizes participation in the first meal of the day. Serving an afterschool meal — also at no charge — ensures kids have something to eat before they go home, where food might not be available. We talked with Lindley on why Hartshorne chose these programs, how the community responded, and the effects on his district.

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In The Know: Fallin vetoes ‘most of revised budget’

by | November 20th, 2017 | Posted in Blog, In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

Fallin vetoes ‘most of revised budget’: Gov. Mary Fallin has vetoed “most” of HB 1019, the revised general appropriations bill sent to her desk this morning. To conclude a grueling eight-week special session, the Oklahoma Legislature had adjourned sine die Friday, but now lawmakers may have to return for additional session at some point. [NonDoc] Challenges Persist After Fallin’s Budget Veto [Oklahoma Watch] The vetoed budget was a squandered opportunity of massive proportions [OK Policy]

Reaction to veto of ‘cuts and cash’ bill ranges from ire to applause from political leaders: Reaction was mixed Saturday to Gov. Mary Fallin’s veto of a controversial bill that used cash and agency cuts to shore up the ailing state budget. Hours after the Senate sent the measure to her desk Friday, Fallin line-item vetoed all but five of the 170 sections of House Bill 1019. The action temporarily preserved funding for key health and human services. [Tulsa World] Mixed reactions after Governor Fallin vetoes “most of revised” budget bill [KFOR]

The EITC has been an unfortunate victim of Oklahoma’s budget gridlock: In 2016, Oklahoma lawmakers were struggling to pass a state budget amid a massive revenue shortfall. Sound familiar? One of the measures taken by lawmakers in that year to fill their shortfall was making Oklahoma’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) non-refundable. [OK Policy]

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Congressional tax plan would take Oklahoma’s budget mess national

by | November 17th, 2017 | Posted in Taxes | Comments (2)

Oklahomans have learned the hard way what happens when you enact massive tax cuts without saying how you will pay for them. In the mid-2000s, we began slashing our top income tax rate. When Oklahoma first started cutting taxes, the economy was booming with revenues to spare. The tax cuts were also phased in with triggers over time, so we didn’t see the full cost right away.

With every passing year, it’s become harder to ignore the cost. In the past decade, Oklahoma’s made the largest cuts in the nation to K-12 school formula funding and higher education. Most state agencies now have 20 to 40 percent less funding compared to 2009. This year, Republicans and Democrats alike were talking about Oklahoma’s structural budget deficit and the ways that budget cuts are dismantling essential state services and harming Oklahoma families. That’s why a supermajority of legislators voted to raise taxes in special session (though in the House that vote was unfortunately just short of the super-supermajority required by State Question 640).

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We’re Hiring! Applications now open for Advocacy and Outreach Coordinator & Communications Associate positions

by | November 15th, 2017 | Posted in Blog, OK Policy | Comments (0)

OK Policy is excited to announce that we are now accepting applications for two full-time positions as an advocacy and outreach coordinator and as a communications associate. We will be accepting applications for both positions until Monday, December 4th and are looking to have the positions filled by late January.

The new advocacy and outreach coordinator will fill the position being vacated by Kara Joy McKee, who is leaving our staff in December. We are seeking an experienced and effective individual to lead our grassroots efforts to bring Oklahomans together in support of a policy agenda that ensures adequate and fair funding of public services and expanded opportunity and economic security for all. The work will involve building and supporting grassroots coalitions in one or more issue areas, as well as conducting public education and mobilization. The main qualification is for someone with fantastic people skills, excellent organizational and project management skills, and demonstrated experience working in, and preferably leading, advocacy campaigns and building and sustaining diverse and effective coalitions.  Click here for the job description, including a list of job duties and responsibilities, qualifications, salary range, and instructions on how to apply.

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In the Know is on break

by | November 14th, 2017 | Posted in Blog | Comments (0)

In The Know will be on a break for the remainder of the week due to an all-staff conference. We will return next Monday, November 20th. We will continue to post content to our blog and  Facebook page. We will also provide updates on Special Session on our website, where you can find our assessment of the budget plan announced yesterday and see our Frequently Asked Questions about Special Session.

 

The EITC has been an unfortunate victim of Oklahoma’s budget gridlock

by | November 14th, 2017 | Posted in Poverty & Opportunity, Taxes | Comments (0)

In 2016, Oklahoma lawmakers were struggling to pass a state budget amid a massive revenue shortfall. Sound familiar?

One of the measures taken by lawmakers in that year to fill their shortfall was making Oklahoma’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) non-refundable. The EITC is a tax credit designed to incentivize work and keep low-income working families out of poverty. It grows along with wage income up to a maximum level and then phases out gradually, so it never becomes a disincentive to earning more wage income.

Making the EITC non-refundable in 2016 saved about $25 million for the state budget, but only by undercutting a key poverty-fighting tool with a long history of bipartisan support and proven, long-lasting benefits for entire families. Refundability is critical to the success of the EITC because it allows the credit to reward work even if families have small state income tax bills — yet these families are all paying sales taxes, payroll taxes, and, directly or indirectly, property taxes as well.

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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.

We want you to be a spring intern!

by | November 13th, 2017 | Posted in Blog, OK Policy | Comments (0)

OK Policy is now accepting student applicants for paid part-time internships during the spring of 2018! Interns have the opportunity to work as full members of the OK Policy team and participate in most activities of the organization.

Research positions are available in our Tulsa office, while a legislative advocacy position is available in our Oklahoma City office. Interns will be expected to work between 10 and 20 hours per week depending on their schedules and availability and are paid $10.50 per hour. 

Eligible students should have completed at least four semesters of college coursework or be pursuing a graduate degree. We are happy to cooperate with an institution’s requirements for academic credit.

To apply, please send a cover letter explaining your interest and qualifications, a resume or CV, and a writing sample to jobs@okpolicy.org no later than Sunday, November 26. Please include “Spring internship” in the subject line and clearly indicate in application materials whether you are interested in a research internship in the Tulsa office or a legislative advocacy internship in Oklahoma City. 

All applicants will be contacted regarding interviews by December 4.

The doomsday scenario has already begun — but it can be stopped

by | November 13th, 2017 | Posted in Healthcare | Comments (2)

Twenty-five elderly Oklahomans lost their home early last week when Wynnewood Care Center closed

After taking years of reimbursement cuts and expecting more to come, the small skilled-nursing facility in Wynnewood had to shut down and move residents into other facilities in neighboring counties. 

Then on Thursday, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) voted to cut daily reimbursements to nursing homes, residential facilities housing people with intellectual disabilities, and nursing facilities for people with AIDS by 4 percent. They also voted to cut payments to most Medicaid providers by 9 percent. Unless lawmakers pass a budget deal that fills all or most of the $70 million hole in OHCA’s budget triggered when the state Supreme Court struck down an unconstitutional cigarette tax, these cuts will take effect on December 1. 

Similarly, although state-funded in-home care isn’t scheduled to expire until December 1, thousands of Oklahomans with disabilities and their caregivers are scrambling now to find alternatives. Nearly 189,000 Oklahomans who manage mental illness and addiction through state services are in a similar boat; nearly all outpatient service are scheduled to cease on December 1. While $23 million from the Rainy Day Fund may allow them to delay those cuts for a few weeks, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services still has a $50 million budget hole to contend with.  

If lawmakers can come to an agreement in time, these cuts can be stopped — but as Wynnewood’s closure shows, a lot of damage has already been done. 

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