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Statement on Governor Fallin’s State of the State address and budget plan

by | February 5th, 2018 | Posted in Budget, Press Releases & Statements | Comments (0)

For Immediate Release

Oklahoma Policy Institute Executive Director David Blatt released the following statement in response to Governor Fallin’s State of the State address and FY 2019 Executive Budget:

Governor Fallin has identified the right goals for this year’s legislative session: pass new revenues to fix the budget and provide a teacher pay raise, reform ineffective and cruel criminal justice policies, and fund mental health and addiction treatment. The structural budget deficit and incarceration crisis are years in the making, but Oklahomans from many backgrounds have reached a remarkable consensus on the direction that we need to go.

While the Governor’s address identifies the right problems, her budget makes clear that we still have a long way to go to fully solve them. Even with all revenues from the Step Up Oklahoma plan included, Governor Fallin’s FY 2019 budget does nothing to increase general support for K-12 schools and higher education that have been cut the most in the nation. It does not address overcrowding and staff shortages in state prisons. It does not provide pay increases for thousands of state workers, many of whom have gone more than a decade without a raise. It does not undo cuts to community health providers or reduce the long developmental disabilities care waiting list.

The Governor’s proposals are a first step towards correcting a decade of cuts and underfunding. However, Oklahoma has much more to do put our state on a path to good health, safety, and prosperity for all of us.

Oklahoma’s 2018 legislative session begins today. Our updated Legislative Primer will help you follow what’s happening.

by | February 5th, 2018 | Posted in Capitol Matters | Comments (1)

What are the steps for a bill to become law? Who chairs key legislative committees and who serves in the governor’s cabinet? What does it mean to “strike the title” of a bill? As the 2018 Oklahoma Legislative session gets underway, our newly updated Legislative Primer will answer these questions and more.

Whether you are a veteran advocate, a complete novice to Oklahoma politics, or anyone in between, the 2018 Legislative Primer will provide you invaluable information in a concise, user-friendly format. You are welcome to download, print, and share the Legislative Primer with anyone who may need it to figure out what’s happening at the Capitol.

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In The Know: Early vote expected on Step Up Oklahoma revenue measures

by | February 5th, 2018 | 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

Early vote expected on Step Up Oklahoma revenue measures: Oklahoma House Speaker Charles McCall said Thursday he’s optimistic he can get enough Republican votes to pass Step Up Oklahoma’s plan to resolve the state’s budget impasse if as many Democrats will vote for the plan as voted for a revenue bill that failed last year. [The Oklahoman] Step Up Oklahoma plan adds to the consensus that new revenues are essential [OK Policy]

Budget remains biggest challenge for Oklahoma lawmakers: When members of the Oklahoma Senate and House of Representatives return Monday to the state Capitol to begin this year’s regular legislative session, there’s little debate about which issue will confound them the most. [The Oklahoman] Oklahoma’s budget outlook is improving, but major challenges remain [OK Policy]

Fallin hopes to put state on firm financial footing for her successor: In her final State of the State speech on Monday, Gov. Mary Fallin will stress the urgency of the moment, the need to resolve chronic budget problems without digging around in couch cushions for coins. [The Oklahoman] Mary Fallin doesn’t plan to limp away from the governor’s office [Tulsa World]

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The Weekly Wonk: OK Policy announces new staff and expanded leadership team

by | February 2nd, 2018 | Posted in Blog, Weekly Wonk | Comments (0)

the_weekly_wonk_logoWhat’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk shares our most recent publications and other resources to help you stay informed about Oklahoma. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The Know. Click here to subscribe to In The Know.

This Week from OK Policy

There have been some exciting changes at OK Policy! We have two new staff members – Sabine Brown is our new Outreach & Advocacy Coordinator, and Jessica Vazquez has joined us as a Communications Associate. We’ve also expanded our leadership team. Bailey Perkins and Carly Putnam have joined the leadership team, with Bailey as Outreach & Legislative Director and Carly as Policy Director. The previous Policy Director, Gene Perry, is now serving as Strategy & Communications Director.

Executive Director David Blatt’s Journal Record column ran down the unfinished business facing the legislature when they return to the Capitol next week. Steve Lewis’s Capitol Update argued that new revenues in the Step Up Oklahoma proposal are a good start – but they’re just a start toward fixing our structural budget deficit.

Policy Analyst Ryan Gentzler told us about the epidemic of debtor’s prisons in Oklahoma. Policy Analyst Courtney Cullison wrote an oped for the Tulsa World about the troubling new direction of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

OK Policy in the News

Blatt made two appearances in the Tulsa World this week. He weighed in on the legislature’s decision last year to “decouple” from the federal standard deduction in light of changes to federal income tax rules, and expressed concerns about the income tax proposal in the Step Up plan. Gentzler’s work on debtor’s prisons made an appearance in Esquire Magazine.

OK Policy’s statement on last year’s Supreme Court decisions on the constitutionality of repealing tax exemptions with a simple majority vote of the legislature provided context for a piece in The Oklahoman. OK Policy data was used for a story in the Christian Science Monitor about recent proposals to roll back incentives for the wind power industry in Oklahoma.

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‘Step Up’ revenues are only the first step needed to fix Oklahoma’s budget problems (Capitol Update)

by | February 2nd, 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.

The House and the Senate appropriations committees have continued their budget hearings looking at agency requests for next year’s state budget. In addition to the recent request by DOC director Joe Allbaugh for an additional $1 billion, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister has weighed in with a request for an additional $474 million. The needs of both agencies are well documented.

Just these two agency requests add up to nearly $1.5 billion, leaving nothing for human services, mental health, higher education and a multitude of other state services. The Step Up Oklahoma proposal for $749.7 million in revenue is a good start, but it’s just a start. For example, the Step Up plan calls for $285 million for a $5,000 teacher pay raise. The remaining $367.7 million revenue is to be spread out among all the agencies for “essential services and budget stabilization” and $100 million to fill this year’s budget gap.

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In The Know: Health Department’s recovery ‘tainted,’ CFO says in resignation

by | February 2nd, 2018 | 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

Health Department’s recovery ‘tainted,’ CFO says in resignation: Oklahoma State Department of Health Chief Financial Officer Michael Romero has resigned, citing conflicts of interest with the new management’s handling of state and federal investigations. In his resignation letter, Romero said he drafted a memo on Wednesday to interim Health Commissioner Preston Doerflinger highlighting possible issues with implementing corrective actions in the wake of the agency’s public finance scandal [NewsOK].

Educators Say Legislation On Spending Flexibility Could Increase School Inequality: Oklahoma lawmakers have butted heads for years over how to increase funding for education, but one recurring idea has been to give schools more flexibility in spending the money they already have. A new bill filed by Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate, is the most recent attempt to do this. Senate Bill 887 would allow schools to spend the money in their building fund on anything they want including books, classroom supplies, and teacher salaries [Oklahoma Watch]. Another year goes by, and Oklahoma still leads the nation for cuts to education [OK Policy].

‘I wasn’t supposed to be here’: Allison Ikley-Freeman sworn into state Senate seat: Sen. Allison Ikley-Freeman was still a little amazed that she was taking the oath of office Thursday to join the Oklahoma Legislature. “I wasn’t supposed to be here,” the 26-year-old Tulsa Democrat said. “You look at who typically becomes a senator and it was definitely not me.” Ikley-Freeman said she grew up in poverty that stretched for at least three generations [Tulsa World].

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In The Know: Legislators waffle at chamber breakfast

by | February 1st, 2018 | 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

Legislators waffle at chamber breakfast: Days before the legislative session is set to begin, four of the state’s top lawmakers shared their positions on Oklahoma’s most pressing issues. The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber held its annual legislative breakfast on Wednesday. Organizers hosted Senate Majority Floor Leader Greg Treat, Senate Minority Leader John Sparks, House Speaker Charles McCall and House Minority Leader Steve Kouplen. A moderator asked each member questions about topics bound to crop up during the legislative session, which begins Monday [Journal Record]. Step Up Oklahoma plan adds to the consensus that new revenues are essential [OK Policy].

As legislative session nears, Oklahoma eyes work requirements, other changes to Medicaid program: Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin said she is supporting legislation that would implement work requirements as a condition for non-disabled adults to receive benefits from SoonerCare, the Medicaid state and federally-funded health care coverage program for low-income people. And several other bills that have been introduced for the upcoming legislative session would, if passed, make additional changes to the state’s Medicaid program and the state agency that oversees it, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority [The Frontier]. Oklahoma ​should avoid the temptation to pass new Medicaid​ restrictions​ [OK Policy].

Prosperity Policy: Unfinished business: When lawmakers return to the Capitol next week, it won’t just be the first month of the 2018 session. In many ways they will be returning for the 13th month of the 2017 session, with last year’s unfinished business dominating this year’s agenda. The first order of business will be to complete the 2017 budget [David Blatt / Journal Record]. We have identified the following issues as our top 2018 policy priorities [OK Policy].

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OK Policy announces new staff and expanded leadership team

by | January 31st, 2018 | Posted in OK Policy | Comments (2)

Sabine Brown

We’re excited to announce the addition of Sabine Brown and Jessica Vazquez to the Oklahoma Policy Institute staff.

Sabine joins as our new Outreach & Advocacy Coordinator and as our primary staff person coordinating the grassroots Together Oklahoma coalition. Sabine grew up in Germany in the family of a U.S. service member but has called Oklahoma home since 1998. Before joining OK Policy, she served as the Oklahoma Chapter Leader for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

She is currently pursuing a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa. Sabine earned a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Health Science from the University of Oklahoma and was a physician assistant prior to discovering advocacy work. She lives in Bixby with her husband, Eric, and their two children.

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In The Know: Oklahoma House expected to vote quickly on a massive tax and reform package

by | January 31st, 2018 | 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

Oklahoma House expected to vote quickly on a massive tax and reform package: The Oklahoma House will not wait long to vote on a massive tax and reform plan that is gaining support among various organizations. Lawmakers return to the Capitol on Monday. House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, said Tuesday he will bring the Step Up Oklahoma plan to the floor in the lower chamber “early in the session.” [Tulsa World] The Step Up Oklahoma plan adds to the consensus that new revenues are essential [OK Policy].

What’s the matter with Oklahoma? Forty miles from Tulsa, including along unpaved road, sits Wagoner High School, with its 650 students, championship-calibre football team and show barn—a seemingly ordinary small-town school. But unlike most high schools, Wagoner is closed on Mondays. The reason, a severe reduction in state funds, has pushed 90 other school districts in Oklahoma to do the same [The Economist].

Oklahoma’s debtors’ prisons aren’t just a nuisance – they’re an epidemic: The problem of debtors’ prisons in Oklahoma has slowly come out into the open in recent years. A new OK Policy analysis of court records in five counties shows that the number of people who are affected is staggering: In one county, as many as two in three criminal cases result in an arrest warrant for failure to pay at some point [OK Policy].

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Oklahoma’s debtors’ prisons aren’t just a nuisance – they’re an epidemic

by | January 30th, 2018 | Posted in Criminal Justice | Comments (1)

The problem of debtors’ prisons in Oklahoma has slowly come out into the open in recent years. More and more criminal defendants have been unable to pay off the thousands of dollars in fines and fees piled on them by our justice system. When they fail to pay, a warrant is issued for their arrest, and they may spend several days in jail for the crime of being too poor.

Heartbreaking stories of Oklahomans incarcerated for failure to pay their court costs have appeared everywhere from Oklahoma Watch to the New York Times, but we haven’t had a great understanding of just how many defendants are affected. A new OK Policy analysis of court records in five counties* shows that the number of people who are affected is staggering: In one county, as many as two in three criminal cases result in an arrest warrant for failure to pay at some point. It’s yet more evidence that the excessive fines and fees imposed on criminal defendants are creating enormous hardship for the people who can least afford it.

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