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Reasons for optimism about special session (Capitol Update)

by | September 29th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates | Comments (1)

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.

With special session underway, it’s rational to be cautiously optimistic that schools and state agencies will make it through this fiscal year, which ends next June, without further budget cuts. Remember, the current state budget has cuts in it already when compared with last year. And this has been true each year for the past several years, to the point that nearly everyone in a leadership position has recognized the need for additional revenue. The process broke down during the regular session over how much was needed and who ought to be called on to pay increased taxes.

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In The Know: Oklahoma House and Senate recess without budget deal

by | September 29th, 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

Oklahoma House and Senate recess without budget deal: The Oklahoma House and Senate recessed from the special session Wednesday without a deal to close an estimated $215 million state budget shortfall, which could deal a crippling blow to agencies that provide health care services to the poor and mentally ill. The House recessed after it became clear there weren’t 76 members willing to support a $1.50-per-pack cigarette tax increase to help restore the lost funding. [Associated Press] Lawmakers must use special session to fix the budget, not pass the buck [OK Policy] Lawmakers have good revenue options for special session if they have the will to use them [OK Policy]

Little movement during special session’s first days: After spending less than a half hour in debate over its first three days, the special session of the Oklahoma Legislature is now in recess. Though there is general sentiment in the House of Representatives and Senate to pass a cigarette tax to help fill a $215 million funding deficit, it has never gone to a vote because there isn’t enough support to get it through the House. Revenue measures must originate and be passed by the House before being sent to the Senate. [Tahlequah Daily Press] Bills filed in special session put many options in play [OK Policy]

House members back at negotiation table over proposed cigarette tax: House lawmakers were supposed to vote Wednesday on a cigarette tax increase, but that vote never happened. Both sides are playing the political blame game, but the bottom line is the votes were not there for a cigarette tax to pass, therefore the House is going into recess. House Majority Floor Leader Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, said Republicans are not willing to raise the gross production tax up to 5 percent. That has been the House Democrats’ bargaining chip to support a $1.50 increase on a pack of cigarettes. [KOCO]

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Oklahoma’s Insurance Commissioner is preparing ​t​o undermine the people working to insure Oklahomans

by | September 28th, 2017 | Posted in Healthcare | Comments (2)

Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak

Earlier this month, Oklahoma Insurance ​Commissioner John Doak testified before a U.S. Congressional Committee that he wants Congress to eliminate Navigators,​​ the community workers who help enroll people in health care under the Affordable Care Act​. Doak told Congress that he opposes these Navigators because they compete with private insurance agents and brokers.​

Now, Commissioner Doak is ordering Oklahoma Navigators ​to turn over their enrollment data to his agency. ​Doak’s rhetoric when making the request implies that he plans to use the data to argue that these workers are a waste of federal dollars. But ​in both the letter to Navigators and his testimony to Congress, Commissioner Doak is not telling the whole story.

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In The Know: House goes into recess so cigarette tax negotiations can continue ‘off the clock’

by | September 28th, 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

House goes into recess so cigarette tax negotiations can continue ‘off the clock’: Gov. Mary Fallin made the rounds of legislative caucuses Wednesday in attempts to piece together a budget agreement after the special session wheezed to a halt. “I told them the people of Oklahoma expect us to solve the problem,” Fallin said early Wednesday evening after a 2½-hour closed-door session with House Republicans. Fallin met with Democrats earlier in the day and was to face Senate Republicans later Wednesday evening. House Republicans continued their closed caucus meeting after Fallin left about 5 p.m. [Tulsa World]

State health department employees to be furloughed amid budget crunch: While lawmakers are working in a special session to fill a $215 million budget hole, leaders at one Oklahoma agency say they are being forced to cut their budget. On Wednesday, the Oklahoma State Department of Health announced that it is working to reduce agency spending due to a shortfall of more than $10 million. Officials say the shortfall is due to a loss of federal funds, increased costs and reduction in state appropriation [KFOR].

As Oklahoma Lawmakers Try to Fill Budget Hole, State Employees Ask For Increased Pay: As Oklahoma lawmakers work to fix a budget hole of $215 million dollars during the special session, frustrated state workers are calling on the legislature to increase their pay. The Oklahoma Public Employees Association wants a $7,500 per person raise provided to state workers. Executive Director Sterling Zearley says most of the 34,000 employees in Oklahoma haven’t seen a pay increase in ten years and earn 25 percent less than those in the private sector [KOSU].

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In The Know: Lawmakers resume partisan stances as special session begins

by | September 27th, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (1)

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

Lawmakers resume partisan stances as special session begins: Oklahoma lawmakers met for about 15 minutes Monday, the first day of a special session that so far has produced no answers to the state’s $215 million budget shortfall. Aside from procedural votes to kick-start the special session, state Capitol politics picked up where lawmakers left it four months ago. House Republicans are calling for a cigarette tax, and criticizing Democrats for not supporting a stand-alone vote [NewsOK]. Lawmakers have good revenue options for special session if they have the will to use them [OK Policy].

Cigarette tax passes first test in special session: A $1.50 per pack cigarette tax the Republican-led Legislature is depending on to patch a $215 million hole in the state budget passed House and Senate committee votes Tuesday on the second day of a special session. Tuesday’s actions set up a floor vote in the House as soon as Wednesday, but passage is far from certain. The bill will require 76 of the current 100 votes in the House, and has significant opposition in both parties [Tulsa World]. The second attempt at the cigarette tax is already in jeopardy [Public Radio Tulsa]. A House Democrat called the cigarette tax a distraction [Rep. Shane Stone / NewsOK].

Oklahoma Could Lose $49M for Needy Children’s Health Care: Though the Senate now will not vote by Saturday’s deadline for Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act with a simple majority, it’s also the last day for another significant action. Additional funding approved under President Barack Obama for the Children’s Health Insurance Program must be reauthorized by then. “Should the enhanced CHIP funding not be reauthorized, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority stands to lose about $49 million in federal funds in state fiscal year 2018,” said Cate Jeffries with OHCA [Public Radio Tulsa].

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Bills filed in special session put many options in play

by | September 26th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Taxes | Comments (0)

Yesterday was the first day of the special legislative session called by Governor Fallin to fix Oklahoma’s chronic budget problems. One day in, the outcome of special session is still very much up in the air. With so much at stake, it’s an essential time for Oklahomans to call, write, and visit lawmakers. Read on for analysis of the bills filed so far and what you can do to influence the result.

Although Governor Fallin promised to veto any budget that makes further cuts to state agencies, House Speaker Charles McCall continues to insist that the only revenue on the table will be another try at a cigarette tax. At this point in the year, the cigarette tax by itself will only close about half of Oklahoma’s current budget shortfall. And if the Legislature still does not have a three-fourths majority needed to pass the tax, sending it to a vote of the people means the soonest it could go into effect would be 2019, far too late to avoid life-threatening cuts to health care.

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In The Know: Senate Republicans call for hiking motor fuels taxes as special session opens

by | September 26th, 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

Senate Republicans call for hiking motor fuels taxes as special session opens: Senate Republicans on Monday proposed increasing the gasoline and diesel tax as one way of plugging the budget hole that brought lawmakers back to the Capitol for a special session. Lawmakers met briefly in separate chambers Monday for the start of a special session called by Gov. Mary Fallin after the Oklahoma Supreme Court said lawmakers had violated the law in passing a $1.50 cigarette tax as a “fee” during the regular session [Tulsa World]. No agreement was made after the first day of special session [Oklahoma Watch]. Lawmakers have good revenue options for special session if they have the will to use them [OK Policy].

McCall: Cigarette tax ‘first priority,’ GPT not focus right now: After Oklahoma’s 56th Legislature gaveled in this afternoon for the state’s first special session since 2013, House of Representatives leadership said passage of the storied $1.50 cigarette tax is top priority in filling a $215 million budget hole. “First priority of the House (…) will be to take up the tobacco tax,” House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) said Monday. “That is the issue that will fix the hole that’s been created, and to the extent we can do that, that dictates other conversations we’ll have.” [NonDoc]

As Legislature gathers, Oklahomans await results: When the compressor broke on the industrial refrigerator at the Cocina De Mino Mexican restaurant in south Oklahoma City, co-owner Tim Wagner faced a $5,000 replacement or a quick fix for around $1,500. “I just went ahead and paid for a new one because you can’t always put a Band-Aid on problems,” said Wagner, sitting in his windowless office behind the kitchen, between stacks of purchase orders and food inventory lists [NewsOK]. The special session started quietly [Journal Record].

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In The Know: Governor promises to veto any proposal with further cuts to state agencies

by | September 25th, 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

Governor promises to veto any proposal with further cuts to state agencies: Governor Mary Fallin today issued the following statement on the upcoming special session of the Oklahoma Legislature, which is scheduled to get underway Monday: “This special session is an opportunity for lawmakers to solve lingering, critical structural problems in our state budget. I am hopeful lawmakers will consider thoughtful, realistic solutions in a timely manner. Many ideas have been fully vetted over the past couple of legislative sessions, so it really should be a matter of taking care of unfinished business. [Norman Transcript] The 5 things Gov. Mary Fallin wants legislators to do in the special session and how much it will cost taxpayers [Tulsa World] State Party leaders comment on upcoming Special Legislative Session [Sandite Pride News]

Special session has special process: The fall date won’t be the only deviation from the norm during Oklahoma’s special legislative session. The process will look pretty different as well. No bill is required to go through the committee process. Lawmakers can circumvent the initial hearings, where a dozen other members get to prod their colleagues for more information, voice their concerns or offer amendments. If the measures do go to committee, the window for amendments will be shorter. Instead of the normal two days, amendments will have to be filed on the same day as the committee hearing. [Journal Record]

Second Time’s a Charm? Budget Again Hinges on Tobacco Tax: If at first you don’t succeed … try the same thing again. When legislators return to the State Capitol Monday for a special session, they will face a familiar dilemma: Can they muster enough Republican and Democratic votes to pass a $1.50-per-pack cigarette tax? Or will an impasse lead to cuts in core state services? In either case, given previous votes and lawmakers’ statements, both parties could share responsibility.[Oklahoma Watch] Lawmakers have good revenue options for special session if they have the will to use them [OK Policy]

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The Weekly Wonk: Lawmakers have many good options to fill the budget hole during special session

by | September 22nd, 2017 | 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

Policy Director Gene Perry reminded us that lawmakers have many good options to fill the budget hole during special session – but they will need to find the will to use them. In a Tulsa World editorial, Executive Director David Blatt implored lawmakers to take advantage of this second chance and fix a budget that was not meeting the needs of Oklahomans even before the court’s ruling. Steve Lewis’s Capitol Update argued that the worst thing legislators could do is adjourn special session without raising revenue to address the structural budget deficit.

In his Journal Record column, Blatt lamented that more and more Oklahomans have had enough – discouraged by year after year of budget cuts, Oklahomans are chosing to leave the state to seek better opportunities elsewhere. Policy Analyst Ryan Gentzler walked us through the provisions of State Question 788, the medical marijuana ballot initiative that Oklahomans will vote on next year.

Advocacy Alert

As the legislature enters special session on Monday, they have many options to fix the state’s structural budget deficit. But they need to hear from you – revenues must be raised in order to adequately fund core services. Click here to see our Advocacy Alert to find your legislators and to get more information.

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The best vote a legislator can cast in special session (Capitol Update)

by | September 22nd, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Updates | Comments (1)

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.

I recently heard a well-regarded Republican legislator say that he was not sure he would vote to adjourn the special session if something is not done to raise revenue to deal with the state’s chronic budget deficit. Yes, you read that right. He may vote “no” on a motion to adjourn the special session sine die — in other words to just quit and go home — unless the Legislature has passed revenue measures to deal with the budget deficit.

This leads me to believe there has been thinking and some talk among Republican legislators of finding a way to deal with the gridlock between their leadership, the Democrats, and the governor on revenue. It leads me to believe that there may be the possibility afoot that most legislators, both Senators and Representatives, Republicans and Democrats, might choose to exercise the vote they were elected to make by refusing to accept more budget cuts, moving money around from one starving state agency to another, and robbing various funds as the way the legislature should do its business.

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