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What it will take for Oklahoma to avoid becoming a third world state (Capitol Update)

by | September 1st, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Education | Comments (2)

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.

Twenty-eight years ago, amidst a crisis in the Oklahoma economy, parents, teachers, business leaders and others told Oklahoma legislators that to make Oklahoma’s future better they would need to make Oklahoma’s schools better. Education experts told legislators to make schools better it would take good teachers teaching children who are ready to learn in smaller classes with the latest textbooks and technology.

In response, to weed out weak teachers, legislators changed teacher tenure, giving school boards authority to terminate teacher contracts based on incompetency. Before that contracts could be terminated for some form of wrongdoing. Because teachers did not trust school boards to fairly evaluate teacher competency, teachers were allowed to fully appeal their cases in court. This is called “trial de novo.” Legislators also mandated a $9,000 increase in the minimum salary schedule over 5 years, the equivalent of $17,200 today.

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In The Know: Court upholds motor vehicle sales tax, OK prison population reaches all-time high

by | September 1st, 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.

In The Know will take a break on Monday for Labor Day.  We will return on Tuesday, September 5th. 

Today In The News

State supreme court upholds elimination of sales tax exemption: The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in favor of a bill that eliminates a sales tax exemption on motor vehicle sales, denying challenges to a piece of legislation expected to raise $124 million this fiscal year. Oklahomans pay a 3.25 percent excise tax when they purchase a vehicle, but were exempt from paying a 1.25 percent state and local sales tax. House Bill 2433, which removes the exemption, was challenged by the Oklahoma Automobile Dealers Association. [Norman Transcript] Court ruling confirms that Oklahoma lawmakers have good options to fix budget in special session [OK Policy]

Oklahoma’s prison population reaches all-time high: The number of people in Oklahoma’s corrections system topped 63,000 for the first time on Thursday, the Department of Corrections said. Thursday’s count of 63,009 means the system has grown by almost 2,000 prisoners in the past nine months, prompting DOC Director Joe Allbaugh to ask “What are we to do?” [Tulsa World] What works to stop crime? Not incarceration…[OK Policy]

Low Pay, Charity, and Emergency Certificates for Oklahoma Teachers: Oklahoma teachers are among the lowest paid in the country. They haven’t had a raise in more than 10 years. ow charities are stepping in to rescue teachers who are struggling to make ends meet, according to the Associated Press. Habitat for Humanity has built homes for two Tulsa teachers, and has received applications from about a dozen more. [Education Week] When K-12 schools are underfunded…[OK Policy]

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Statement: Court ruling confirms that Oklahoma lawmakers have good options to fix budget in special session

by | August 31st, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Press Releases & Statements | Comments (1)

Oklahoma Policy Institute released the following statement on today’s Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling upholding a law that partially ends the state sales tax exemption for auto sales:

​The court’s ruling confirms that lawmakers have numerous options to fill the budget hole in special session and prevent devastating cuts. Now that the court has established the scope of the problem, lawmakers must return to special session as soon as possible with the political will to come together and pass solutions.

Lawmakers should continue to seek a three-fourths supermajority to restore a cigarette tax, reverse recent income tax cuts for very high incomes, and restore the gross production tax. In addition, this ruling means that they can use special session to repeal tax exemptions with a simple majority. Lawmakers should take a serious look at ending tax breaks that do nothing for average Oklahomans, like the more than $100 million tax break for capital gains of wealthy stockholders and commercial real estate owners. Lawmakers have good options to not only prevent life-threatening cuts to health care, but also to finally meet widely agreed-on needs like a pay raise for teachers and other public workers.

If lawmakers wait until regular session to address the budget hole, it will already be too late to approve new revenues and protect core services this year. They will have failed in one of the most basic responsibilities that we elected them to do. Unfortunately, it’s regular Oklahomans who would pay the price.

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In The Know: Ruling paves way for freedmen’s citizenship in Cherokee Nation

by | August 31st, 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

Ruling paves way for freedmen’s citizenship in Cherokee Nation: The descendants of Cherokee freedmen have a right to tribal citizenship, a federal court ruled Wednesday. The ruling by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia is an important victory in the freedmen’s longstanding legal battle to secure rights to Cherokee citizenship. In its 78-page decision, the court ruled that the Treaty of 1866, which entitled freedmen to “all the rights of native Cherokees,” takes priority over the tribe’s constitution [Tulsa World].

State needs to invest in its future through education, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister says: State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister and an outside expert issued another call for increased statewide education funding Wednesday and made the business case for why public education matters. Hofmeister said public education benefits two groups: the students and everyone else. “It all matters,” she said. Her remarks came at the tail end of the Tulsa Regional Chamber of Commerce’s State of Education luncheon [Tulsa World]. However you count it, Oklahoma’s per pupil education funding is way down [OK Policy].

If lawmakers wait until regular session to fix the budget, it will already be too late: Now that the Oklahoma Supreme Court has thrown out a key part of the budget passed by lawmakers earlier this year, it’s clear the lawmakers must return to the Capitol for a special legislative session to fix the problem. Oklahoma faces a major crisis if lawmakers don’t replace the cigarette fee revenues thrown out by the court that provided more than $200 million to cover basic health care and protections for vulnerable children, seniors, and people with severe disabilities [OK Policy].

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In The Know: Oklahoma officials request hypothetical budget cut results

by | August 30th, 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

Oklahoma officials request hypothetical budget cut results: Oklahoma lawmakers have sent letters to state agencies requesting they give hypothetical results for a more than 3 percent budget cut. The Oklahoman reports that the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down a $1.50 cigarette fee earlier this month after Justices called it a tax. Legislative leaders are now inquiring how agencies would be affected by an across-the-board budget cut to make up for the lost fee. The letters sent Thursday and Monday also asked the agencies how a cut in state appropriations would affect federal matching dollars [Associated Press]. With the doomsday clock ticking, how might the state’s budget emergency be solved? [OK Policy]

White says $9 million needed for drug, mental health courts: There’s not much money Terri White needs to divert people struggling with addiction out of overcrowded jails and into treatment. The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services commissioner said she needs just $9 million per year to fully beef up the state’s drug courts and expand mental health courts. But she said she’s not sure if she’ll get that money any time soon. White spoke Tuesday during the Oklahoma Commission on Opioid Abuse’s first task force meeting at the Capitol [Journal Record].

Oklahoma cuts case management for people with mental illnesses: Oklahomans with mental health disorders will get fewer hours of case management under a new rule approved Thursday by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. Currently, SoonerCare pays for up to six hours and 15 minutes of case management services per month. The new rule will reduce that to four hours of services per year. The new rule will save the state about $3.5 million in the coming year, said Tywanda Cox, OHCA’s chief of federal and state policy [NewsOK]. 

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If lawmakers wait until regular session to fix the budget, it will already be too late

by | August 29th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Taxes | Comments (1)

Now that the Oklahoma Supreme Court has thrown out a key part of the budget passed by lawmakers earlier this year, it’s clear the lawmakers must return to the Capitol for a special legislative session to fix the problem. Oklahoma faces a major crisis if lawmakers don’t replace the cigarette fee revenues thrown out by the court that provided more than $200 million to cover basic health care and protections for vulnerable children, seniors, and people with severe disabilities. The court has also not yet announced their decision on whether partially removing a sales tax exemption for auto sales was constitutional; if they rule that it wasn’t, another $100 million plus will disappear from the budget.

Some lawmakers and anti-tax activists have suggested that we can wait until the regular session in February to fix the problem. That’s a bad mistake for a few reasons. First, even if agencies can get by without cuts until then (which is not at all a sure thing), it would create huge uncertainty and fear among those Oklahomans who depend on the three agencies most affected by the loss of the cigarette fee. That means foster families and children, low-income seniors who rely on state nutrition sites, and people with mental illness would be living with months of anxiety over whether their services will survive.

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In The Know: Millions spent in Oklahoma drug testing welfare applicants for few positive results

by | August 29th, 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

Millions spent in Oklahoma drug testing welfare applicants for few positive results: Over the past five years, Oklahoma has spent nearly $2.2 million on mandatory drug testing for people applying for federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families funds, commonly known as the federal welfare program. The results of that testing — 557 individuals between 2012 and 2016 tested positive for drug use, or about 2.8 percent of the 19,878 adult applicants who underwent screening during that time, according to data from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services [The Frontier].

Any revenue-raising measures passed in special session would take time to kick in, governor says: Gov. Mary Fallin on Monday said it will take 90 days for any revenue-raising measures passed in a special legislative session to take effect, further complicating the state’s budget situation. “The money could not be collected for a long period of time — 90 days,” she said. Fallin said she believes a special session will be needed after the Oklahoma Supreme Court determined the Legislature violated the law in passing a $1.50 a pack “fee” on cigarettes, which was expected to generate $215 million for fiscal year 2018. The Supreme Court ruled the fee was actually a tax that was improperly approved [Tulsa World]. Governor Fallin is likely waiting on court decisions before calling a special session [Tahlequah Daily Press]. With the doomsday clock ticking, how might the state’s budget emergency be solved? [OK Policy]

Charities try to help Oklahoma teachers survive pay collapse: Tiona Bowman was overcome with emotion when the walls were erected last spring on her first-ever new home, a three-bedroom, two-bath house in Tulsa built through Habitat for Humanity. Bowman was flanked by her daughter and members of her family, work colleagues and a handful of local reporters who had come to document the event [Associated Press].

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The Weekly Wonk: Budget cuts are putting higher ed out of reach for many Oklahoma students

by | August 27th, 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

Executive Director David Blatt  reminded us that, after the recent events in Charlottesville, that addressing racial inequality requires more than simply denouncing overt white supremacy. Blatt also pointed out that recent tuition hikes as a result of budget cuts to higher education are making college unaffordable for many Oklahoma students.

Policy Analyst Carly Putnam introduced us to reinsurance – part of Oklahoma’s plan to lower health insurance premiums and attract more insurers to offer policies on the healthcare exchange in Oklahoma. Policy Analyst Ryan Gentzler brought to light that pattern of court debt in Oklahoma – residents of poor areas are much more likely to be facing high levels of court debt than other Oklahomans. Steve Lewis’s Capitol Update talked us through the multiple ways that a special legislative session could play out this year.

OK Policy in the News

Blatt spoke twice this week with the Oklahoma News Report on OETA – about severe cuts in state support for higher education and about the $215 budget hole now facing the state since the court finding that the cigarette fee was an unconstitutional tax. Blatt also talked with the Tulsa World and with The Oklahoman about how we ended up with the budget shortfall and our options for dealing with it.

OK Policy data was used by the U.S. News & World Report for a piece about the connection between Oklahoma’s oil and gas industry and school science curriculum in the state. Gentlzer was interviewed by the Journal Record for their coverage of Kris Steele’s appointment to the Pardon & Parole Board – there is a bottleneck in the parole process in Oklahoma that needs to be addressed. Policy Analyst Courtney Cullison’s presentation to the Oklahoma Occupational Licensing Reform Task Force was covered by the Journal Record – this is an issue where there is bipartisan consensus.

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Multiple options for how special session might play out (Capitol Update)

by | August 25th, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Updates | Comments (2)

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.

It’s a reasonable and prudent thing for legislative leaders and the governor to be attempting to develop a plan for what they would do in a special session before actually going into special session. It’s also reasonable to wait until the Supreme Court rules on two more pending challenges to bills that provided significant funding for this year’s budget. But predicting the ultimate outcome of a legislative proposal before bills are even filed, if that’s what they expect to do, is a real challenge.

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In The Know: Oklahoma officials say no agreement on tax hike despite earlier rumors

by | August 25th, 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.

In The Know is taking a break on Monday. It will return on Tuesday, August 29th. 

Today In The News

Oklahoma officials say no agreement on tax hike despite earlier rumors: Finger pointing returned to the state Capitol Thursday as House Democratic leader Scott Inman strongly denied an online media report that the governor and House Democrats were close to reaching an agreement to raise $1 billion in taxes to resolve the state’s budget problems. House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, said such a deal would have no chance of obtaining approval in the Republican-dominated House. “It would appear to me that somebody within the House Republican leadership probably leaked this plan as a way to try to torpedo or sabotage the current budget negotiations,” Inman said at a news conference [NewsOK]. With the doomsday clock ticking, how might the state’s budget emergency be solved? [OK Policy]

Oklahoma has more than 1,400 emergency certified teachers now: Less than a month into a new school year, Oklahoma has already set a new record for the number of emergency certified teachers in public school classrooms. The state Board of Education approved 574 new emergency certificate requests at its Thursday meeting, bringing the total for this year to 1,429. The board approved 1,160 emergency certificates all of last year. “Even if they perhaps have certification in another field … they are walking in the door without the training or experience to be able to meet the needs of kids on Day One,” said state schools superintendent Joy Hofmeister [NewsOK].

Oklahoma inmates sue Gov. Fallin, parole board over unsafe conditions: A group of Oklahoma inmates filed a lawsuit against Gov. Mary Fallin in federal court on Thursday. The lawsuit alleges unfair parole hearings and corruption among top Oklahoma lawmakers. According to recent data, Oklahoma incarcerates women at a higher rate than any other state in the country. Also, there are more African-American men behind bars in Oklahoma per capita than anywhere else in the United States. According to the plaintiffs, Oklahoma prisons are the most dangerous in the country [KFOR]. Oklahoma’s prisons are still on a path to disaster [OK Policy].

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