In The Know: Are utilities ready for latest winter storm? | Teacher pay raise program mostly unused | Big ticket tax cuts could prevent state investments

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. Some stories included here are behind paywall or require subscription. OK Policy encourages the support of Oklahoma’s state and local media, which are vital to an informed citizenry. Subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

New from OK Policy

Big ticket tax cuts could prevent strategic investments in Oklahoma’s future (Capitol Update): Big ticket outcomes for the upcoming legislative session have yet to come into focus. Big ticket items could include passage of one or more of the various tax cut proposals being discussed or appropriations that affect budgets across state government. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Oklahoma News

A $22 million Oklahoma teacher raise program is mostly unused, state leaders say: A program state leaders pitched as a way to dramatically increase high-performing teachers’ income has paid out only 1% of its $22 million total because of limited interest from school districts. [Oklahoma Voice]

State Government News

After Tense Few Weeks, Superintendent Walters Meets With House Committee: Superintendent of Schools Ryan Walters and Rep. Mark McBride, who leads the House committee on education funding, appear to have repaired their working relationship. Walters met with the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education Wednesday to make his agency’s $3.9 billion budget pitch, just weeks after House members took the unusual step of issuing a subpoena to obtain information from the Education Department. [Oklahoma Watch]

Officials expect rush as Oklahoma REAL ID deadline draws closer: Jason Doyle, Service Oklahoma chief executive officer, said the state has issued about 1.5 million REAL ID licenses. He expects about 60% of the state’s driver’s licenses will be REAL ID compliant ahead of the May 7, 2025 federal deadline. [Oklahoma Voice]

Are Oklahoma’s utility companies ready for the arctic blast? What they said, and why there are still concerns: The brutally cold weather expected to hit Oklahoma this weekend has residents scurrying to prepare for what could be a tough weekend — that includes making sure there’s enough heat and power. And while several of the state’s energy suppliers say they are ready for the storm, one Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner remains concerned. [The Oklahoman]

Opinion, Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony: 2021 winter storm costs are the worst financial abuse of Oklahoma ratepayers: 2021’s Winter Storm “Uri” is now costing Oklahoma customers of OG&E, ONG, PSO and Centerpoint/Summit more than $5 billion. In my opinion, it is the worst financial abuse of Oklahoma ratepayers in more than 30 years, and the public has a right to know the truth about it. [Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony / The Oklahoman]

This Week in Oklahoma Politics: Ryan Walters on education organizations, tribal license tags citations, Transportation Secretary pay raise and more (audio): The panel discusses an announcement from State Superintendent Ryan Walters about his intension to cut ties with organizations which provide resources and training to schools, Oklahoma’s Five Tribes uniting in a boycott against Governor’s Stitt’s task force on McGirt and an end to tribal license tag citations issued by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. [KOSU]

Tribal Nations News

Fourth Oklahoma tribe offering food assistance for children after state opts out: A fourth Oklahoma tribe is signing up for a federal program to feed children in the summer, after Gov. Kevin Stitt opted out of providing the assistance statewide. The Osage Nation will open the program up to all children who live in Osage County and qualify for the program, which provides monthly payments to families in low-income homes to make sure kids don’t go hungry. [The Oklahoman]

Opinion, Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton: As Choctaw Nation delegation traveled to France, it was a time of reflection: As I viewed the monument to these brave “Tushka,” or warriors, at Blanc Mont and laid a wreath in their honor, I thought of Joseph Oklahombi and the 23 fellow soldiers who attacked an enemy position, capturing 171 prisoners and seizing artillery. They held their position for four days. I also thought about how far we have come as a sovereign nation. [Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton / The Oklahoman]

Health News

Soonercare unwinding fuels ‘record-breaking’ enrollment for health insurance marketplace: The federal health insurance marketplace has experienced a 38% increase in enrollees compared to last year’s open enrollment period. Health insurance policy analyst Louise Norris said the Soonercare unwinding process impacted enrollment. [KGOU]

Opinion: Olympic medalist Mary Lou Retton reminds Americans to fix problem of medical debt: The recent struggles of Olympic medalist Mary Lou Retton ought to bother Americans — not just about her health but the financial devastation it rendered. [Ginnie Graham / Tulsa World]

Opinion, Oklahoma dentist: We need greater focus on health equity for Native people: The last three years have been challenging for everyone, particularly in health care. It’s only exacerbated the hardships faced by Native Americans and Alaska Natives in accessing care even before the pandemic. I have spent decades in Oklahoma working with Native communities, and, as a dentist, I know we must raise awareness of the incredible unmet need for oral health care I continue to witness. [Dr. Jandra Korb / The Oklahoman]

Criminal Justice News

Oklahoma plans to carry out 50% of U.S. executions in 2024: Oklahoma officials plans to carry out executions against 13 of the 26 people scheduled for death in the United States in 2024. Only four states–Texas, Oklahoma Missouri and Alabama–have scheduled any executions for 2024, according to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). The latest 2023 Year End Report from DPIC shows use of the death penalty continues to trend down nationwide, but Oklahoma is moving in the opposite direction. [The Black Wall Street Times]

Oklahoma Democrat hopes overturned convictions spur lawmakers to pay exonerees more: A leading Democrat hopes a recent string of wrongfully incarcerated Oklahomans being released from prison will be the catalyst for lawmakers to increase state compensation for people jailed for felony crimes they didn’t commit. [Oklahoma Voice]

Opinion: Will the 2024 legislative session provide new sentencing procedures for victims of violence?: If Oklahomans come together to support survivors now, we can build the foundation of a justice system that values the human experience. We can begin to heal the deep wounds of injustice that survivors in Oklahoma have endured for decades. [Colleen McCarty / The Oklahoman]

Housing & Economic Opportunity

Opinion: Oklahoma is No. 6 in childhood hunger. It seems Stitt wants to keep us in Top 10: The governor’s comment that the nonprofits will “fill the gap” only holds true in urban areas that have those programs. What about all the rural areas without such programs? IF the governor cared enough to search for the truth and take advice from those familiar with childhood hunger in Oklahoma, he would realize that there are 400,000 children in Oklahoma facing childhood hunger. [Janis Blevins / The Oklahoman]

Economy & Business News

Chesapeake merger with Southwestern, with HQ in OKC, will ‘redefine’ natural gas sector: Not just a major merger, not just a rebranding — OKC’s Chesapeake Energy Corp. and Texas-based Southwestern Energy Co. together will create a $24 billion enterprise that “redefines the natural gas producer, forming the first U.S. based independent that can truly compete on an international scale.” [The Oklahoman]

  • Chesapeake Energy’s history ahead of merger reflects volatility of the oil and gas industry [The Oklahoman]

$1.2B battery-grade lithium refinery coming to Muskogee: Stardust Power Inc., a development-stage American manufacturer of lithium products, will develop a strategically central lithium refinery at the Southside Industrial Park in Muskogee capable of producing up to 50,000 metric tons per annum of battery-grade lithium. Stardust Power is expected to be eligible to receive up to $257 million in state and federal economic incentives for the facility build-out. [Journal Record]

Education News

Ringling football players sue school, saying officials failed to stop coach’s abuse: Nine current and former Ringling High School students sued their southern Oklahoma school district Wednesday, alleging school officials failed to protect them from abuse and bullying by their hall of fame football coach Phil Koons. [The Oklahoman]

General News

Enrollment period ending for Oklahomans to apply for Home Energy Assistance Program: Time is running out for low-income families to apply for a program that helps with energy costs. Oklahoma Human Services will stop taking applications for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) at midnight Friday, Jan. 12. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Opinion: Tulsa leading model in how to serve immigrants: As 2023 comes to a close, I’ve been reflecting on the role the U.S plays on the world stage. As a world power, a democracy, and self-proclaimed arbiter of peace through strength, we find ourselves in the often-unenviable position of serving as the only haven for those whom Emma Lazarus referenced in her sonnet “The New Colossus” — the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. [Ken Busby / Tulsa World]

Opinion: The Call to Combat Online Racism: Protecting Our Black Youth’s Future: Consider this: every day, Black youth in America are navigating a digital landscape where, on average, they encounter racial hate five times a day. This harrowing statistic from a recent study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry is not just a number; it’s a clear indicator of a crisis at the intersection of racism and technology. [Haley Taylor Schlitz / The Black Wall Street Times]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Oklahoma County hires property specialist amid struggles to select a site for new jail [The Oklahoman]
  • As busy election season nears, Tulsa County Election Board again needs poll workers [Tulsa World]
  • Audit finds nearly $64,000 misappropriated in small Central Oklahoma town [KOSU]

Quote of the Day

“Don’t ratepayers have a right to know how much all this is costing them and who is responsible? Or are we going to wait 30 years and tell their grandchildren?”

-Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony, writing in an op-ed about how 2021’s Winter Storm “Uri” is now costing customers of OG&E, ONG, PSO and Centerpoint/Summit more than $5 billion. He called it the worst financial abuse of Oklahoma ratepayers in more than 30 years. [Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony / The Oklahoman]

Number of the Day


Eliminating Oklahoma’s personal income tax would mean the lowest-income 20 percent of Oklahoma taxpayers would face a state and local tax rate that is 300 percent higher than the top 1 percent of households [Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy via OK Policy]

Policy Note

Tax Policies to Expand Economic Growth and Increase Prosperity for American Families: Investing in children and supporting the wages of working people—which have been stagnant for the past half century—are critical components in equitable and sustainable economic growth. Two options to achieve this are a fully refundable child tax credit, as implemented temporarily in 2021, and a universal earned income tax credit. This testimony also explains why a national retail sales tax would require extremely high rates, massive cuts in government expenditures, or unprecedented increases in the debt. [Tax Policy Center]

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David Hamby has more than 25 years of experience as an award-winning communicator, including overseeing communication programs for Oklahoma higher education institutions and other organizations. Before joining OK Policy, he was director of public relations for Rogers State University where he managed the school’s external communication programs and served as a member of the president’s leadership team. He served in a similar communications role for five years at the University of Tulsa. He also has worked in communications roles at Oklahoma State University and the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce in Arkansas. He joined OK Policy in October 2019.