In The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to email@example.com. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.
Today you should know that the Tulsa schools superintendent says that 3 percent education cuts called for in Gov. Fallin’s budget means the district would be forced to eliminate more teachers. The Oklahoma House passed a pension reform bill that would require cost-of-living adjustments to be paid for out of the general fund.
Some lawmakers are proposing to eliminate the state’s income tax and replace at least part of the lost revenue with increased sales taxes. Earlier this month, the OK Policy Blog gave a refresher on what happened during a previous attempt by the legislature to do this in the early 2000s. A House committee has approved reinstating the aerospace tax incentive, which pays companies that hire aerospace engineers. The tax credit cost the state $3.5 million the last year it was fully implemented.
The Tulsa World questions the wisdom of cutting taxes again while still in a budget hole. Although Gov. Fallin has joined a lawsuit opposing the individual mandate to purchase health insurance, implementation of other parts of the health care reform bill is proceeding. The OK Policy Blog looks at several of these provisions in the Affordable Care Act that will affect Oklahoma.
The OK Gazette reports on attempts by lawmakers to repeal or weaken Oklahoma’s Commercial Pet Breeders Act. The law was passed last year to crack down on “puppy mills” where animals are kept in inhumane conditions. Oklahoma is home to the second largest number of commercial pet breeders in the country, which were totally unregulated prior to this bill. Brittany Novotny discusses how walkable development and mass transit may be the most effective preventative measure against drunk driving.
And in other news, the Board of Education had an uneventful meeting.
Read on for these stories and more.
In The News
Tulsa school superintendent says 3 percent cut would mean more teachers eliminated
When Superintendent Dr. Keith Ballard heard the Governor wanted to cut three percent from education, he said enough already. Personnel would be the first to be let go if lawmakers decide to cut anymore from education, he said. Teachers are getting anxious waiting for lawmakers to balance the budget. “You just notice a lot of things that were here the first year are sort of missing,” Teacher, Ms. Jennifer Boyer said. … The 1st grade teacher is starting to get anxious after the district had to let nearly 300 people go last year, hiring most back.
See also: Budget cuts to Human Rights Commission opposed from The OU Daily; Legislative committee votes to phase out funding for two state museums from NewsOn6.
Oklahoma House passes pension cost-of-living measure
The state House passed a measure Thursday that would require legislators to find a way to pay for cost-of-living adjustment increases for those on the state’s pension system before approving them. “This bill says you have to pay for things if you’re going to get them,” Rep. Randy McDaniel, author of House Bill 2132, told House members. The bill passed mostly along party lines, 62-28, in the Republican-controlled House. It now goes to the Senate. Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, said he supported the idea of doing away with the assumed 2 percent cost-of-living adjustments but disagreed with the requirement that the money come from the state’s general fund, the principal funding source for state government.
Read more from thie NewsOK article at http://newsok.com/oklahoma-house-passes-pension-cost-of-living-measure/article/3543714.
See also: House sends major pension reforms to Senate on CapitolBeatOK.
Lawmakers considering elimination of state income tax
While it may not become law this year, a proposal to eliminate the state’s income tax system could be gaining traction in the Oklahoma Legislature. Eliminating the state’s income tax system – long considered the holy grail of many state conservatives – is now on the radar screens of several state lawmakers, including state Rep. Josh Cockroft, a McLoud Republican, and state Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City. In January, Dank, chairman of the House Revenue and Taxation subcommittee, announced that he would launch an in-depth study of the state’s tax system with the goal of eliminating personal income tax.
Read more from this Journal Record article at http://journalrecord.com/2011/02/24/lawmakers-warming-to-the-idea-of-no-state-income-tax-capitol/.
See also: Back to Texas? Income tax proposal stirs up some old memories on the OK Policy Blog.
Tulsa World: Budget hole doesn’t prevent income tax cut
It’s official: In the next tax year well-heeled Oklahomans will see the state’s top income tax rate plummet from 5.5 percent to 5.25 percent. Whether this is cause to clap our hands or wring them depends on what taxpayers in general think this reduction will do for Oklahoma. The state has suffered enormous revenue losses and gone through a series of tax cuts over the past several years. It’s also gone through some staggering cutbacks in state services, and faces a yawning budget hole of at least $500 million in the next fiscal year. Yet the Board of Equalization on Tuesday determined that the state had enough revenue growth to trigger a lowering of the income tax rate from 5.5 percent to 5.25 percent for top wage-earners and the wealthiest citizens.
Read more from this Tulsa World editorial at http://www.tulsaworld.com/opinion/article.aspx?subjectid=61&articleid=20110225_61_A14_Itsoff245800
House panel moves to restore aerospace tax incentive
A House subcommittee restored an aerospace engineering tax incentive Thursday that backers said had been useful in recruiting jobs. House Bill 1008 by Rep. Skye McNiel would remove the aerospace incentives from a list of nearly 30 tax credits that legislators suspended last year. McNiel, R-Bristow, said the measure is needed to encourage growth in the state’s aerospace industry. The credits can be claimed only after companies have hired new aerospace engineers.
Read more from this NewsOK article at http://newsok.com/aerospace-tax-cut-plan-gets-house-panels-ok/article/3543717.
Health care reform: It’s more than a mandate
It’s been almost a year since President Obama signed major health care reform legislation into law. On the opening day of Oklahoma’s 53rd legislature, Governor Fallin made it clear that her administration would join other state’s in challenging one of the most controversial parts of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) … How does the governor’s – and by extensions the state’s – stance on the individual mandate affect the myriad other ACA changes? For now, their position has no effect on the millions of dollars allocated to the states under the new law to address acute health care needs. Beyond the individual mandate, which goes into effect in 2014, the ACA asks the states to make fundamental improvements in health care infrastructure and expand insurance coverage to the 671,663 Oklahomans who are currently uninsured.
Read more from the OK Policy Blog at http://health-care-reform-7-its-more-than-a-mandate/.
Pawing at profits: Lawmakers seek to euthanize a state law designed to make puppy mills harder to operate
An effort is under way at the Legislature to overturn or possibly weaken the recently enacted Oklahoma’s Commercial Pet Breeders Act. Several bills filed in the Senate seek to either repeal the law or amend it so it becomes essentially toothless, said Angel Soriano, chairman of the regulatory board created by the act. Oklahoma is home to the second-largest number of commercial pet breeders in the country, according to the Central Oklahoma Humane Society. Prior to the passage of Senate Bill 1712 in May 2010, commercial pet breeding was unregulated by the state. The law sought to crack down on so-called “puppy mills” — facilities where breeders keep animals in inhumane conditions to maximize profit by selling the pets, many times through brokers, to pet stores and over the Internet.
Read more from this Oklahoma Gazette article at http://www.okgazette.com/oklahoma/article-10875-pawing-at-profits.html.
Brittany Novotny: Real solutions for DUI?
According to KOSU’s Michael Cross, there is a new bill in the Oklahoma Senate named after an OSU student who was killed in an automobile accident involving a drunk driver. The bill would require first time DUI offenders to have an interlocking device in their vehicle for two years. … In a state with little to no public transportation, and so spread out, a lot of Oklahomans end up getting behind the wheel after a drink or two. Don’t look around and act like you’ve never done it. I read recently that “the average person who is caught driving drunk has already gotten away with it 87 times.” … Maybe the answer to stopping drunk driving isn’t found by creating tougher penalties for drunk drivers; maybe it is time to start thinking about public policy that would encourage development of bars and restaurants that are easier for folks to walk to and/or development of a better public transportation plan that gives people who want to go have a good time with their friends other affordable options for getting around.
Read more from Brittany Novotny’s blog at http://brittanynovotny.wordpress.com/2011/02/24/real-solutions-for-dui/.
Oklahoma Board of Education recovers from conflict
Members of the state Education Board moved past conflicts that nearly derailed January’s meeting and, in a brief and aloof meeting Thursday, discussed the governor’s proposed 2.9 percent cut to the education budget. “I would prefer calm to chaos,” state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi said, following the hourlong meeting. There was no formal discussion about two bills working their way through the Legislature that propose significant changes to the power, authority and composition of the board.
Read more from this NewsOK article at http://newsok.com/oklahoma-board-of-education-recovers-from-conflict/article/3543723.
See also: Notes from the February 24th State Board of Education meeting on Oklahoma Watchdog.
Quote of the Day
You’re now pitting police and fire retirees against current employees and against common education and against roads and bridges funding, just about ensuring that they’re going to lose every time.
–House Minority Leader Scott Inman, objecting to the bill just passed in the House to require state pension cost-of-living adjustments to be paid for out of the general fund.
Number of the Day
Growth in population describing themselves as Hispanic or Latino in Tulsa between 2000 and 2010; Tulsa’s total population dropped by 1,143 during the same period.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
Medicaid block grants would leave states holding the bag
In a previous post, I explained why block-granting Medicaid or otherwise capping its funding is no solution to rising costs. It’s also a really bad deal for states, as a report we released yesterday explains. A block grant would shift significant financial risks and costs from the federal government to the states, especially during recessions. The federal government now pays a fixed percentage of each state’s Medicaid costs, so when state costs go up, federal costs go up too, automatically. Under a block grant, the federal government would pay only a fixed dollar amount of state costs, leaving the state responsible for the rest. Most block grant proposals — and any proposal Congress will likely consider this year — are designed to generate large federal savings by giving states much less funding than they would receive under the current system.
Read more from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities at http://www.offthechartsblog.org/medicaid-block-grant-would-leave-states-holding-the-bag/.