In The Know: GOP leaders say pension changes, tax credits top items in 2014

In The KnowIn 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. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that Gov. Mary Fallin and legislative leaders gave themselves an “A” grade for this year’s legislative session, and they said changes to state pensions and tax credit reform will be top priorities next year. OK Policy Director David Blatt gave lawmakers a “D” grade for rejecting options to extend health insurance to low-income Oklahomans, approving an unnecessary tax cut for top earners, and diverting money from education to pay for Capitol repairs rather than issuing bonds. The Tulsa World writes that lawmakers have been more interested in shifting blame to the federal government than doing anything for Oklahoma’s uninsured. The Legislature this month is expected to tap into the additional $7 million it gave itself and begin renovations inside the Capitol.

Time Magazine reported on church leaders who are trying to help undocumented immigrant families who lost everything in the Moore tornado. The OK Policy Blog featured a guest post by Cindy Cason on Oklahomans’ response to a crisis. The agency in charge of the National Weather Service announced they will no longer furlough employees under sequestration in response to recent tornado disasters. The okeducationtruths blog discusses how sequestration is threatening programs for Oklahoma’s highest poverty students.

The State Regents approved funding increases for Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities ranging from 0.8 percent to just over 3 percent. In the ten years since Oklahoma began spending public funds on marriage promotion, the state has gone from the second highest divorce rate in the nation to the highest. Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed a bill that would have required state agencies to prepare for a 25% cut in federal funding. The Kansas Legislature voted to make a temporary sales tax increase permanent and cut the standard deduction and itemized deductions in half, as they phased in more income tax rate cuts.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahoma’s children under 5 years old that are non-White or mixed race. In today’s Policy Note, Dean Baker writes about how advocates for government budget cuts as a response to the recession have been proven wrong about everything.

In The News

Okla. GOP leaders say pension changes, tax credits among items awaiting Legislature in 2014

Gov. Mary Fallin and Republican legislative leaders gave themselves high marks for the recently concluded legislative session, but acknowledge work remains on several key issues, including examining costly tax credits, shoring up the state’s underfunded pension systems and dealing with the state’s uninsured population. Fallin, House Speaker T.W. Shannon and Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman all gave the 2013 session with an “A” grade because they were able to accomplish some of their top priorities, but differences between the three sides clearly emerged in the late days of the session.

Read more from the Associated Press.

See also: State leaders grade the 2013 Legislative session from the Oklahoma Economic Report

Tulsa World: Pointing fingers won’t solve uninsured problem

Oklahoma leaders managed to pass a few major measures this past session, but this political season might be more noteworthy for what wasn’t accomplished: addressing the problem of the uninsured. The debate over how to expand health-insurance coverage began in earnest last November, when Gov. Mary Fallin announced she would not expand Medicaid to cover an estimated 150,000-plus uninsured Oklahomans, as was envisioned under the Affordable Care Act, known to most as Obamacare. Fallin had to have known her decision amounted to a two-edged sword: By rejecting Medicaid expansion, she would please the foes of Obamacare. But an awful lot of people supported Medicaid expansion, ensuring debate would continue.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Senate to start renovations inside Capitol

The Legislature this month is expected to tap into the additional $7 million it gave itself and begin renovations inside the Capitol. The Senate will renovate a large conference room on the fifth floor, complete with a catering area and offices. The renovated conference room will be able to accommodate all 48 senators, if needed. It will also be equipped so an audio and video feed can be provided on the Internet. It is expected to have the capability for electronic voting. Offices on the second and third floors also will be renovated. The Senate is expected to spend between $2.5 million and $3 million and have the projects completed by December, said Randy Dowell, Senate chief of staff.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Undocumented in Moore: Why evangelicals want immigration reform

Pastor Isaías Vargas leads a Latino evangelical church just a mile from Plaza Towers Elementary, the Oklahoma school that was flattened in last week’s devastating tornado. When the storm hit, Vargas immediately knew his church, Ciudad de Dios, would become a center point for Latino relief efforts. Soon he learned that nineteen Latino families in the church’s neighborhood suffered total or near total loss. But there was a catch: At least thirteen of the families were undocumented immigrants. Thirteen families may not seem like much, but it is a lot for a small church of only 50 to 75 people, especially given the enormity of their need. The basic needs of these families are the same as their documented neighbors—water, food, transportation, clothes—but their resources are far more limited.

Read more from Time.

The Oklahoma Standard

Last week at Norman’s Jazz Aid Concert to benefit tornado recovery efforts, a young person asked me why I talked about the Oklahoma Standard with tears of gratitude. “What’s the Oklahoma Standard?” he asked. I explained that Oklahomans are known for dropping everything to help our neighbors, friends, even strangers in crisis. Our generous spirit drives us to share all that we have and even risk our lives to help others without hesitation. This high benchmark of behavior is known around the world, and it is our proudest legacy. It is the Oklahoma Standard.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Weather agency ends furloughs as deadly tornadoes strike Oklahoma

The agency in charge of the National Weather Service will no longer furlough employees under sequestration. The announcement from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) came late Friday as severe tornadoes struck the Oklahoma City area, taking nine lives. The deadly storms came less than two weeks after a major twister hit Moore, Okla., killing 24 people. In an email to staff, NOAA Acting Administrator Kathryn Sullivan said the tragedies emphasize “how important every single employee within NOAA is.”

Read more from The Hill.

Sequestration is here

In addition to the email about testing, school districts also received on Friday information concerning budget cuts within federal programs. This is a big deal. As we all know, schools with high levels of poverty tend to have more students coming to them with gaps in learning. Even as those gaps are closed, students move, and the ones you’ve helped are replaced with new students with new gaps. Title I programs are better situated to meet this need than all other remediation programs combined. This cut is very significant, because in most schools around the state, Title I funding provides just enough money for minimal staffing. Materials, tutoring, parental outreach, and professional development come out of whatever is left. That’s what this cut will cost schools.

Read more from okeducationtruths.

Regents approve funding increase for public colleges

Public colleges and universities across the state can expect to see an increase in state funding during the upcoming fiscal year. But those increases don’t keep pace with what higher education officials have said they need to keep up with rising operating costs. The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education approved funding levels on Friday for state colleges, universities and higher education programs. Colleges and universities across the state will see funding increases ranging from 0.8 percent to just over 3 percent. The University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University will receive an increase of roughly 1 percent, with $2.4 million in new money going to OU and $2.6 million to OSU.

Read more from NewsOK.

Making it stick: Oklahoma’s divorce rate remains high

In 1999, during a garden gala outside the governor’s mansion, Gov. Frank Keating unveiled plans for an ambitious project, the No. 1 family issue of his second term. Keating’s goal was to cut the state divorce rate, then the second highest in the nation, by a third in 10 years by establishing the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative. In 2009, 10 years after Keating lobbed that $10 million OMI bridal bouquet over his shoulder, the U.S. Census Bureau released data showing that marriages still weren’t sticking here – Oklahoma had the No. 1 divorce rate in the U.S.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Gov. Fallin vetoes bill on federal budget cuts

Gov. Mary Fallin has vetoed two bills approved by the Oklahoma Legislature, including one that would have required state agencies to prepare for a 25% cut in federal funding. Fallin says in a veto message released Friday that the state’s budget process already allows for ample review of federal programs and funding. Fallin says the bill by House Speaker T.W. Shannon would duplicate the state’s existing budget process and be burdensome to state agencies.

Read more from News9.

Kansas lawmakers vote to extend higher sales tax, reduce standard deduction, phase in more income tax cuts

In the dead of Sunday morning Kansas lawmakers passed tax increases worth $777 million over the next five years, shoveling a bigger financial burden onto many constituents. Gov. Sam Brownback and the GOP-controlled House and Senate approved raising the rate to 6.15 percent as of July 1. That will generate hundreds of millions in extra revenue, with the money desperately needed to keep the state functioning after Brownback and the Legislature in 2012 approved far-too-steep income tax cuts. Republican legislators also approved a law that will reduce the standard income tax deduction and most itemized deductions for Kansans.

Read more here from the Kansas City Star.

Quote of the Day

In our Oklahoma disaster relief efforts we saw first hand how a lack of immigration reform can leave so many with little or no humane recourse. As a nation, we can and must do better.

Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, who helped organize tornado relief efforts in Moore for undocumented families, some of whom lost everything but cannot access FEMA assistance.

Number of the Day

47 percent

Percentage of Oklahoma’s children under 5 years old that are non-White or mixed, compared to just 32 percent for all Oklahomans

Source: U.S. Census via Community Service Council, 2011

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Austerity advocates have been wrong about everything

Over the last two and a half years governments across Europe have engaged in a cruel social experiment. They began to pursue a policy of austerity even though their economies were still mired in the recession that resulted from the housing bubble’s collapse. The theory was that reducing government deficits would somehow inspire private investment and increase consumption. Even though laying off public employees and raising taxes would slow demand, the argument was that the confidence inspired by lower deficits would lead to a large increase in demand from the private sector. This theory has been shown wrong.

Read more from US News & World Report.

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Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

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