In The Know: House Republicans continue calls to reduce top income tax rate

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. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that Speaker Kris Steele said House Republicans will continue to push for a reduction in the top income tax rate but provided no specifics. StateImpactOK discussed OK Policy’s finding that the tax reform task force plan would increase taxes on most Oklahomans. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities looked at “reverse Robin Hood” tax policies emerging in Oklahoma, Kansas, and other states. For more on the tax debate, see our tax reform information page.

Appropriations Chair Rep. Earl Sears said House Republicans would not support any bond issues this year except for one to repair the state Capitol building. Gov. Fallin is travelling to New York to discuss the possibility of improving Oklahoma’s bond ratings.  A new issue brief from Oklahoma Policy Institute outlines Oklahoma’s SoonerCare program and debunks common Medicaid myths.

The Commercial Pet Breeders Board approved a new set of rules for Oklahoma kennels, despite protests from an overflow crowd at public hearings. The Human Society ranked Oklahoma 29th in the nation for animal protection policies. A water quality group decried an attempt by members of Oklahoma’s Congressional delegation to delay new pollution limits for the Illinois River.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court dismissed a final challenge to the state Senate’s redistricting plan. In The Huffington Post, John Thompson discussed problems with Oklahoma’s testing requirements to graduate high school. The Number of the Day is the proportion of Oklahoma households who use natural gas as their primary energy source for home heating. In today’s Policy Note, Dean Baker discusses why Social Security is not in danger.

In The News

Reducing top income tax rate is priority for Oklahoma House Republicans

Reducing the state’s top personal income tax rate during this year’s legislative session is a viable option, House Speaker Kris Steele said Tuesday. Details were lacking as House Republicans discussed legislative goals for the upcoming session, which starts Feb. 6. More information will be released on specific topics in the days leading up to the session, Steele said. A legislative task force has come up with criteria for tax credits and another panel has proposed reducing the state’s 5.25 percent top personal income tax rate by a half percent over the next two years. It may be difficult to do because spending estimates indicate Oklahoma could have a shortfall of about $150 million for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1. Revenues are up about $400 million compared with a year ago, but lawmakers used about $500 million of one-time funds to balance this fiscal year’s budget, leaving the state with about a $100 million budget hole.

Read more from NewsOK.

See also: Will Reform Recommendations Raise Taxes for Most Okies? from StateImpactOK; More states propose reverse Robin Hood tax policy from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; Tax Reform Information from Oklahoma Policy Institute

Republican caucus says they will not support bonds except for Capitol repairs

The House Republican Caucus will not support millions in bond issue proposals except for one to fix the deteriorating state Capitol, House Appropriations and Budget Committee Chairman Earl Sears said Tuesday. Sears, R-Bartlesville, said he has received about $1.1 billion in requests for bond issue projects. He said he surveyed members of his caucus. While some might support specific proposals, the results indicated that the caucus would not support anything but a bond issue to improve the Capitol, he said. The building has structural problems in addition to antiquated plumbing and electrical systems. Sears said he was uncertain exactly how much the needed repairs would cost, adding that the latest figure he heard was about $140 million.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

See also: Governor Fallin to seek better bond ratings in New York from the Shawnee News-Star

Medicaid 101: The SoonerCare Safety Net

Our health care system is experiencing an unprecedented period of upheaval. Decades of rising costs, an ever-increasing share of citizens without insurance, and an aging baby boom generation are putting immense pressure on payers, providers, and patients alike. A new policy brief from Oklahoma Policy Institute underscores the importance of SoonerCare/Medicaid as the primary safety net health care program for low-income Oklahomans who would otherwise go uninsured, primarily children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. The five-page brief, Medicaid 101: The SoonerCare Safety Net, outlines the program and its eligibility requirements, breaks down its funding sources, and debunks common Medicaid myths. One popular myth is that Medicaid costs are rising exponentially and the program is riddled with waste. In fact, scholarly research has demonstrated that Medicaid costs about 20 percent less on average per person than private insurance, so the program is quite lean.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

See also: The full issue brief from Oklahoma Policy Institute

Pet breeders board OKs new set of kennel rules

The Commercial Pet Breeders Board approved a new set of rules for Oklahoma kennels Tuesday night, despite protests from an overflow crowd that the agency is driving small entrepreneurs out of business. The public hearing brought more than 40 people, mostly pet breeders, to the board’s tiny office space in Oklahoma City. The rules will take effect only if the Legislature approves them. Three legislators were among those in attendance. Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Goodwell, told the board he was concerned about some of the issues he was hearing from pet breeders in his district regarding the proposed rule changes. Ultimately, the board made several changes designed to ease the impact of some of the rules, including allowing some ice in water provided to dogs in kennels.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Human Society ranks Oklahoma 29th in animal protection issues

When it comes to laws protecting animals, Oklahoma remains in the middle of the pack, according to the Humane Society of the United States’ annual Humane State Ranking report released this week. Oklahoma’s score remained the same as last year, but its ranking dropped from 27 to 29 because of other states’ improvements. The state rankings are based on 66 protection issues in 10 categories including animal fighting, animal cruelty, puppy mills, use of animals in research, equine protection, wildlife abuse, factory farming, fur and trapping, exotic animals, and companion animal laws. Oklahoma scored 26 out of 66, doing well in the categories of animal fighting, animal cruelty and puppy mills, but showing room for improvement when it comes to laws about exotic pets, animals used in research and treatment of farm animals.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Water quality group decries lawmakers’ letter to EPA

Just months before a phosphorus limit for the Illinois River watershed becomes effective, several Oklahoma and Arkansas lawmakers may be seeking a delay in a study of the issue by the Environmental Protection Agency. On Dec. 9, Sens. Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Rep. Dan Boren, D-Okla., along with several Arkansas lawmakers, co-authored a letter to the EPA requesting the agency take time to “thoroughly vet” the study before making any final decisions on Total Maximum Daily Load of phosphorus. Save The Illinois River Inc., a local, nonprofit coalition that seeks to protect the river and Lake Tenkiller, has also written a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, stating lawmakers may be trying to prolong the completion and implementation of the EPA’s study. “STIR is very concerned that there may currently be an effort to steer the EPA’s TMDL study in order to prolong and confuse its completion and implementation,” wrote STIR President Denise Deason-Toyne. “Those responsible for this effort may also be targeting the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers phosphorus limit which has been approved by the EPA, our governor, and the Oklahoma legislature.”

Read more from the Tahlequah Daily Press.

Oklahoma Supreme Court upholds redistricting lawsuit dismissal

A state senator’s challenge to the constitutionality of the state Senate’s redistricting plan appears over. The state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that an Oklahoma County District Court judge was correct in throwing out the lawsuit filed by Sen. Jim Wilson. “The district court properly dismissed Senator Wilson’s petition because he has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted,” wrote Chief Justice Steven Taylor in the 9-0 decision. Wilson filed a lawsuit in Oklahoma County District Court and District Judge Lisa Davis ruled in October that the issues raised in Wilson’s case had already been decided by the state Supreme Court in another lawsuit he filed earlier last year. Wilson, D-Tahlequah, said the districts drawn up by the Republican-controlled Senate violated state constitutional requirements.

Read more from NewsOK.

The costs and the lost benefits of graduation exams

Oklahoma’s law that requires students to pass four End of Instruction tests to earn a high school degree will take effect this spring. I am agnostic about those sorts of graduation exams. A blue ribbon panel of the National Research Council concluded that graduation tests have reduced their states’ graduation rates by around 2%, while not improving student achievement. But most graduation exams were a result of the standardized test-driven accountability movement so, I wonder whether the damage was due to the tests, or instruction being distorted by NCLB-type accountability. The problem is that we are holding students accountable in order to hold adult systems’ feet to the fire.

Read more from The Huffington Post.

Quote of the Day

Gov. Fallin believes that the Native American Cultural Center needs to be finished and that doing so will require both public and private dollars.
Alex Weintz, a spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin

Number of the Day


Proportion of Oklahoma households who use natural gas as their primary energy source for home heating.

Source: OESC

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Time is on our side: The survival of Social Security

As we approach budget time, we can look forward to another burst of handwringing by the Washington elites, who will once again tell us about the need to cut Social Security and Medicare. News stories and opinion columns will be filled with solemn pronouncements about how these programs must be curtailed before they drive the nation to bankruptcy. We can look forward to that famously deceptive graph showing how the costs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are projected to soar as a share of the economy over the next two or three decades. Those with good eyes will notice that it is the cost of Medicare and Medicaid that are soaring, not Social Security. This is primarily due to the projected explosion of private sector health care costs, not the impact of aging on the cost of the programs. That would lead honest people to focus on the need to get U.S. health care costs in line with costs in every other country in the world, but no one ever said that the Washington elites were honest.

Read more from the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

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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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