In The Know: Oklahoma’s budget agreement has winners and losers

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 this year’s state budget agreement provides boosts for Medicaid, DHS, mental health, and the Legislature, but it leaves the Department of Corrections with flat funding and provides no pay increase for state workers. Education advocates had limited praise for the proposed small increase in education funding after years of big cuts. The okeducationtruths blog writes that even as overall state revenue recovers, funding for education has not. The budget agreement doesn’t address a possible hundreds of millions in lost revenue due to a court ruling on capital-gains tax deduction

Nearly $3.5 million is available to implement the Justice Reinvestment Act in the state budget agreement, but support for reform is faltering without any champions in the Legislature or Governor’s office. Former DHS Commissioner Steven Dow was among the first appointees to the new citizen advisory panels being set up to replace the Commission. Proposed legislation to overhaul state pension plans into one will not be taken up this session. OK Policy discussed why a last-minute push to overhaul pensions without time for public debate would be reckless.

KFOR examined the increase of suburban poverty in Oklahoma, much of which is caused by going bankrupt due to medical problems. The number of Oklahomans on federal disability programs has grown to nearly 8 percent of the working-age population. CBS News reported on how Oklahoma offers a universal pre-K model for the nation.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of households in communities of color in Oklahoma who don’t have access to a vehicle. In today’s Policy Note, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shares five strategies to smooth out the ups and downs of state tax dollars.

In The News

Oklahoma’s budget agreement has winners and losers

The recent budget agreement created winners and losers. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the state’s Medicaid agency, the Department of Human Services and the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services saw large increases when the $7 billion state budget for fiscal year 2014 was announced Thursday. Lawmakers gave themselves a hefty increase, some of which will be used to remodel the Capitol following the departure of the appellate courts to a new building across the street. Perhaps the biggest losers when the dust from the budget agreement settled were the Department of Corrections and state employees, who have not had an across-the-board raise since 2006.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Added $74M to Oklahoma education budget still not enough, advocates say

State lawmakers reached a deal on the budget Thursday, and it includes new money for education, but not enough to offset cuts from the last several years. The deal adds money to education overall, but not enough to keep pace with growth in enrollment and not enough to offset the still uncertain impact of a business tax cut–the one voters approved last year in a state question. Governor Mary Fallin and key leaders of the legislature said their new deal shows a commitment to education, with $74 million more next year. In Tulsa, at a meeting on school funding, education advocacy group “Stand for Children” had limited praise for a small increase after years of big cuts.

Read more from News9.

See also: Hit me from okeducationtruths

Oklahoma budget agreement doesn’t address court ruling on capital-gains tax deduction

The $7.1 billion budget agreement reached last week does not include setting aside nearly $500 million for a worst-case scenario if the courts uphold a court ruling earlier this year that a capital-gains tax deduction for Oklahoma-based companies is unconstitutional. “We’re not basing this budget off of something that could result either in a $120 million increase in available funds for the state or a possible reduction in funds and a deficit of $500 million,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Clark Jolley, R-Edmond. “We think the capital-gains issue can be worked out separate from this budget and needs to be worked out separate fro this budget.” The Oklahoma Tax Commission is appealing the Jan. 17 ruling by the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals.

Read more from NewsOK.

Oklahoma funds some prison reform plans but support faltering

Nearly $3.5 million is available to implement the Justice Reinvestment Act in the state budget agreement announced Wednesday — a million of which will allow Department of Corrections to ramp up the number of probation and parole officers for the first time in years. What former House Speaker Kris Steele and Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater lamented as dead on arrival in March appears now to be trudging along again — albeit in much smaller scope than either of the men envisioned. Rob Johnson, who leads the Senate’s public safety subcommittee, said he approved the $3.5 million in appropriations, but he did so begrudgingly because the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, he said, is too soft on crime. “I also believe that now that we have it we are obligated to fund it,” Johnson, R-Yukon, said, adding that with Steele no longer in the House there is hardly anyone championing the cause.

Read more from NewsOK.

State officials looking to fill DHS advisory panels

Oklahoma government officials have several more spots to fill on the state human services agency’s citizen advisory panels, which have been planned since voters disbanded the agency’s oversight commission last year. Once formed, the advisory panels will aid the Department of Human Services administration in connecting to the public on policies, said DHS spokeswoman Sheree Powell. In six months, 11 appointees have been named to four panels that advise on issues regarding DHS administration, disabilities, children and families, and aging. When filled, 20 appointees will fill the five-member panels. Steven Dow, former DHS commissioner and executive director of the Community Action Project in Tulsa, was the first appointee to the citizen advisory panels and will serve on the Children and Families panel.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Oklahoma pension plan changes are tabled

Proposed legislation to consolidate the staff, boards and offices of several pension plans into one will not be taken up this session. State Treasurer Ken Miller, who along with Gov. Mary Fallin backed the concept, said not enough time remaining in this year’s session and heavy lobbying the past week by firefighters and public school teachers opposed to the legislation led to tabling the issue. Miller, a Republican as is Fallin, said he hopes the GOP-controlled Legislature will approve an interim study on the topic.

Read more from NewsOK.

Previously: On pension overhaul, beware May surprises from the OK Policy Blog

Suburban poverty on the rise

According to a recent study, poverty has increased 64 percent across the United States over the last 12 years. You might assume it’s referring to urban areas but this shocking statistic is talking about the suburbs. When you’re driving through an upscale neighborhood in the Oklahoma City suburbs, life for those residents can seem so perfect, on the outside. The Brookings Institution said, over the last 12 years, the number of people living below the poverty level in Edmond has increased 62 percent. Yukon has increased 58 percent. Moore has seen a 115-percent rise.

Read more from KFOR.

Growing number of Oklahomans receiving disability payments

The number of Oklahomans on federal disability programs has soared over the past decade, resulting in nearly 8 percent of the working-age population collecting a government check each month. In 2011, the latest year for which figures are available, nearly 187,000 Oklahomans of working age received disability benefits — a 73 percent increase since 2000. The total benefits, which included those for disabled workers’ spouses and children, were about $173 million. Counties with the highest shares were in high-poverty southeastern Oklahoma, according to the latest county-level data from the Social Security Administration. Pushmataha and Choctaw counties’ rates were more than 15 percent.

Read more from Oklahoma Watch.

Oklahoma offers pre-K model for nation

When Barbara Powell’s granddaughter, Morgan, started pre-K last year, Powell was in awe at how much the three-year-old had taken in. “It teaches all of the stuff that they need to be prepared for going to school. They learn their ABCs, their colors, their shapes, sounds, writing,” Powell said. For the past 15 years, Oklahoma has offered public pre-school for all four-year-olds, and 75 percent of them attend, which is the second-highest rate in the nation, behind Florida. The Tulsa program Morgan attends goes further than most by serving kids under four and even newborns. It’s run by the Community Action Project and targets low-income families.

Read more from CBS News.

Quote of the Day

I have never seen morale as low as it is. I have never seen more people want to leave the Department of Corrections in the 14 years I have been here.

Cecil Dooley, a correctional officer at Joseph Harp Correctional Center. This year’s budget proposal gives the Department of Corrections a standstill appropriation, despite pleas from correctional officers who say they are underpaid, overworked, understaffed and are handling more and more offenders.

Number of the Day

15.7 percent

Percentage of households in communities of color in Oklahoma who don’t have access to a vehicle, compared to 4 percent for predominately white communities, 2009

Source: Oklahoma Policy Institute

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Five strategies to smooth out the ups and downs of state tax dollars

State revenues plummet in recessions as struggling households and businesses pay less in taxes, and it occurs just when states can least afford the loss (see chart). Some states, including Louisiana, Nebraska, and North Carolina, have recently considered replacing state personal income taxes with sales taxes, in part to reduce this volatility. But that switch wouldn’t solve the problem. In fact, it would make the states’ tax systems more regressive (that is, fall harder on middle- and low-income people) and would reduce significantly the revenues available to fund schools and other public services — without improving volatility much.

Read more from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

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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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