In The Know: Senate Republicans stop short of endorsing Governor's tax cut plan

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 Senate Republican leaders said they share Republican Gov. Mary Fallin’s goal of reducing the state income tax, but stopped short of endorsing her plan because it is not revenue neutral. The Tulsa World writes that the Governor’s math does not add up. StateImpact Oklahoma is hunting for business leaders who chose Texas over Oklahoma because of income tax concerns, but they have been unable to find a single name. More on the income tax debate at OK Policy’s tax reform information page.

The Senate Finance Committee killed a bill that would have removed the sales tax exemption for newspapers. The Finance Committee approved an expansion of the homestead exemption that reduces property tax for low-income homeowners. House Speaker-designate T.W. Shannon downplayed talk of an ouster of Speaker Kris Steele.

The OSU student government plans to oppose the legislature taking control of tuition from the State Regents. Now entering its 20th year, the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship has covered tuition for more than 58,000 graduates. The Affordable Care Act is expected to reduce the number of uninsured in Oklahoma by 57 percent and reduce uncompensated care by 69 percent.

Despite a request from the Governor, leaders of the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations say they will not drop a water rights lawsuit against the state of Oklahoma until a “reasonable resolution” has been reached. Urban Tulsa Weekly reports on efforts by the American Airlines union to protect Tulsa workers from severe layoffs.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of births in Oklahoma attended by nurse-midwives. In today’s Policy Note, The Fact Checker blog explains why an anti-union claim made in a Super Bowl was total nonsense.

In The News

Senate Republicans share Governor’s goal of reducing income tax, stop short of endorsing plan

Republican leaders in the Oklahoma Senate said Tuesday they share Republican Gov. Mary Fallin’s goal of reducing the state income tax, but stopped short of endorsing her plan to cut the top rate by nearly 2 percent beginning in January. Sen. Rick Brinkley said Senate Republicans plan to give careful consideration to the recommendations of a task force that suggested a more modest cut in the state income tax that was revenue-neutral. The Task Force on Comprehensive Tax Reform suggested cutting the state’s top income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 4.75 percent over the next two years. Like Fallin’s plan, the task force suggested offsetting the lost revenue by eliminating dozens of tax credits and exemptions. But unlike Fallin’s proposal, which is expected to cost the state about $350 million a year when fully implemented, the task force’s proposal would be revenue-neutral.

Read more from The Associated Press.

Fallin’s fanciful tax cut plan

Gov. Mary Fallin’s plan to cut and eventually do away with the state personal income tax, which she unveiled Tuesday in her second state of the state speech, has been called aggressive, bold and visionary. Another word might be “fanciful.” The plan just doesn’t add up. Secretary of State Glenn Coffee said the tax cut would amount to $1 billion a year when it becomes fully effective in fiscal 2014. So-called core services – education, transportation, public safety and health care – which make up about 90 percent of the state budget would be “protected,” although that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be cut. Significant savings to be had from eliminating waste might be hard to come by after three years of deep budget cuts. Those cuts were prompted by the failing economy, from which the state is only slowly recovering, exacerbated by six years of income tax top rate reductions. And the idea that tax cuts will immediately trigger economic growth is, to say the least, unproven. Even if all these things occurred as hoped for in the governor’s plan, it does not appear they would come close to offsetting lost revenues.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

On the hunt for corporate Oklahoma expats in Texas

Oklahomans have been hearing variations on the same theme for more than a decade: “No-income tax Texas gets all the business.” The arguments: 1) corporations or businesses move from Oklahoma to Texas because it lacks an income tax, or, 2) corporate and business leaders relocating from other states choose Texas over Oklahoma because of income tax concerns. We haven’t found either — and we’ve been asking around and looking for months. We’ve asked top elected officials, economists, agency directors, think-tank academics and business leaders. But we keep coming up empty. There have been vague mentions of acquaintances and anecdotal, anonymous references, but nothing solid. And never any names. A state’s tax policy is a miniscule consideration when business leaders are considering a relocation, a half-dozen economists tell us.

Read more from StateImpact Oklahoma.

See also: Tax reform information from the Oklahoma Policy Institute

Oklahoma Senate panel kills bill to end newspaper tax exemption

A Senate panel on Tuesday killed a bill that would have required sales taxes to be paid on newspapers. Senate Bill 1098 by Sen. Jim Wilson, D-Tahlequah, would have removed an exemption given to newspapers and periodicals, allowing the collection of the state’s 4.5 percent sales tax as well as local sales taxes. The measure failed by a 13-1 vote, with Wilson casting the lone supporting vote. Wilson said he filed his measure to raise funding to cover the $5,000 stipends that were supposed to be paid to National Board Certified teachers. Another proposal would do away with the newspaper exemption along with a host of other sales-tax breaks. Senate Bill 1447 by Sen. Mike Mazzei, R-Tulsa, has been assigned to the Senate Finance Committee. But Mazzei, who is chairman of that committee, says he is unlikely to give the bill a hearing. Mazzei cast one of the 13 votes against Wilson’s bill.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Senate will consider increase of homestead exemption

About 4,200 of Oklahoma’s poorest homeowners would benefit under a proposed adjustment to the state’s property tax law. The proposed law, which was passed out of the Senate finance committee Tuesday, would enable more low-income households to qualify for a doubling of their homestead tax exemption. The homestead exemption is a $1,000 reduction in the assessed value of someone’s primary place of residence. Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa, and author of Senate Bill 1036, said the increased exemption will cost local jurisdictions about $416,000 a year. The bill itself raises the income threshold to qualify for the tax break from $20,000 to $22,000 or half of the median income for each county, whichever is greater. It enables more families to receive a doubling of their homestead exemption. The tax break would help the poor, but Sen. Roger Ballenger, D-Okmulgee, said he was concerned about the impact it would have on school funding.

Read more from NewsOK.

House Speaker-designate downplays talk of ouster

State House Speaker-Designate T.W. Shannon said Tuesday he expects a noisy but productive session this year in the House of Representatives, despite speculation that social conservatives will be working to undermine the authority of House leadership. Shannon, R-Lawton, said he and House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, get along and he expects a smooth transition. Steele cannot seek re-election this year because of legislative term limits; his term ends in mid-November. House Republicans in November elected Shannon as designated speaker to succeed Steele. Shannon defeated Steele’s choice, Speaker Pro Tem Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, which caused some in the House Republican caucus to proclaim Shannon’s victory was a repudiation of the speaker’s leadership.

Read more from NewsOK.

OSU student government opposes legislature taking control of tuition

The Student Government Association will state an official position opposing the state legislature’s control of tuition rates at tonight’s meeting. Last week, a resolution was proposed to the Senate by Senator Ben Wolff, an entrepreneurship and marketing sophomore, stating that the Board of Regents for Oklahoma A&M Colleges should remain in control of tuition rates. It is easy to get in contact with a Board of Regents member, Wolff said. They are appointed by the Governor specifically for OSU, so they do not use school tuition as a political tool. “The Board of Regents knows exactly what is going on with OSU and what OSU needs to do to remain as successful as possible,” Wolff said. “State legislators have many other responsibilities. It would be much more difficult for a student’s voice to reach the State legislators; the Board of Regents has our best interest in mind.”

Read more from The Daily O’Collegian.

Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship program enters 20th year

Twenty years ago, the Oklahoma Legislature created a program that would cover college tuition for students who took more rigorous high school classes, maintained a certain grade-point average and had a record of good behavior. Since then, more than 58,000 students have graduated from high school without the burden of worrying about how they were going to pay college tuition. The state is projected to spend $61 million on the program this year on the 20,300 students who earned the scholarship. The deadline for eighth-, ninth- and 10th-grade students to enroll in the program is July 2. Although the number of students enrolled in the program has increased from about 500 in the mid-1990s, it has declined from a peak of 10,319 in 2010 to 10,214 this year.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Affordable Care Act to substantially expand coverage, reduce uncompensated care in Oklahoma

The Affordable Care Act, the federal health care law that takes full effect in 2014, is expected to provide health insurance coverage to over 335,000 uninsured Oklahomans and reduce the state’s uncompensated health care costs by more than two-thirds , according to a new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). Currently, some 597,000 Oklahomans, or 19 percent of the non-elderly population, lack health insurance. Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the number of uninsured is projected to fall by 57 percent to 259,000, or 10 percent of the non-elderly population. Oklahoma’s 57 percent drop exceeds the national average of 48 percent and is the tenth highest drop among the states. The study also projects that the ACA’s coverage expansion will significantly reduce the amount of uncompensated care provided by Oklahoma hospitals, doctors, and other health care professionals and facilities. Uncompensated care costs are projected to fall by over two-thirds, 69 pecent, from $886 million annually to $277 million.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Chickasaws, Choctaws will not drop lawsuit against state of Oklahoma

Leaders of the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations will not drop a water rights lawsuit they filed against the state of Oklahoma last year until a “reasonable resolution” has been reached. The tribes sent a letter to Gov. Mary Fallin on Tuesday, explaining their reasons for the continued litigation and stressing the fact they want to work through the mediation process. “History shows the best way to achieve resolution is through talks where both parties come to the table, prepared and empowered, to have good faith negotiations,” the letter states. “There was a lack of negotiations or meaningful engagement until we filed our suit, and if we dismissed, our current court-ordered mediations would cease.” The letter, signed by Chief Greg Pyle, of the Choctaw Nation, and Gov. Bill Anoatubby, of the Chickasaw Nation, also states that stream adjudication isn’t a necessary response to the lawsuit filed by the tribes — something Fallin claimed to be true in a letter she sent to the tribes last week.

Read more from NewsOK.

Specter of layoffs settles over Tulsa despite cooperative efforts of AA union

The news came down on Feb. 1. American Airlines, the largest employer in northeast Oklahoma for the past 65 years, will attempt to lay off more than 2,000 employees in the Tulsa area. A letter from Tom Horton, the chairman and chief executive officer of American Airlines, addressed “Dear American Team,” was sent out last Wednesday. The three-page letter is littered with public relations euphemisms but makes its intentions clear: “Change — a necessity not a choice.” The letter details the changes the company will make to “renew and optimize our fleet,” “build the scale of our network and alliances,” and “modernize our brand, products and services.” Essentially, to maximize profits, AA will be making “necessary employee related changes.” Transport Workers Union Local 514 organizer Rick Mullings wasn’t surprised by the news, but he’s not happy either. The area with the fewest targeted layoffs (besides pilots) is management, the most bloated part of the company, according to Mullings. American has hired on three separate businesses to “tell management how to manage,” Mullings said. “They managed them into bankruptcy.”

Read more from Urban Tulsa Weekly.

Quote of the Day

“There was a lack of negotiations or meaningful engagement until we filed our suit, and if we dismissed, our current court-ordered mediations would cease.”
Chickasaw and Choctaw tribal leaders, responding to a letter by Gov. Fallin calling for them to drop their lawsuit over water rights in Oklahoma

Number of the Day

3.3 percent

Percentage of births in Oklahoma attended by nurse-midwives, 1,827 babies in 2007

Source:  American College of Nurse-Midwives

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

A nonsense fact in a Super Bowl ad

“Only ten percent of people in unions today actually voted to join the union.” A group that supports a bill in Congress that would require every unionized workplace to recertify their union every three years made this interesting claim in a TV ad that ran during the Super Bowl. The Center for Union Facts also asserted this fact in an advertisement that ran in The New York Times, featuring the dictatorial leadership of North Korea as apparent stand-ins for union leaders. The Center for Union Facts is part of a web of pro-corporate organizations run by Rick Berman, who has also battled Mothers Against Drunk Driving, disputed evidence regarding mercury levels in fish and countered a perceived link between high-fructose corn syrup and obesity. … The more we dug into the NLRB reports, the more dubious this statistic became. The reports show consistent support for unions when the matter has been put to a vote through the NLRB process.

Read more from The Fact Checker.

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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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