In The Know: Another year, another budget hole for lawmakers to address

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Early-bird registration is now open for our 2017 State Budget Summit. In addition, we’re hiring a policy analyst and spring research interns. 

Today In The News

Another year, another budget hole for lawmakers to address: Oklahoma budget writers are bracing for yet another gaping hole to work around for the upcoming fiscal year — the third consecutive year with a significant shortfall. Officials estimate a $600 million deficit for the budget that’ll pay for public safety, health care and infrastructure starting July 1. The 2017 fiscal year deficit, as well as last year’s $1.3 billion shortfall and $611 million one the year before, are all due to lower revenue from oil and natural gas production and the impact of various tax cuts and deductions. Lawmakers have tapped agency revolving accounts, such as the state’s Rainy Day reserve fund, as well as other one-time sources of money to help balance budgets and avoid deeper cuts [Associated Press].

State ranks among worst for health: You’re not doing fine, Oklahoma. An annual report released Thursday noted that Oklahoma has some of the worst health rankings in the country, with thousands of residents dying each year to preventable diseases. Overall, Oklahoma ranks No. 46 in the United States for its poor health behaviors and outcomes, according to the United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings report. Continued decline Since 1990, Oklahoma has seen its ranking fall from No. 32 to No. 46. The worst years were 2007 and 2009, when Oklahoma was ranked No. 49 [The Oklahoman].

Little effect this holiday from new use tax law: Oklahoma tax collectors will have to wait another year to gauge the success of a new law designed to boost revenue from online sales. The measure went into effect Nov. 1, but businesses have until May to begin either remitting sales tax or keeping track of how much each customer owes. If retailers decline to collect and remit taxes, they would have to send a notice to each customer at the end of the year detailing the shopper’s obligation. The shopper would then be responsible for paying the tax, which is also known as a use tax. The Oklahoma Tax Commission sent letters to the top 500 online retailers in an effort to spread awareness and encourage complicity [Journal Record].

Lawmaker abandons anti-abortion bathroom signs law: An Oklahoma Republican lawmaker on Friday abandoned a measure that required public bathrooms to display anti-abortion signs after an outcry from business leaders and health providers who said it would cost millions of dollars. Republican Sen. A.J. Griffin, who had sponsored the original bill passed by the Legislature, proposed an amendment that would require the signs only at abortion providers and would direct the state Department of Health to launch a social media campaign on how to avoid abortions. Griffin said the department is now being asked to halt any further work toward implementing the regulations while her new proposal is considered by the Legislature, which convenes Feb. 6 [Associated Press].

A look at the new leadership team in the Oklahoma House: As the legislature continued last week to organize itself for the next session, Speaker-elect Charles McCall announced his senior leadership team in the House. The leadership positions that exercise the most control over the direction of state policy shift from time to time according to the formal and informal duties of an office and the personalities of the legislators who have been appointed. For most of the time I served, the top four spots on the leadership team under the Speaker were the Majority Floor Leader, the Chairman and vice-chairman of the Appropriations and Budget Committee and the First Assistant Majority Floor Leader [OK Policy].

Number of Oklahoma offenders under state supervision reaches highest level ever: Oklahoma Department of Corrections officials say the number of offenders in their system has reached the highest level in department history. According to a Friday news release, 61,012 people are either incarcerated, on supervision or on probation. DOC officials said 26,619 of those offenders are behind bars, about 2,000 less than in January 2015, when the number of inmates in a state prison surpassed 28,000 for the first time in state history [NewsOK].

Office of Juvenile Affairs works to make holidays less tough for young people in state custody: A teenage girl let out an excited yelp as she ripped through the wrapping paper of a gift she was handed just moments ago. Inside was a bottle of scented body wash that she hugged to her chest before holding it above her head to show off to those around her. The present was being passed out by volunteers with the Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs’ Santa Claus Commission, a gift program for youth in the agency’s care. Along with a Christmas tree in the corner of the room and some tinsel strung along a wall, the simple present provided a sign of the holiday season for the 16 girls who are spending the holidays inside a state-run group home for juvenile offenders [NewsOK].

Juvenile dies at juvenile detention center: Deputy Chief Chad Farmer of the Muskogee Police Department confirmed the police department assisted with an emergency call in the death of a juvenile at the Regional Juvenile Detention Center on Thursday evening. At 9 p.m., Muskogee County Emergency Medical Service requested police assistance at the center, located at 305 E. Cincinnati St. Because of the age of the juvenile and the investigation into the death, Farmer is unable to provide more information, he said, and directed further inquiries to the Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs [Muskogee Phoenix].

All I Want for Christmas is a Reason to Keep Teaching in Oklahoma: It’s getting harder and harder for me to find reasons to keep teaching in this state. I’ve been a good teacher this year – I promise! I was selected as Teacher of the Year, I was a Finalist for National Teacher of the Year, and I ran for office. And even without the titles, I’ve been an excellent teacher to my students. We’ve tried some new methods in class and had tons of fun learning math, but, well, I don’t know. I’m frustrated because I’ve been made to feel guilty about asking for more. Some legislators in my state have portrayed educators as whiny and impossible to please. They say we should stop complaining and that we should have known going into this profession wouldn’t be lucrative [Shawn Sheehan].

Beyond teachers, state employees seek higher pay: Cindy Shewmake spends her day helping low-income Oklahomans access support systems, such as food or child care assistance. Her passion for helping others led her to her career as a social services specialist for the state Department of Human Services, but too often she said her co-workers are the ones taking advantage of government support. As legislators prepare for the start of a new session in seven weeks, the need for teacher pay raises have already become a topic of discussion. But for thousands of other state employees, including DHS, the Department of Corrections and dozens of other agencies, low salaries have made it difficult to attract and retain quality workers [The Oklahoman].

Nonprofit consolidations likely in 2017: The state’s nonprofit organizations have had a tough year, and a few groups could experience some changes in 2017, experts said. “We’re seeing an increased number of nonprofits ask for more money than we have before,” said Frank Merrick, president of Foundation Management Inc. “Mainly, I’m talking about social service type organizations.” A couple of nonprofits could close or merge next year, said Dan Billingsley, vice president of external affairs at the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits. Merrick said he works a lot with foundations, which are being asked for more money than the organizations have available. And foundations are short money because many major donors were energy-related companies. “This downturn to me has been worse because of what’s going on at the state Capitol,” Merrick said. “We have very tight budgets and shortfalls” [Journal Record].

State officials ponder another Oklahoma income tax cut: Officials are expected to determine this week whether the state had enough growth revenue to trigger an income tax cut. The top income tax rate could drop to 4.85 percent from 5 percent. The Board of Equalization meets Wednesday in the Capitol to determine how much revenue Gov. Mary Fallin will have to craft her executive budget, which serves as a suggestion for lawmakers. They will return to the table in February to determine how much money lawmakers will have in crafting a fiscal year 2018 budget. Fallin, who chairs the Equalization Board, said last week that the state will have up to $600 million less to spend in crafting a budget. But that calculation is different than arriving at growth revenue [Tulsa World].

Quote of the Day

“I help process food stamps and other forms of assistance, but there are many workers here who have had to use those same services. When I started working here almost 11 years ago, the pay seemed OK but cost of living goes up and with no raises, it has become a struggle.”

-Cindy Shewmake, speaking about thousands of Oklahoma state employees at DHS, the Department of Corrections and other agencies who are not being paid a living wage (Source).

Number of the Day


Percentage of Oklahomans who have Type 2 Diabetes, 2014.


See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Everyone wants to help David. But nothing seems to work.: It felt like they had chased the dream forever: to keep the homeless man in the red sneakers off the streets. Everyone in the Dorchester courtroom this September day knew David: the judge; the defense attorneys and the prosecutors; the caseworker from the state mental health department. For months, for years — even for decades — he had been a familiar figure here, arrested a staggering 150 times, usually on drug charges or for breaking and entering. Decades ago, state officials made a decision to care for people like David in the community, not in state mental hospitals, closing the old Victorian institutions one after another. But the care they substituted fell far short of what was needed to help many patients manage [Boston Globe]. 

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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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