In The Know: Anti-tax pledge haunts Oklahoma budget talks

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.

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Today In The News

Anti-tax pledge haunts Oklahoma budget talks: If lawmakers agree to raise taxes as part of a deal to save the state budget, some prominent Republican members of the House and Senate may run afoul of a promise they made to their constituents. Six members of the Oklahoma Senate and 17 state representatives have taken a pledge to vote against tax hikes. If lawmakers hammer out a deal over the weekend and return to special session with a revenue package, they could see votes on raising the tax rate on cigarettes, motor fuel and so-called “luxury” services [NewsOK].

Little progress as special session clock ticks: Oklahoma’s 2017 legislative special session has lumbered along in fits and starts, with most of the work going on behind the scenes. Legislative leaders and the governor’s office rattle off ideas behind closed doors. Republicans and Democrats gather at the Capitol every few days for closed-door meetings to decide what, if any, plan has enough votes to pass. One thing is clear: On paper, the Oklahoma Legislature is no closer to a resolution now than when Gov. Mary Fallin ordered them back to the Capitol on Sept. 25 [NewsOK].  Lawmakers must use special session to fix the budget, not pass the buck [OK Policy].

Tulsa drug court to review use of work-based diversion program targeted in Reveal investigation: Tulsa County’s drug court has had “very positive results” from a controversial work-based diversion program, officials said Monday, but the program’s continued use will be reviewed after a national news report raised questions about the legality and treatment of people assigned to it. “In light of these revelations, we will reconsider our use of CAAIR,” said Heather Hope-Hernandez, communications director of the Community Service Council of Tulsa, which administers the county’s drug court program [Tulsa World]. Read the investigation [Reveal].

Little support for ending capital gains exemption: Although conservatives often promote discontinuing tax breaks to close the budget hole, one recently recommended removal isn’t seeing much support. A state-contracted analyst recommended gutting the deduction for capital gains. The program allows residents and corporations to deduct any gains they earn after selling Oklahoma-based stocks or real estate. Philadelphia-based PFM Consulting Group LLC released the report on Sept. 29, stating the state had lost about $474 million in potential revenue from 2010-14 for an incentive that had raised $9 million in state revenue [Journal Record]. Oklahoma’s capital gains tax break is a windfall for the wealthiest with no proven benefit for the economy [OK Policy].

Governor: Allocations Cut To 3 State Agencies, Blames Legislature: Governor Mary Fallin says three state agencies will see a reduction in allocations starting Tuesday because the legislature still haven’t reached a budget agreement. She called state lawmakers back in session last month to fix a $215-million budget shortfall. Fallin says the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, Department of Human Services and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse will all get a reduction in monthly allocations starting Tuesday [News On 6].

SB 10 would force administrative cuts at all state agencies: As Republicans look for efficiency in government spending to close the budget hole, one lawmaker pitched across-the-board administrative cuts before the budget process even started. State Sen. Paul Scott, R-Duncan, introduced a bill that would slash all agency administrative costs by 25 percent. It includes an emergency clause, which means the bill would go into effect immediately after Gov. Mary Fallin’s approval. Senate Bill 10 doesn’t designate where the money would go [Journal Record].

OCPA’s references to Reagan ignore today’s realities: Recently, former Gov. Frank Keating, former Sen. Tom Coburn and former Oklahoma Secretary of Commerce Larry Parman penned a letter for the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA). The letter asks the Oklahoma Legislature to continue withstanding any revenue increases after a series of tax cuts for wealthy companies and individuals have devastated Oklahoma’s ability to deliver basic services like education. The OCPA and the trio politicos try to support their viewpoint with nostalgic quotes from former President Ronald Reagan [Fmr. Gov. David Walters and Rep. Collin Walke / NonDoc].

Occupational licensing is a growing barrier to Oklahomans who seek a decent job: Let’s say you want to change careers. Or maybe you’re a recent graduate thinking about what you’d like to do as you enter the workforce. Like an increasing number of American workers, you might find that stiff requirements to get an occupational license stand in the way. In theory, occupational license requirements come from a desire to protect the public from harm by someone practicing a profession in an incompetent or unsafe manner [OK Policy].

Low pay, lack of respect, despair drive teachers from Oklahoma: Hundreds of Oklahoma teachers are leaving the state, driven away by low pay, lack of respect and despair. University of Oklahoma Associate Education Professor Theresa Cullen says more than 250 former Oklahoma teachers she has contacted online have told her that they are making much more — $19,000 more on average — when they leave, and they are happier. When Tulsa World reporter Sam Hardiman reported on Cullen’s work, former Oklahoma teachers chimed in that it’s not just about money [Editorial Board / Tulsa World]. Oklahoma’s teacher shortage is not just about salaries [OK Policy].

Oklahoma standardized testing to continue under same vendor, with $46.9 million price tag over six years: Oklahoma will continue its annual testing of public school students with the same vendor. On Monday, it was announced that the Oklahoma State Department of Education has awarded Measured Progress a potential six-year contract for its testing program. According to state education officials, the amount awarded for 2017-18 is nearly $7.7 million, with the potential six-year total value of the contract at $46.9 million [Tulsa World].

OK County’s justice reform efforts worth emulating: In an op-ed Sunday in The Oklahoman, Thunder chairman Clay Bennett wrote about the important criminal justice reform being undertaken in Oklahoma County. A few lines were particularly noteworthy. “It’s clear that by using evidence-based decision making and cooperating around a set of defined goals, we can be smarter as a community about how we address those in our criminal justice system,” Bennett wrote. “We cannot cling to the false notion that incarceration is the only or best way to deal with crime.” [Editorial Board / NewsOK]

Enid philanthropists getting behind addiction treatment center: Integris announced last week plans to begin construction of a new addiction and mental illness treatment center in Edmond, funded in part by the donations and efforts of Enid philanthropists. The $46 million Integris Arcadia Trails Center for Addiction Recovery is planned to be funded by a $35 million fundraising campaign, with a projected opening date in early 2019. More than 150 statewide donors already have committed to the cause, securing $23.1 million from supporters in Enid, Ardmore, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Ada, Miami, Durant and Duncan, according to an Integris press release [Enid News]. Here’s what works to stop crime (hint: it’s not incarceration) [OK Policy].

McClain County to Pay $750K in Inmate Death Lawsuit: A settlement has been reached in a federal lawsuit over the 2013 death of a diabetic man who was denied medical treatment at a county jail in Oklahoma, according to court records. McClain County commissioners will pay $750,000 to the estate of Kory Wilson, according to probate records filed last month. Wilson was arrested at Newcastle Casino for allegedly having a gun on June 16, 2013. According to court documents, he told jailers he was diabetic but didn’t receive medical care until three days later, when he was found unresponsive in his cell. The 27-year-old never regained consciousness and died days later at a hospital [Associated Press].

Oklahoma senators ask ATF to look into “bump stocks”: Oklahoma senators are joining the calls from Washington to review “bump stock” legislation in wake of the deadly Las Vegas shooting. Senators James Lankford and Jim Inhofe joined seven others urging the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to look into legislation surrounding the legality of the devices [Fox 25].

Oklahoma Capitol’s new marble flooring draws ire of Marble City locals: Locals in Marble City, a small community near the Arkansas border, are upset with the state’s decision to restore the Oklahoma Capitol using marble from a Chinese vendor. The state, however, said it followed its own law by picking the lowest-cost bid that met the project’s specifications. “It’s the Oklahoma state Capitol, so I feel like it should have marble from the state of Oklahoma and not another country,” said Marble City Mayor Tamara Hibbard [NewsOK].

Quote of the Day

“There is no question we’re going through some difficult times, so instead of holding onto my pledge, I will take a step back and see what’s best for the great state of Oklahoma. Oklahoma comes first instead of my pledge.”

– Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, saying he would consider voting for certain tax increases despite signing a pledge not to raise taxes (Source)

Number of the Day


Oklahoma’s uninsured rate in 2016, third highest in the U.S. below only Texas and Alaska.

Source: U.S. Census

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Michigan Gambled on Charter Schools. Its Children Lost: Toss a dart at a map of Detroit, and the bull’s-eye, more or less, would be a tiny city called Highland Park. Only three square miles, Highland Park is surrounded by Detroit on nearly all sides, but it remains its own sovereign municipality thanks largely to Henry Ford, who started building Model Ts there in 1910. Ford didn’t care for the idea of paying Detroit taxes, so he pressured Highland Park to resist annexation by the larger city [New York Times].

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Ryan Gentzler worked at OK Policy from January 2016 until November 2022. He last served as the organization's Reserach Director and oversaw Open Justice Oklahoma. He began at OK Policy as an analyst focusing on criminal justice issues, including sentencing, incarceration, court fines and fees, and pretrial detention. Open Justice Oklahoma grew out of Ryan’s groundbreaking analysis of court records, which was used to inform critical policy debates. A native Nebraskan, he holds a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Oklahoma and a BA in Institutions and Policy from William Jewell College. He served as an OK Policy Research Fellow in 2014-2015.

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