In The Know: Bond questions hang up Oklahoma state budget agreement

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.

Today In The News

Bond questions hang up Oklahoma state budget agreement: A difference of opinion on how to fund road construction is one of the things holding up agreement on a new state budget as the legislative session winds to a close. Lawmakers are required to finish their work by May 27. Gov. Mary Fallin and Oklahoma House leaders want to use bond financing extensively to free up money needed for other state priorities like public education and Medicaid in a year in which the state is facing a $1.3 billion budget hole. The Senate favors using bond financing in a more limited manner. [NewsOK] The #DoSomethingOK campaign has resources to advocate for a better solution to Oklahoma’s massive budget shortfall [Together Oklahoma].

Letter grades highlight income gap in Oklahoma school performance: Oklahoma’s letter grade system for ranking the academic performance of public schools is also an effective way for measuring school poverty. Designed as a method to evaluate school success, the five-year-old system also highlights the income gap that exists in the state’s schools. After combining the poverty rate — based on federal free and reduced lunch standards — and the letter grade for every public school in the state, The Oklahoman found a stark difference in poverty levels between schools with high grades and low grades. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma City Community College cuts 60 positions, prepares to raise tuition: President Jerry Steward said it’s impossible to forecast how much money the state will appropriate for higher education, but he anticipates OCCC’s share will be about $3 million less than this fiscal year. “We are planning on almost $5.35 million less when you combine the cuts we already experienced this year, with additional anticipated cuts for next year,” Steward said. “That amount is unfortunately going to affect every service, program and individual on this campus.” [NewsOK]

Oklahoma’s budget crisis raises concerns about family service organizations: Jo Lynne Jones, director at Infant Crisis Services Inc., is worried about the sustainability of services the center provides in wake of the current budget woes the state is facing and a downturn in the energy industry. Those services include a BabyMobile that goes out several times a month to various locations across the metro area — including Canadian, Cleveland and Logan counties — delivering diapers, formula and food to children under the age of 4. [NewsOK]

In surprising turnabout, Oklahoma eyes Medicaid expansion: Despite bitter resistance in Oklahoma for years to President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, Republican leaders in this conservative state are now confronting something that alarms them even more: a huge $1.3 billion hole in the budget that threatens to do widespread damage to the state’s health care system. So, in what would be the grandest about-face among rightward leaning states, Oklahoma is now moving toward a plan to expand its Medicaid program to bring in billions of federal dollars from President Obama’s new health care system [Associated Press]. Here’s what we know about Oklahoma’s plan to extend health coverage [OK Policy].

Health advocates: Solution is at hand to save Oklahoma health care: The state is on a collision course toward catastrophe and the health of Oklahomans is at stake. Impending budget reductions threaten to close hospitals and nursing homes, leaving significant numbers of Oklahomans without access to health care. Hospitals remaining open might close labor and delivery units, meaning women may be forced to drive hundreds of miles for care potentially endangering the lives of both mother and child. Entire communities are at risk, but we can avoid this fate by increasing the cigarette tax by $1.50 per pack and investing in the health of Oklahomans. [David Johnson, Ronald Woodson, M.D., and Stephen Cagle, M.D. / NewsOK]

State must adequately fund core services: This year’s Oklahoma state budget shortfall is unprecedented, and it is a problem that is not going away quickly. This requires us to think long-term about our state’s budgeting needs and how we can continue to invest strategically in what will grow our state’s economy. The Tulsa Regional Chamber and our OneVoice coalition partners have argued that core services and growth strategies should be top budget priorities. To begin digging ourselves out of this shortfall, we must strategically target our existing revenue and be bold enough to consider sensible revenue enhancements. [Mike Neal / Tulsa World]

Throughout the state, schools are cutting millions, but the Legislature still hasn’t done what needs to be done: It’s been a difficult week. Let’s review the news: On Monday, the Broken Arrow School Board voted to cut its budget for next year by $7.39 million. The district will eliminate 66 positions, including the jobs of 29 teachers. “It’s maddening and saddening,” said board member Theresa Williamson. That same night, the Union school board cut $5.2 million out of its budget. That’ll cost the jobs of 48 people, including 25 teachers. Class sizes, already too high, will go up, said district Chief Financial Officer Debra Jacoby. [Editorial Board / Tulsa World]

‘The fat is in the fire’: “The fat is in the fire.” I was greeted by this comment from a state agency director as I walked into the Capitol on Thursday morning. I asked him what he was talking about, and his response was “everything.” And it’s true. Some legislators are learning for the first time how large cuts in agency budgets — following years of cuts for most agencies — are going to affect services and programs for people in their own districts. At the same time the leadership is finally trotting out revenue increasing proposals to try to soften, but not eliminate the blow. [OK Policy]

Oklahoma energy leader calling on lawmakers to eliminate all tax credits for oil and gas industry: Mike Cantrell, a leader in the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association and the Energy Resources Board for years, is raising eyebrows with a recent post to Facebook. Cantrell says the oil and gas industry should ‘surrender all tax credits.’ “For 40 years I’ve been a vocal advocate for Oklahoma’s oil and gas industry,” he wrote. “As the state’s largest industry I have always thought that what’s good for oil and gas is good for Oklahoma. Today I depart from that belief.” [KFOR]

New law gives state agency more authority over speed limits across Oklahoma: A new law removes speed limits on many Oklahoma roads, but drivers should not expect wholesale increases in the limits, a state Department of Transportation spokeswoman said. Gov. Mary Fallin signed House Bill 3167 on Monday. It deletes the speed limits for turnpikes, interstates, four-lane divided highways and “super” two-lane highways, which have a designated passing lane and shoulders at least eight feet wide. The law gives ODOT authority to set the speed limits. [Muskogee Phoenix]

D.A. opposes smart justice reform ballot initiative: Oklahoma has one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation, and it is costing the state close to $500 million per year or about $20 per inmate. Seeking a solution that would propel people into recovery and toward a happier more productive life, Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, circulated an initiative petition to change low level drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. District Attorney Greg Mashburn says State Question 780 would end drug court and programs like it in Oklahoma. Prison reform advocate and former speaker of the House, Kris Steele says that is not true. “It enhances drug court in Oklahoma,” Steele said. “It makes more people eligible, and it makes it more affordable.” [Norman Transcript]

Governor signs bill to end Scenic Rivers Commission: An unlikely idea from the longtime executive director of the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission has come to pass. Back in March, Ed Fite suggested to legislators that the best way to save the mission of the organization he has led for 33 years could be to disband and reorganize it under the Grand River Dam Authority. With a stroke of her pen late Wednesday Gov. Mary Fallin marked the final days of the commission by signing into law Senate Bill 1388. [Tulsa World]

Feds direct schools to permit transgender restroom access: Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and the state’s top education official blasted President Barack Obama on Friday for directing public schools to let transgender students use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their identity. The guidance offered in an eight-page letter from leaders at the U.S. departments of Education and Justice says schools are obligated to treat transgender students in a way that matches their gender identity, even if their education records or identity documents indicate a different sex. [NewsOK]

Charter expansion plan goes back before Oklahoma City School Board: Nearly three-fourths of people who attended community meetings on Oklahoma City’s northeast side last month said they either like or can live with charter school expansion. And that pleases KIPP Reach Academy Principal Tracey McDaniel, who wants to add 600 elementary school seats by converting Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School into a charter. Still, McDaniel is concerned that a group of Martin Luther King parents who oppose expansion could derail or delay his proposal, which he will present to the Oklahoma City School Board Monday night [NewsOK].

Poll: Gov. Mary Fallin among least popular governors in U.S.: Gov. Mary Fallin was among the least popular governors in the United States, a recent Morning Consult poll showed. The Morning Consult survey included more than 66,000 voters in all 50 states, taken from January until early May. Almost half of voters polled — 47 percent — disapproved of Fallin, placing her among the 10 least approved governors. [NewsOK]

Quote of the Day

“Last week, the leadership of the Tulsa Regional Chamber paid a visit to the Tulsa World editorial board. The chamber’s top legislative priority: education funding. That’s not just because it’s where we ought to be spending money, although that’s true, they say. It’s also the investment the state has to make to ensure its future prosperity. And yet, with two weeks to go in the regular legislative session and the better part of a $1.3 billion budget hole still looming over everything, we have no answers from the state Capitol on education funding.”

Tulsa World Editorial Board

Number of the Day

1.85 million people

Total state labor force in Oklahoma in 2013.

Source: OKStateStat

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Obamacare Seems to Be Reducing People’s Medical Debt: Even if you lack health insurance, you’ll probably be able to get treatment at a hospital in the event of a catastrophe — if you’re struck by a car, say. But having insurance can mean the difference between financial security and financial ruin. A new study is showing that, by giving health insurance to low-income people, Obamacare seems to have cut down on their debt substantially. It estimates that medical debt held by people newly covered by Medicaid since 2014 has been reduced by about $600 to $1,000 each year. [New York Times]

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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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