In The Know: Budget Gap Narrows, Smaller Cuts on Horizon

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

Budget Gap Narrows, Smaller Cuts on Horizon: After weeks of dire warnings about Oklahoma’s budget situation, legislative leaders say they’re hopeful that a package of bills moving through the Legislature over the next few days will avert draconian cuts to education, health and other core programs. But as work continues to bridge the state’s $1.3 billion budget gap for the 2017 fiscal year that begins July 1, it appears many services will not be fully shielded from cost-cutting moves [Oklahoma Watch].

Medicaid rate-cut decision on hold: The Oklahoma Health Care Authority delayed voting on a Medicaid provider rate decrease until after lawmakers introduce a budget. The OHCA board had planned to vote on a large rate cut Monday, but CEO Nico Gomez said the lack of a legislative appropriation influenced his decision to wait. The board could have cut provider rates as much as 25 percent starting June 1, which would have taken more than half a billion dollars out of Oklahoma’s Medicaid program, called SoonerCare. Doctors and hospitals have said cutting reimbursement rates that much would drive physicians out of the Medicaid business [Journal Record].

House votes to end ‘culture of overtesting’ in Oklahoma’s public schools: Legislation state Superintendent Joy Hofmeister says is necessary to end “a culture of overtesting” for Oklahoma’s public schools passed the House of Representatives 95-1 on Monday. House Bill 3218, by Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, would eliminate the state’s existing end-of-instruction tests for high school students and would reduce testing in the lower grades. Under HB 3218, high school students would be given a single comprehensive assessment covering the state’s academic standards and a college readiness exam such as the ACT or SAT in the spring of their sophomore years [Tulsa World].

Medicaid expansion plan likely dead: A bill to expand Medicaid eligibility in Oklahoma so that the state could tap into an infusion of federal funding available under the Affordable Care Act appears to be dead, the state’s Senate leader said on Monday. With just one week remaining before lawmakers are set to adjourn, Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said there isn’t enough support in the Republican-controlled Senate to approve the plan. A proposed $1.50-per-pack tax increase on cigarettes to help pay for the state’s share was defeated in the Oklahoma House of Representatives last week, and Bingman said that proposal is also likely dead for the year [Associated Press].

Oklahoma Legislature has unfinished business in final week: State lawmakers entered the final week of the 2016 Oklahoma Legislature on Monday with a catalog of unfinished business. That includes measures to allow Oklahomans to openly carry guns without a license or background checks, a ballot measure to expand beer and wine sales, a proposal to raise teacher salaries, a $125 million bond issue to help repair Oklahoma’s nearly 100-year-old Capitol, and a possible attempt to override Gov. Mary Fallin’s veto of a bill that would essentially ban abortion in the state [Associated Press].

What happened with the tax increase on cigarettes? It turned out to be a non-starter. Talk of a cigarette tax increase began early in the session with a bill by Rep. Doug Cox (R-Grove) to nearly double it with an increase of $1 per pack from the current rate of $1.03. Our cigarette tax ranks 34th among the states. Rep. Cox’s bill dedicated the increased revenue to elementary and secondary schools which reflected what looked like the main budget priority when the legislative session began [OK Policy].

Boren, higher education face payback attack from legislators: It was predictable. When University of Oklahoma President David Boren stepped up to lead an effort to fund education properly because the Legislature hadn’t, there would be payback. But the angry tenor of some of the efforts to get Boren in the state Capitol recently — and the willingness to further undercut the state’s higher education system in the process — is, frankly, surprising [Wayne Greene / Tulsa World].

The Oklahoma legislature and the damage done: It’s the last week of the regular session of the Oklahoma legislators. Lawmakers must reveal a budget some time this week, and, as usual, it will be released without much time to review it and will be passed because there isn’t time to openly legislate something better. It’s government as usual in Oklahoma City. The unusual thing this year is it doesn’t matter. The damage to state’s education, economy and reputation has already been done [Editorial Board / Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise].

Bill to help fund courts defeated in Oklahoma House: The Oklahoma House of Representatives on Monday voted down a bill that would have authorized court clerks to assess a 15 percent administrative fee on all court fees that benefit agencies other than courts so that the money could be used to bolster court operations. House Bill 3220 failed by a vote of 44-48, but could be brought up for reconsideration during the next three days [NewsOK].

At Oklahoma City rally, Jesse Jackson calls for protests against cuts in services: During an Oklahoma City visit Sunday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson called for “a day for massive action” in response to proposed cuts to state services such as education, mental health programs and Medicaid. The civil rights leader spoke with a number of groups at the law firm of David Slane and Associates during the afternoon and later addressed a gathering on the law firm’s lawn [NewsOK].

Chambers urge Oklahoma lawmakers to kill transgender bill: Chambers of commerce in Oklahoma’s two largest cities are urging state lawmakers to kill a bill that could require school districts to provide separate restrooms for students who object to sharing restrooms with transgender students. In a letter to lawmakers Monday, the presidents of both the Tulsa Regional Chamber and Greater Oklahoma City Chamber warned of “severe economic damage” that could result from the measure [Associated Press].

Oklahoma House rejects efforts to reduce qualifications for Corrections director post: The state House of Representatives on Monday rejected a bill that would have cleared the way for Corrections Department interim Director Joe Allbaugh to be appointed as the agency’s permanent director by eliminating current professional requirements that Allbaugh doesn’t meet. Senate Bill 1602 was defeated in the House by a vote of 44-48, but could be brought up for reconsideration during the next three days [NewsOK].

Bill Addressing Court’s Sodomy Ruling Clears Oklahoma Senate: A bill designed to fix a loophole in Oklahoma’s forcible sodomy law has received final legislative approval. The Senate voted 39-5 on Monday to approve the bill that was introduced after criminal charges were dropped against a 17-year-old boy accused of forcing a heavily intoxicated girl to perform oral sex. The bill now heads to the governor’s desk. Oklahoma’s highest criminal court upheld the dismissal of charges, saying in a unanimous ruling earlier this year that while Oklahoma’s rape law addresses unconscious or intoxicated victims, the forcible sodomy law does not [Associated Press].

Beer, wine bill passes Oklahoma Senate: A measure to give voters a chance to permit the sale of wine and strong beer in supermarkets and convenience stores was approved Monday by the Oklahoma Senate and sent to the House for final passage. Companion legislation for implementing specifics of the proposal is pending. Senate Joint Resolution 68 would also allow liquor stores to refrigerate beer and would allow these stores to sell some non-alcohol items [NewsOK].

Quote of the Day

“Our state lawmakers will announce a budget this week. It will cut aid to Oklahoma’s poor and needy. It will cut the revenue available to most state agencies. Key lawmakers say it won’t hurt education as badly as some predicted. Unfortunately, the damage has already been done.”

-The Editorial Board of the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise, on the widespread cuts announced in school districts across the state in anticipation of falling state aid (Source)

Number of the Day


Percentage of Oklahomans ages 16-24 who are not in school and not working

Source: Opportunity Index

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Balanced Budget Amendment Proposal Is Extreme by International Standards: Congressional Republicans are promoting a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget every year — regardless of the state of the economy — unless supermajorities of both houses override that requirement. The proposal risks causing severe economic damage, because, as explained below, the inability to run deficits during downturns would make recessions more severe. Proponents argue that other countries have benefited from adopting “fiscal rules” that guide and limit their fiscal policies. But no other country has — or is seriously considering — a constitutional rule requiring a balanced budget in every year [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities].

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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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