In The Know: Budget slashes higher ed, but spares local schools

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 slashes higher ed, but spares local schools: Policymakers, advocates and government watchdogs are giving a Republican spending plan a lukewarm reaction after seeing it for the first time Tuesday. Health care and K-12 education take the least of the brunt of a state budget that slashes nearly everything else, cutting funds for most agencies. Higher education, CareerTech, human services and public safety are among the big losers, advocates and watchdogs said [Enid News]. OK Policy released a statement on the agreement: Lawmakers have not risen to the challenge of a historic budget shortfall. Key lawmakers said the agreement only delays the need for more painful reductions and could create more financial troubles when the Legislature returns next year [Oklahoma Watch].

The budget big picture and little picture: The budget agreement announced today by legislative leaders and the Governor proposes a total of $6.778 billion in state appropriated dollars for FY 2017. This is a decrease of 5.1 percent from the initial FY 2016 budget and of 1.2 percent from the final FY 2016 budget after mid-year budget cuts and supplemental appropriations. Next year’s budget would be 6.3 percent smaller than in FY 2015 and the smallest since FY 2007 [OK Policy]. The budget agreement leaves $243 million in Rainy Day Fund [OK Policy]. Here are seven takeaways from the budget deal [Oklahoma Watch].

Under proposed budget, Oklahoma mental health services will remain limited: Low-income Oklahomans in need of mental health and substance abuse treatment will continue to face barriers to care, a result of the Legislature’s failure to invest in the state mental health system, a mental health leader said Tuesday. Mike Brose, Mental Health Association Oklahoma CEO, said the Legislature recommendation, announced Tuesday, to appropriate only $7 million to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services was not only a disappointment but also a failure in political leadership [NewsOK].

House committee grudgingly advances budget bills: Grumbling and grousing, Oklahoma House of Representatives appropriators agreed Tuesday afternoon to the general appropriations bill for the coming fiscal year as well as several ancillary bills that are part of the budget agreement reached earlier in the day. He and a few others were largely responsible for coming up with the combination of spending cuts and additional revenue needed to balance a budget with $1.3 billion less to appropriate than a year ago [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma governor signs bills to limit tax credits, enhance revenues: Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed 14 bills into law Tuesday, including several designed to limit tax credits or enhance revenues. Among the bills signed by the governor were: Senate Bill 1579, which seeks to generate nearly $54 million by giving the Oklahoma Tax Commission $4.1 million in additional funding to enhance the agency’s efforts to collect sales, use, income and gross production taxes through auditing and use of better technology [NewsOK].

Instead of progress on fines and fees, last-minute legislation would hike them even further: The beginning of this year’s legislative session brought hope that lawmakers would begin to scale back justice system fines and fees that have grown enormously in size and number over the past two decades. Instead, the problem is likely to get worse: two last-minute bills would hike justice system fees significantly, while legislation to reduce fees has been watered down to the point of mere symbolism [OK Policy].

State fiscal crisis hit working poor also: Through past irresponsible fiscal decisions and some bad luck with another severe drop in energy prices (that ought not have been a surprise to legislators who have lived in Oklahoma for any length of time), state leaders are scrambling for ways to find enough money to keep the state running. One target, unfortunately, is the earned income tax credit that helps poor, working Oklahomans make ends meet [Editorial Board / Tulsa World].

The Oklahoma Legislature is sending a proposal to the governor that would establish a new fund to alleviate the impact of future mid-year revenue failures: A bill to establish a new fund to ease the impact of future mid-year revenue failures is heading to the governor. The bill passed the Senate Tuesday on a 42-2 vote and would direct excess oil-and-gas production taxes and corporate income taxes to a new Revenue Stabilization Fund. The fund could be used when mid-year revenues are lower than projected in the state budget [Associated Press].

Oklahoma House committee blocks transgender ‘bathroom bill’: A countermeasure to Obama administration guidance on transgender accommodations in public schools suffered what could be a death blow late Tuesday when it failed a committee test in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. On a 10-10 vote, the House Joint Appropriations and Budget Committee declined to advance Senate 1619 to the full House. Under normal rules, the bill would have had to get out of the committee Tuesday to reach the House floor by Friday’s mandatory adjournment [Tulsa World].

State House approves reducing required testing: With less than one week to go in the legislative session, members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill Monday that eliminates the controversial high school end-of-instruction tests and reduces the amount of required exams in third- through eighth-grades. House Bill 3218, authored by Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, passed with a vote of 95-1. The lone dissenting vote was cast by Rep. Jerry McPeak, D-Warner, who is term limited after this legislative session [Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise].

Gist gets $25,000 performance bonus, immediately donates it back amid historic budget shortfall: The Tulsa school board awarded Superintendent Deborah Gist a $25,000 performance bonus called for in her contract on Tuesday evening, but Gist announced that she would be donating it to help support Tulsa teachers. The board met in a special meeting to discuss its assessment of Gist’s first-year job performance [Tulsa World].

Gov. Fallin named co-chair of Republican National Convention Platform Committee: Gov. Mary Fallin’s office has confirmed she has been named co-chairwoman of the Republican National Convention Platform Committee. She joins Sen. John Barrasso, who will serve as chairman of the committee and North Carolina Congresswoman Virginia Foxx as committee co-chair. “It is my privilege to be serving on this Committee,” said Co-Chair Fallin [KOCO].

Oklahoma regulators raise concerns on quake insurance rate hikes: Oklahoma regulators grappling with a massive increase in small earthquakes in the state linked to growing oil and gas production said on Tuesday they were concerned with spiking rates for earthquake insurance coverage and diminishing competition among insurers. At a public hearing on the rate hikes, Oklahoma Insurance Commission officials warned they may begin requiring companies to submit proposed rate hikes for prior Commission approval due to heavy market concentration, a proposal opposed by insurance industry representatives in attendance [Reuters].

Quote of the Day

“We can do this better. If we have a special session, so what.”

-Rep. Richard Morrissette, arguing that the budget agreement announced yesterday should be rejected by lawmakers (Source)

Number of the Day


Average cost per watt of solar power in Oklahoma, 10th highest in the country

Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The Laws that Betrayed Their Makers: Why Mandatory Minimums Still Exist: Congress wrote mandatory minimum laws in the 1980s to send a clear message to drug dealers: if you are caught with a certain amount of drugs, no matter the circumstances, you will go to prison for a long time.2 Two ounces of methamphetamine, for example, means ten years in prison. If it’s your third such crime, that’s life in prison. Normally, choosing a fair sentence is the judge’s job, and no reasonable judge would send 17-year-old Katie to prison for 20 years for agreeing to sell a quarter-gram of her personal heroin supply to a friend [Huffington Post].

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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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