In The Know: Budget uncertain as Legislature nears halfway point

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 uncertain as Legislature nears halfway point: Almost halfway through the 2016 legislative session, Oklahoma lawmakers are still not sure how to resolve the most critical issue they face – closing an estimated $1.3 billion hole in the state budget for the coming year. Should they abolish tax credit programs enacted to lure new businesses to the state, or authorize deep cuts to state agencies that would affect public education and public safety? Should they issue bonds for public projects like roads and bridges to free up revenue previously dedicated, or instead raise new revenue or roll back income tax cuts enacted in recent years? [Associated Press].

“Next year’s outlook is even worse,” Oklahoma school district looking ahead at future cuts: While students are enjoying spring break, school districts across the state are feeling the pinch as budget cuts begin to take effect. The state budget crisis deepened when officials announced another 4 percent cut to agencies across the board. Public schools alone will have nearly $110 million cut from their budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30 [KFOR].

Oklahoma educators fighting over proposed bill that would give school districts more power: Oklahoma educators are fighting over a controversial Senate bill making its way through the Capitol. Senate Bill 1187, sponsored by Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, promises to give more power to local school districts from being micro-managed by the state. But educators, like teacher Steve Wedel, call it a horrible piece of legislation.El Reno Public Schools Superintendent Craig McVay said he’s been pushing for this bill for about six years, but he said there was some language in the bill that he is concerned about [KOCO].

Oklahoma school district to end school year early; district says move will save $100,000: Students of Bixby public schools are getting to start their summer a little early this year. The district has announced the school year will end one week before school normally lets out. The last day of school for the district will me May 12th. Officials say the move is possible because the district has six unused snow days. The Associated Press reports that the move will save the school about $100,00 [KJRH].

Leading academic says Oklahoma Department of Education’s Academic standards ‘are not worth following’: Coming in the wake of a years-long statewide debate about state vs. national control of educational curricula, House Bill 3399, enacted two years ago, laid out several policy objectives. The measure included explicit rejection of the controversial “Common Core” curriculum, and stressed a goal for the state Department of Education to develop Oklahoma Standards – top-drawer and achievable benchmarks reflecting in-state objectives, tied to the best non-Common-Core ideals for the Math and Language Arts areas [CapitolBeatOK].

School vouchers don’t solve problems, they create them: Enough is enough. The Oklahoma Legislature should immediately drop the silly notion of vouchers and turn their attention to serious matters facing our state. An earlier 3 percent cut was devastating; the additional 4 percent cut recently announced is almost intolerable. Despite predictions otherwise, the voucher program will further devastate school budgets. It will withdraw dollars and send them to private schools and other private education entities. It’s disingenuous to pretend schools will be held harmless or even enjoy a financial boost because of vouchers [Keith Ballard / Tulsa World].

Is this the year Oklahoma takes action to stop losing millions in unpaid online sales taxes?: Among her proposals to address the state’s enormous budget hole in last month’s State of the State address, Governor Mary Fallin called for “sales tax modernization.” Modernization could have several components, including broadening the sales tax to cover more services (which we discussed here), eliminating sales tax exemptions, applying the sales tax to items delivered electronically, and improving sales tax auditing. All these could be valuable reforms, though their political likelihood varies greatly. One reform that may have the best chance for legislative action on the sales tax this session is a renewed effort to collect sales tax on online sales [OK Policy].

Autism coverage is needed and affordable, but it won’t happen without a legislative mandate: The state House has passed legislation requiring health insurance companies to offer minimum coverage for children diagnosed with autism. Under House Bill 2962, insurers would be required to cover children up to 9 years old for up to $25,000 a year in autism treatment. The mandate would also apply for at least six years for children who are diagnosed after age 3. One in 68 children is affected by autism, and its treatment can be financially devastating for parents. Insurance companies won’t offer the coverage unless it is mandated, but the experience of other states shows that it will have only a modest impact on the cost of health insurance: about 50 cents per month per policyholder [Tulsa World Editorial Board].

Sunshine Week: Legislative leaders refuse to release calendars, emails: The clear purpose of Oklahoma’s Open Records Act is to ensure residents can review government records to help them exercise their “inherent political power.” But when it comes to the Oklahoma Legislature — not so much. Three of the state’s top four legislative leaders — Speaker of the House Jeff Hickman, Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman and Senate Minority Leader John Sparks — all refused to disclose their weekly schedules and emails requested by The Associated Press [Associated Press].

Unleashing problems: Nonprofit leader worries about fundraising bill: The leader of a nonprofit advocacy group said a bill that targets the Humane Society of the United States could create a chilling effect and unintended consequences. House Bill 2250 doesn’t specifically mention the national nonprofit organization, but affects how animal rights charities can spend money donated by Oklahomans. Marnie Taylor, president and CEO of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits, said she’s worried that the bill’s language could be used more broadly in the future [Journal Record].

Citizens Group Wants Oklahoma Finance Secretary Ousted For Voucher Stance, Past Legal Troubles: A grassroots organization that pushed for an investigation into the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office is now calling on Gov. Mary Fallin to replace Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger. We The People Oklahoma wants Doerflinger to step down because of ongoing state budget issues, and what they call “divisive” statements against other public officials. Doerflinger made the comments last week on an Oklahoma City talk radio program after legislative leaders announced a deal to pull just over $78 million from Oklahoma’s constitutional Rainy Day Fund for the Department of Education and the Department of Corrections [KGOU].

A good start for modest criminal justice bills in Oklahoma: Modest efforts designed to, among other things, slow the growth of Oklahoma’s inmate population have made it through the state House of Representatives without a hitch. Here’s hoping the same thing happens in the Senate. It should. Five bills approved last week don’t turn the state’s criminal justice system upside-down. On the contrary, they’re all fairly narrow in scope, and sensible, which helps explain why each one received broad support from House members [Oklahoman Editorial Board].

Denied Federal Flood Help, Oklahoma Governor Appeals: Gov. Mary Fallin is appealing the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s denial of individual assistance for residents and businesses in nine eastern Oklahoma counties hit by a winter storm. The storm began Dec. 26 and brought ice, sleet and flooding to the region. Fallin says 122 homes were destroyed and 118 more were damaged. FEMA approved public assistance for 41 counties in Oklahoma in addition to individual assistance in neighboring Missouri and Arkansas while denying individual assistance in Adair, Cherokee, Delaware, Mayes, McCurtain, Muskogee, Ottawa, Pushmataha and Sequoyah counties [Insurance Journal].

These are the only U.S. states that are losing jobs: Only six U.S. states lost jobs from January 2015 to January 2016. The common thread? They are all large energy producers. North Dakota was the biggest job loser: Employment fell by seasonally adjusted 21,000, or 4.5%, to 455,000. Yet despite the sharp decline in jobs, North Dakota was still tied for the lowest unemployment rate in the U.S. at the start of 2016. Unemployment in North Dakota and nearby South Dakota registered 2.8% in January, new Labor Department figures show [MarketWatch].

Quote of the Day

“Our overall impression is that extensive rewriting is required for these standards to effectively guide classroom instruction, provide a suitable foundation for assessment, and to adequately support students’ preparation for post-secondary work (“college readiness”). We feel that they are inferior in several ways to the standards of the best states.”

-Dr. Lawrence Gray of the University of Minnesota, evaluating Oklahoma’s new math standards (Source)

Number of the Day


Percentage of days ozone was within federal standards in Oklahoma in 2014

Source: OK State Stats

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

6 proven policies for reducing crime and violence without gun control: America’s debate over gun violence now follows a very familiar routine: One side calls for gun control measures to reduce access to firearms and violence. Another side says no, that would violate the Second Amendment. Maybe some legislation gets proposed. But in the end, little or nothing seems to happen. So what else can America do to reduce gun violence and crime more broadly? I reached out to criminologists and researchers across the country about this issue [Vox].

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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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