In The Know: The Case for and Against Tapping the State’s Tobacco Fund

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

The Case for and Against Tapping the State’s Tobacco Fund: With another sizable budget shortfall looming, and state agencies pleading for help, some Oklahoma lawmakers are turning hungrily to one of the state’s biggest heaps of public cash. The Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust, valued at $1.1 billion, has become a tempting target for legislators who want to redirect the flow of TSET funds to core state services not directly related to the agency’s mission. At least 10 bills have been filed for the upcoming legislative session that would channel TSET money to, among other things, health care for the poor, mental-health services and a pay raise for teachers [Oklahoma Watch].

Expert: Tax bill has ‘credit negative’ implications for health systems: In December, President Donald Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act into law, effective Jan. 1. Much has been written about how those changes to the Internal Revenue Tax Code will affect businesses, but little has been said about how the tax bill will affect municipal, nonprofit hospitals like those in the Norman Regional Health System [Norman Transcript].

Freshmen lawmakers seek better culture in OK House: During Meloyde Blancett’s three decades in the business world, she never considered herself a partisan person. She still doesn’t, despite representing Oklahoma House District 78 in Tulsa as a Democrat. “I used to call myself a ‘Republicrat’ because I didn’t really have a flavor. It’s more policy related for me,” Blancett said. “I don’t mean to say I’m not loyal to the Democratic Party, I just don’t live and die by that. I just don’t because I think that’s dysfunctional.” [NonDoc]

Accusations ‘hurtful,’ Tourism chief says: Senior officials at the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department began intensively trying to fix the internal culture at the agency after a report detailing widespread employee mistrust in management, Executive Director Dick Dutton said Monday. Dutton and Deputy Director Claudia Conner testified before the Oklahoma House Special Investigation Committee about those concerns [NewsOK].

Indian Nations Have Taken Notice of Oklahoma’s Budget Crisis: A top Cherokee Nation official calls Oklahoma’s last decade of fiscal policy “an abject failure.” Cherokee Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr said tribal governments are picking up the slack where the state makes cuts. “In the last year, billions of dollars in the Indian Nations have been invested in education and health care and housing, investing in communities that, frankly, the rest of the world forgot about. But we’re saving them,” Hoskin said [Public Radio Tulsa].

Report: Oklahoma behind in educational attainment: A new report shows that Oklahoma still lags in higher education attainment compared to the rest of the country. The latest Vital Signs report by the United Way of Central Oklahoma found that nearly 16 percent of Oklahomans earned a bachelor’s degree between 2007 and 2016, which is below the national rate of 18 percent for Americans age 25 and older. The Oklahoman reports that the state also ranked below the national rate for adults who earned associate, graduate and professional degrees [AP].

Medical marijuana passage could burden state agencies: Although the outlook for medical marijuana’s passage remains hazy, state agencies are already gearing up to enforce the laws that could be enacted. Voters will decide whether to legalize medical marijuana in June. Several lawmakers have introduced policy bills that would ensure laws are in place before legalization occurs, and they’re contingent on State Question 788‘s passage. Three state agencies would be affected more than others: the Oklahoma State Department of Health, the Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission and the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics [Journal Record]. How does SQ 788 compare to other states’ medical marijuana laws? [OK Policy]

Religious views could affect adoptions under proposed law: Oklahoma could soon become the next state to allow private adoption agencies to deny applicants based on the organizations’ stated religious beliefs. State Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, introduced a bill that would allow the agencies to write formal religious or moral convictions and make placement decisions based on them. The measure would protect the organizations from civil liability for those refusals [Journal Record].

Police duties, social work mix with Homeless Outreach Team: The Homeless Outreach Team within the Oklahoma City Police Department is tasked to connect the city’s homeless population with agencies and organizations. They have a unique role that not all officers, and most city residents, don’t understand. “When I first came onto this unit, a senior officer said that all I was doing on the team was social work. I asked him what part of police work is not social work,” Sgt. Bobby Prater told Free Press with an easy smile [Oklahoma City Free Press].

Lamb wants to review billions in sales tax exemptions to raise state revenue: Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb says he opposes tax hikes to raise teacher pay and stabilize the budget, but he is willing to consider applying the Oklahoma sales tax to activity that is currently exempt. In speeches and interviews as he campaigns for governor, Lamb has called for modifying or removing some of the $6.7 billion in sales tax exemptions, the largest of which cover goods purchased for resale and goods bought by manufacturers [NewsOK]. Lamb resigned from Gov. Fallin’s cabinet in 2017 after Fallin supported doing away with 164 sales tax exemptions [NewsOK].

Holt projects a generational shift in city leadership in remarks to Kiwanis audience: David Holt says he aspires to be a leader who expands the field of challenges a mayor takes on while looking broadly for ideas on how Oklahoma City’s renaissance ought to move forward. Holt, 38, outlined his vision for the next four years in remarks Monday to the Downtown Oklahoma City Kiwanis Club [NewsOK].

Quote of the Day

“It’s a common theme of the last decade: The Indian Nations are stepping up to invest in our communities and our people, and the state of Oklahoma is pulling the rug out from under us. It’s not right. It’s the opposite direction that we should be going.”

– Cherokee Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin, Jr., commenting on tribes’ contributions to public services as state dollars declined in recent years (Source)

Number of the Day


Number of new handgun licenses approved in Oklahoma in 2017.

Source: Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Massive new data set suggests economic inequality is about to get even worse: The “endless inegalitarian spiral” may be coming for us sooner than we think. In his best-selling 2014 book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” French economist Thomas Piketty warned that if the already rich were able to accumulate wealth faster than economies were able to grow, inequality would skyrocket in the coming decades, potentially destabilizing societies in the process. Wealth, after all, is self-perpetuating [Washington 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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