In The Know: DHS announces $45 million in cuts for fiscal year 2017, but shortfall still looms

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

DHS announces $45 million in cuts for fiscal year 2017, but shortfall still looms: The Oklahoma Department of Human Services announced $45 million in budget cuts for fiscal year 2017 on Wednesday. The agency is facing a shortfall of more than $100 million, and officials warn that supplemental funding will be needed early in the next calendar year to avoid “serious consequences.”Of the $45 million in cuts — $72.8 million with the loss of matching federal funding — 66 percent will come from additional personnel and administration reductions, 30 percent from reductions in client services and benefits and 4 percent from contract reductions [Tulsa World].

Polls show Oklahomans support penny sales tax for education, sentencing reform: State questions aimed at increasing education funding and decreasing incarceration rates have strong support headed into the final few months before the November election, according to recent polls. In cooperation with The Oklahoman, SoonerPoll found 62 percent of likely voters support State Question 779, which asks voters to approve a 1-cent sales tax increase for common and higher education, including pay raises for public school teachers [NewsOK].

Oklahoma Teachers Oppose Special Session for Potential Pay Raise: These past few years have been fiscally tough ones for Oklahoma. An oil crisis and a series of miscalculated tax cuts has left the state with little revenue to distribute, and the state’s school system has suffered greatly. Over the last two years, with schools already undergoing a severe teacher shortage crisis, the state’s legislature has cut close to $60 million from its public school system over the last two years [Education Week]. Governor Mary Fallin has met with legislative leaders to discuss the possible special session, but hasn’t made a decision yet [Associated Press]. Don’t forget other Oklahoma government workers [Debbye Bryner / NewsOK].

How are Oklahoma schools coping with 2016-17 budget crisis? Broken Arrow’s football team was left without a special teams coordinator when Tim Holt moved down the road to become Coweta’s head coach in the offseason. Rather than fill the position, coach David Alexander’s staff will absorb those duties this fall, with coaches on both sides of the ball handling different areas. Call it coaching by consolidation [Tulsa World].

Hundreds of Oklahoma City students start school with no air conditioning: The first day of school in the state’s largest district included problems with air conditioning systems in hundreds of classrooms. The Oklahoma City Public School District tells NewsChannel 4 it is working on repairing the A/C in roughly 200 of its 4,000 rooms. The problems affected several schools, including Taft Middle, F.D. Moon Elementary, Linwood Elementary and Jackson Middle School [KFOR].

Oklahoma needs to rethink school suspensions: In June, the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights released a new report on equity and opportunity gaps in public schools. This report shows that nationally, black students are more than twice as likely to be arrested for school-related offenses as white students and nearly four times as likely to be suspended [OK Policy]. Read the full report here.

Undervalued Properties Cost Schools Tens of Millions Per Year: As Oklahoma schools prepare to start classes in coming weeks, they are wrestling with the challenges of having less money – fewer teachers, reduced budgets for school supplies, and cutbacks in arts and music programs. But as Brad Gibson of Oklahoma Watch reports, the pain might be less if the state and counties took steps to collect more education-related taxes that are being lost because of wrongly assessed property values [Oklahoma Watch].

Sales tax holiday is poor policy: This weekend, many Oklahomans will flock to the stores to take advantage of the state’s annual three-day sales tax holiday weekend. Since 2007, shoppers are allowed to buy clothing items under $100 free of state and local sales tax during the first weekend in August. Many retailers report a major boost in business over the weekend that can rival Black Friday. “It will take all of our available staff to handle those three days,” said the President of Drysdale’s Western Wear in a news article last year [OK Policy]. Oklahoma’s tax free weekend in Oklahoma begins Friday [KRMG].

Criminal justice reform supporters challenge ballot title rewrite: Supporters of two criminal justice reform measures are asking the state’s high court to reject the ballot title wording offered by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. Supporters gathered enough signatures to get the two measures on the Nov. 8 ballot. On June 2, the signatures were submitted to the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s Office. As required by law, the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s Office submitted the proposed ballot titles to Pruitt’s office for review [Tulsa World].

‘Treatment trumps incarceration’: State questions for criminal justice reform to be on ballot: When he served in the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 2000 to 2012, Kris Steele noticed the cost of corrections was increasing. But so was crime. For fiscal year 2017, the Legislature appropriated $484.9 million to DOC out of $6.78 billion in appropriated funds. For fiscal year 2010, when Steele was in the Legislature, DOC was appropriated $476.2 million. One year before the appropriation was $500 million [Enid News]. The criminal justice questions are spurring debate over sentencing practices [Editorial Board / NewsOK].

County, Kaiser foundation and others funding study by justice reform organization Vera Institute: Tulsa County, the George Kaiser Family Foundation and what are described as “several stakeholders” from “the nonprofit and foundation community” are ponying up $125,000 for a New York-based consultant to recommend changes to the county’s criminal justice system. Tulsa County’s incarceration rate has more than doubled in the past 25 years, and quadrupled since the mid-1970s [Tulsa World].

State Treasurer’s Report: Oklahoma’s Recession Hits The 1-Year Mark: The state treasurer’s office says the latest gross domestic product report shows a year-long recession in Oklahoma. The state GDP report by the Bureau of Economic Analysis indicates Oklahoma’s economy has contracted for four straight quarters going back to the spring of 2015. “Oklahoma ranked 39th among the state for economic change during the first three months of the calendar year, with GPD down 0.5 percent,” the report says. “It is one of 13 states that experienced negative economic growth during the quarter” [KGOU].

Unnamed on List for Review, Tax Break Will Still Be Reviewed: When a state commission examining business tax breaks voted in June to review 53 incentives over four years, one did not appear by name on the list: a subsidy for big tire manufacturers in Oklahoma. Lyle Roggow, chairman of the Oklahoma Incentive Evaluation Commission, said when the group voted, members weren’t familiar with the little-known incentive, which is costing the state nearly $89 million over 13 years [Oklahoma Watch].

Millions to flow to alternative Oklahoma transportation projects: Oklahoma’s transportation system, now dominated by the automobile, will become a little friendlier and safer for pedestrians and bicyclists under a $33.5 million program unveiled Monday. The state Transportation Commission approved funding for 45 projects, including one for a paved trail linking two parks along Arcadia Lake in Edmond [NewsOK].

Oklahoma transportation officials review new funding options: Oklahoma transportation officials are reviewing new revenue options to help support road and bridge repair. Department of Transportation executive director Mike Patterson said Monday that Oklahoma should consider methods besides appropriations and the state income tax to support infrastructure repairs. Patterson says the state should look at the way other states direct money to transportation efforts [Associated Press].

Libertarians in Oklahoma have 15 candidates on Nov. 8 ballot: Amid the noise of state and national elections, the Libertarian Party is having a banner year. It became an officially recognized party March 21, allowing members and political candidates to register as Libertarians for the first time in 16 years. Now, all eyes from the party are pointing to the general election when 15 Libertarian candidates will participate in legislative and congressional races across the state [NewsOK].

SQ 779 and the limits of direct democracy: The Oklahoma Supreme Court this past week ruled against OCPA Impact, the group that had challenged State Question 779, the penny sales tax for education, in an attempt to keep it off the general election ballot in November. The court ruled that the challenge was untimely because it challenged the “gist” of the question—the language that appears on the ballot—and the challenge should have been made before the initiative petition was circulated [OK Policy].

More than $1 million raised in support of Oklahoma SQ 777: Campaign filings show the Oklahoma Pork Council is a major supporter of a state question that would make it harder to pass new laws to regulate agriculture in the state, and the Humane Society of the United States is the single largest donor opposing the measure. The political action committee Oklahoma Farmers Care SQ 777 has raised more than $1 million to support the state question this year, including $586,726 in the second quarter of the year, according to Oklahoma Ethics Commission documents [NewsOK].

Backlash in Kansas ousts at least 11 conservative lawmakers: A top Senate leader and at least 10 other conservative Kansas legislators have lost their seats as moderate Republicans made GOP primary races a referendum on education funding and the state’s persistent budget woes. Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce was among the lawmakers ousted amid a backlash against Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and his allies [Associated Press].

Quote of the Day

“That may surprise some people, but it shouldn’t because we have seen in polling for some time that people want teachers to make more money, so it’s not too surprising that (SQ 779) has support. I think people see this as a need that has gone long overlooked by the Legislature, and I think this state question is basically the people saying ‘If you aren’t going to do something about it, we will.’ ”

-SoonerPoll CEO Bill Shapard, on polling that shows 62 percent of voters support the ballot question that would create a penny sales tax for education (Source). Read our statement on the proposal here.

Number of the Day


Percent of Oklahoma adults in 2014 who were eligible for voter registration who were registered, 43rd in the US

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Confronting the Parasite Economy: There are two types of businesses in America today: those that pay their workers a living wage—the real economy—and those that don’t—the parasite economy. And all of us who live and work in the real economy should be royally pissed at the way the parasite economy is sucking us dry [American Prospect].

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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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