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

Downgrade in Oklahoma bond rating could impact borrowing costs: Fitch Ratings has downgraded the ratings on several Oklahoma bonds one notch — a move that could increase the state’s borrowing costs on a number of projects. The American Indian Cultural Center in Oklahoma City, the Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture in Tulsa, some higher education construction projects and a new state Health Department lab are among upcoming bond-financed projects likely to be impacted by the downgrade [NewsOK].

Reimbursements to SoonerCare providers to be delayed: Uncertainty in Washington about how the debate on health care will play out impacted budget decisions last month at the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. Providers who rely on SoonerCare reimbursements — the state’s Medicaid program — will see the fallout from those decisions this time next year. That’s because agency officials balanced this year’s budget by pushing three billing and payment cycles into fiscal year 2019, delaying reimbursements to providers. Jo Stainsby, director of public information at OHCA, said two factors led to that decision: The agency’s state-appropriated funds for the year were $35 million less than requested, and there are unknown variables regarding congressional reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program [Muskogee Phoenix].

Oklahoma House panel will discuss medical marijuana policies ahead of statewide vote: The lawmaker holding an interim study on a medical marijuana ballot question said he doesn’t want to debate the merits of the proposed law. State Rep. John Paul Jordan, R-Yukon, said that’s an issue for voters to decide. “This is to make sure that folks know what the consequences are and for us to be able to prepare for them as a state,” said Jordan [NewsOK].

Demonstrators Question Healthcare Bill At Sen. Lankford’s Office: A small demonstration with a big message. A dozen people, concerned about the Republican healthcare bill, went to Senator James Lankford’s Oklahoma City office looking for answers. They left disappointed. Laurie Taylor was born with a pre-existing condition. Cerebral Palsy. She relies on Medicaid, and the proposed plan scares her. “You cannot kill Americans like this. It’s going to be slow. It’s going to be gruesome,” said Taylor [News 9].

Cannabis oil law creates hazy rules for some businesses: Business has been booming as word continues to spread that Lisa Jensen offers a unique product for pets. For more than two months now, Jensen has been selling treats, oils and ointments containing cannabidiol — or oils extracted from the cannabis plant — to provide some relief for Oklahomans’ sick and aging pets. Jensen, who owns Mann’s Best Friend in southwest Oklahoma City, obtains the product from a distributor. She then sells it for between $19.99 and $80 [CNHI].

Prosperity Policy: Where the jobs are: If you ask a person on the street what Oklahoma’s economy is known for, two industries likely to come to mind are oil and gas drilling and agriculture. Yet when we look at the jobs Oklahomans are working in today, those industries play a much smaller role than we might assume. Oklahoma’s agricultural jobs almost vanished in the 1990s, and today the industry is barely more than 1 percent of the state’s GDP. Oil and gas mining still is a sizable portion of the state GDP, and that sector provides a significant segment of Oklahoma’s highest-paying jobs. However, when you look at what the average worker is doing to make a living in Oklahoma, oil and gas jobs aren’t in the top 10 [Gene Perry / Journal Record].

Instant Reactions: Big night for Oklahoma Democrats: Democrats flipped two Republican districts in two special elections Tuesday – Michael Brooks beat Joe Griffin in Senate District 44, while Karen Gaddis beat Tressa Nunley in House District 75. Both seats became vacant this year when Republican lawmakers resigned amid scandal. Republicans have enjoyed several years of election dominance, including last year when they built on their already large majorities in the Legislature [NewsOK].

Vacant Seats Prompt Costly Special Elections: With three special elections underway on Tuesday, Oklahomans are paying for the second, third and fourth time to fill seats left empty by Republican lawmakers, with more than a half dozen more elections on the way. In all, seven seats were vacated this year. Three of those special elections are to replace former Rep. Dan Kirby (R-Tulsa), Sens. Kyle Loveless (R-Oklahoma City) and Ralph Shortey (R-Oklahoma City), who resigned in disgrace [News On 6].

Democrats Snatch 2 Statehouse Seats in Oklahoma Surprise: Oklahoma Democrats, who have taken routine beatings from the GOP over the last decade, unexpectedly snatched two state legislative seats from Republicans in special elections this week. They now hope to carry momentum into grabbing bigger prizes in 2018, including congressional seats. Democratic candidates benefited from voter frustration over state budget problems and recent sex scandals that led GOP incumbents to resign. Both seats had been in Republican hands for years [Associated Press].

Special election wins give Oklahoma Democrats hope: A minor tremor went through political social media Tuesday night after Democrats won two previously Republican legislative seats in off-year special elections in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. Joyous Democrats from Seattle to New York hailed the results as a precursor to a “blue wave” sweeping the nation in 2018, but such excitement over two special elections in Oklahoma may say more about the depths of recent Democrat despair than the true state of political affairs in this state. To be sure, the victories were significant [Randy Krehbiel / Tulsa World]. 

And then there were three: Libertarians on 2018 gubernatorial ballot: Oklahoma’s gubernatorial ballot won’t look like the ones voters have seen for decades. Three parties will appear on it. As national and state officials manage to gridlock over partisan issues, a group of Oklahoma outsiders is working to stand in their schism. The Libertarian Party became officially recognized in March 2016, and in 2018 the party will have two candidates in the gubernatorial race: Chris Powell, who has been working with the party for years, and Joe Exotic [Journal Record].

Oklahoma’s universities struggle with budget cuts: State appropriations for higher education in Oklahoma have dwindled in recent years. A recent study from Illinois State University’s joint Grapevine project shows Oklahoma is now the lowest-ranked in state appropriations following a reduction of 17.8 percent in the past five years. Although the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University are better positioned to cushion themselves from reduced state funding, smaller schools find themselves taking drastic measures to deal with the latest budget realities [Jeff Packham / NonDoc]. After leading the nation in cuts to K-12 education for years, Oklahoma now leads in cuts to higher ed too [OK Policy].

Pilot programs show paying for success reduces special ed need: Business executives should consider promoting infant development as an investment in future workers, said physician and children’s librarian Dr. Dipesh Navsaria. Executives, educators and those in the nonprofit sector gathered Wednesday to address improving schooling for the state’s children. Public-private partnerships encourage effective early childhood education models and reduce government risk for spending money on programs that don’t work, said Philip Peterson, principal of KidSucceed LLC [Journal Record].

Quote of the Day

“The state has been unable to address its fiscal challenges with structural and recurring measures and revenue collections continue to reflect subdued energy prices.”

– From a Fitch credit rating report that downgraded Oklahoma’s bond rating. The change could cost the state millions of dollars in interest over the life of the bonds (Source)

Number of the Day

140%

How much higher the average monthly premium for current benchmark plans would be in Oklahoma in 2020 under the proposed Senate health plan

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The Short, Unhappy Life of a Libertarian Paradise: To fill a $28 million budget hole, Colorado Springs’ political leaders—who until that point might have been described by most voters as fiscal conservatives—proposed tripling property taxes. Nearly two-thirds of voters said no. In response, city officials (some would say almost petulantly) turned off one out of every three street lights. That’s when people started paying attention to a city that seemed to be conducting a real-time experiment in fiscal self-starvation. But that was just the prelude. The city wasn’t content simply to reject a tax increase [Politico].

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