In The Know: Effort to collect more sales tax clears Oklahoma House panel

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

Effort to collect more sales tax clears Oklahoma House panel: A bill intended to capture some of the estimated $150 million annually in unpaid sales and use taxes on mostly Internet purchases made by Oklahomans cleared a House committee on Monday as legislators seek ways to shore up a $1.3 billion hole in next year’s budget. The measure, approved 5-2 by a House Subcommittee on Revenue and Taxation, would require online retailers with more than $1 million in annual sales to notify Oklahoma residents who make purchases that they might owe state taxes [Associated Press]. The proposal is on our list of balanced solutions to the budget crisis [OK Policy].

You only need to worry about the state’s health-care crisis if you think you might someday get sick: The alternatives are obviously unacceptable, so the state finally may be ready to move in the right direction on health-care policy. Faced with a $1.3 billion budget hole, state leaders in recent days have faced the following outrageous scenarios: Cutting 111,000 people, mostly single mothers earning less than $9,500 a year, from the state Medicaid program. Cutting the rates the state pays doctors and other Medicaid providers by 25 percent, a rate so low that virtually no doctor in the state would accept patients and 269 of the state’s 289 nursing homes would be in danger of closing, displacing 16,800 vulnerable seniors [Tulsa World].

Why charter schools get an outsize share of mid-year State Aid funding: Each year in late December, state aid payments to public schools are adjusted based on changes in student enrollment and local tax revenues during the first part of the school year. This December, at a time when all of Oklahoma’s public schools are desperately hurting for funds, a staggering 69 percent of the state aid released at midyear ($17.7 million out of $25.7 million) went to charter schools rather than traditional public schools. Charters received more than two-thirds of this state aid adjustment even though they account for only 2.8 percent of public school enrollment [Shannon Meeks / OK Policy].

School board approves budget cuts plan for Putnam City elementary schools: School budget cuts are forcing Putnam City Schools to move elementary school students to make room for pre-K students. The school board approved a budget cuts plan Monday night which includes redistricting and increasing class sizes. Parents from Kirkland Elementary School attended a school board meeting Monday night to ask the district to leave their students alone and come up with a different plan [KOCO].

In OKC Schools, ‘Intense’ Reforms Proposed for Racial Disparities in Discipline: The Oklahoma City Public Schools district proposes addressing racial disparities in discipline through an “intense process” of reforms, an attorney for the district told the school board Monday evening. The proposal is intended to resolve a 2014 complaint being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights that the school district disciplined minority students more frequently and more harshly. Attorney Brandon Carey, speaking to the school board, said the proposal includes looking at root causes of racial disparities in discipline, revising district policies, practices and procedures, providing training for teachers, staff and school resource officers and offering support to students exhibiting behavior issues, among others [Oklahoma Watch].

Oklahoma House votes to keep secret names of armed school personnel: The identities of school personnel who carry weapons could be kept secret under legislation passed Monday by the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Senate Bill 1036, by Sen. Jason Smalley, R-Stroud, exempts records containing those names from the Oklahoma Open Records and Open Meetings Acts. It is a followup to a bill passed last year allowing schools to arm teachers and other personnel. The provision is intended primarily for small, remote districts with little or no on-site security and limited access to law enforcement [Tulsa World].

Rural areas hit hardest by energy industry downturn: The contraction of the Oklahoma Energy Index continues, and it is Oklahoma’s rural communities that have faced the greatest economic hardship. The Oklahoma Energy Index contracted for the 13th consecutive month in January, leaving activity in the state’s most defining industry 31 percent lower than the year before. The index of oil and natural gas industry activity fell to 166.9 using data collected in January, a 2.9 percent decrease from the previous month’s reading [Edmond Sun].

Control Of State Courts Becomes A Top Political Battleground: Much attention is being paid to the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy, but equally partisan battles are being waged for control of state courts around the nation. In states where voters elect Supreme Court judges, millions of dollars are being spent to reshape the courts for years to come. Judicial watchdogs say spending by national groups overwhelmingly favors judges on the right of the political spectrum, and is mostly aimed at maintaining or improving the courts’ responses to corporate interests while countering state-level spending by labor unions and other interest groups [Associated Press].

“Earth (Quake) Day” Planned at State Capitol by Oil and Gas Protesters: A rally against giving the Oklahoma Corporation Commission the power to enforce rules and regulations over the oil and gas sector is drawing opponents who plan what they call an “809 Rally” later this month at the State Capitol. Sponsored by the Sierra Club, the Oklahoma Conference of Churches and a group called Stop Fracking Payne County, the rally is similar to one held last year as the legislature debated SB 809 before turning it into law. This year’s rally will be held on what the groups call “Earth (Quake) Day on April 12 beginning at 8:09 a.m. and continuing until noon. They call it a gathering to speak out about the right to transparency in government and the need for stewardship [OK Energy Today].

Sheriff’s race, Vision sales-tax questions on Tuesday ballot: Voters will elect a new Tulsa County sheriff on Tuesday and cast ballots on an array of local sales-tax proposals, including the $884.1 million Vision renewal. Tulsa County Election Board Secretary Patty Bryant projects a 45 percent voter turnout, which would mean 148,500 ballots cast. Data on the Election Board’s website indicate that almost 3,400 ballots were cast during the early voting period [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma City-area voters to consider bond issues and tax proposals in elections: Bond issues and tax proposals will be among the highlights of Tuesday’s election. In Shawnee, voters will consider a $32 million bond issue that would fund the construction of a new middle school, renovations at Shawnee High School and other construction projects. If passed, the bond issue would raise property taxes in the district by 3.16 percent. That would mean a resident who paid $1,000 in property taxes this year would pay $1,031.61 next year [NewsOK].

Oklahoma beer, wine sales bill comes down to wire in House: A bill that would allow full-strength beer and wine to be sold in grocery and convenience stores is coming down to the wire in the Oklahoma House. The Oklahoman reports that the Senate-passed measure to put the issue on the November ballot was scheduled to come up in the House Rules Committee last week, but it got pulled from the agenda. The panel is scheduled to meet again Wednesday, just two days before the deadline for such bills to advance. Oklahoma Senate passed the bill with a 28-16 vote. It’s not clear why it hasn’t been taken up in the committee yet, but bitterness between the two chambers has been known to slow down proposals [Associated Press].

Lawmaker calls for investigation into actions of DPS officials: A state lawmaker is accusing those trusted to enforce the laws of our state of violating some of those laws and wasting tax payer dollars. The accusations are that a man employed as a state trooper is serving as a paid lobbyist for the Oklahoma State Trooper Association. It’s an act Representative Mike Christian said is illegal. Christian has sent a letter to the Oklahoma County District Attorney outlining the allegations [KFOR].

Sears says tough decisions ahead: State Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, said Friday the Republican leadership at the State Capitol have been working on the budget since the first day of session in February, but there are some tough decisions the legislature is going to have to make by the end of session in order to fill a $1.3 billion hole. Sears is the chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee. He spoke briefly at the Arvest Friday Forum at the bank’s east side branch in Bartlesville [Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise].

Juvenile affairs agency chief touts shift in focus: Steve Buck, new director of the state Office of Juvenile Affairs, says he is convinced that the state agency he now heads has to start paying more attention to those youths in crisis before they end up behind bars. “We have an opportunity to bend the trajectory for these kids so they can succeed in their communities when they become adults,” Buck said. “We shouldn’t see ourselves as a feeder to the Department of Corrections, or a placeholder for these kids” until they are old enough to be incarcerated in the adult prison system. The agency’s new emphasis is compatible with changes being urged for Oklahoma by the governor and Legislature while the state’s prison system continues to get even bigger [Tulsa World].

Quote of the Day

Every Oklahoman has a stake in this plan. If Medicaid crumbles into unsustainable ashes, the displaced patients will flood into emergency rooms. Hospitals will try to transfer those uncompensated costs to their insured patients. Those hospitals that can’t find a new balance will simply close, undermining the state’s care network. Similar scenarios would play out among doctors, nursing homes and other care providers.

-The Tulsa World Editorial Board, voicing their support for a plan to accept federal funds for expanding health coverage. Read our statement on the plan (Source)

Number of the Day


Percent of Oklahomans who selected a health insurance plan on who were first-time enrollees, the 16th-highest in the US

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Equality in Marriages Grows, and So Does Class Divide: The Don Drapers of the world used to marry their secretaries. Now they marry fellow executives, who could very well earn more than they do. With more marriages of equals, reflecting deep changes in American families and society at large, the country is becoming more segregated by class. “It’s this notion of this growing equality between husbands and wives having this paradoxical effect of growing inequality across households,” said Christine Schwartz, a sociologist who studies the topic at the University of Wisconsin-Madison [New York Times].

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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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