In The Know: Fallin approves most of state budget bill

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

Fallin approves most of state budget bill: Gov. Mary Fallin on Friday signed the fiscal year 2017 budget bill to fund state government. Fallin vetoed a portion of the bill that required the Office of Management and Enterprise Services to pay $473,283 for volunteer fire department workers compensation premiums for fiscal year 2017. “Volunteer firefighter coverage will not be affected by this line item veto and volunteer firefighters will retain the same workers’ compensation coverage currently provided,” Fallin stated in her line-item veto message [Tulsa World]. Adjusted for inflation, the FY 2017 budget has fallen $1.21 billion, or 15.2 percent, below FY 2009 [OK Policy].

State Board Of Education Approves Nearly $39M In Cuts To Public School Activities Fund: Even with a promise from state lawmakers that funding for schools will remain flat, the State Board Of Education met Friday in a special meeting to make budget cuts of its own. And those cuts run deep. The Oklahoma State Board of Education approved $38.2 million in mandated cuts to a line item called Support of Public School Activities [News9].

Is It a Crime to Be Poor?: In the 1830s, the civilized world began to close debtors’ prisons, recognizing them as barbaric and also silly: The one way to ensure that citizens cannot repay debts is to lock them up. In the 21st century, the United States has reinstated a broad system of debtors’ prisons, in effect making it a crime to be poor. If you don’t believe me, come with me to the county jail in Tulsa. On the day I visited, 23 people were incarcerated for failure to pay government fines and fees, including one woman imprisoned because she couldn’t pay a fine for lacking a license plate [New York Times].

Will Out-of-State Residents Avoid Okla. Because of Seizure of Prepaid Cards?: A few signs emerged this week that some out-of-state residents could suspend their travel to Oklahoma because of law enforcement agencies’ use of a device that seizes funds loaded on to prepaid debit cards. n a June 9 letter to Sen. Kyle Loveless, R-Oklahoma City, Derek Goldberg, principal with Florida-based Peak Power & Mfg., Inc., said his company and its affiliated companies had banned employees from traveling to Oklahoma. Employees of Peak Power & Mfg., which designs, builds and installs automated manufacturing equipment, often travel across the country and carry personal and business banking cards [Oklahoma Watch].

Time to reform broken criminal justice system — in Oklahoma and as a nation: The impact of mass incarceration is far-reaching and continues to devastate families and communities across our nation. Since 1980, the federal prison population has grown from roughly 24,000 to 214,000 inmates. The U.S. now holds the largest prison population in the world. As the incarcerated population is growing rapidly, prison costs are skyrocketing and hard-working Americans are left to finance it. Behind these statistics are real people. While these individuals should be held accountable for their actions, many are low-level offenders whose sentences do more harm than good through exposure to anti-social environments and failure to address root causes of behavior [Kris Steele / Tulsa World].

Heartland Flyer could fall victim to state budget cuts: The Heartland Flyer could be derailed if lawmakers decide the passenger rail system has to fall victim to budget cuts. The train boards every morning at 8:25 in downtown Oklahoma City and makes stops in Norman, Purcell, Pauls Valley, Ardmore and Gainesville before ending up in Fort Worth. It then makes the return trip in the evening. Department of Transportation officials are concerned this could be eliminated as part of the state’s budget cuts [KFOR].

Reduction in funding for Oklahoma network “cuts right through the bone”: Oklahoma’s OETA is preparing for a 16.3 percent cut in state funding that lawmakers imposed in a budget bill approved last week. OETA’s state subsidies have dropped sharply over several budget legislative cycles. Its fiscal 2016 appropriation of nearly $3.4 million was the lowest amount provided to any state-supported public television network in the country. With the cut to $2.8 million, OETA’s state funding will have dropped 45 percent in eight years [Current].

Oklahoma legislature cuts job creators OCAST and Commerce: Another legislative session has come and gone. A session that began with a great challenge in the form of an historic $1.3 billion budget “hole” and a bold vision from Governor Fallin for how to close that hole while moving the state forward on several fronts, has ended in a lot of disappointment. Once again, the Legislature avoided bringing significant new revenues to bear and, instead, opted for the usual path of one-time bond issues and cash transfers, nominal tax credit reforms, and eviscerating cuts to most of state government [Scott Meacham / Norman Transcript].

Education tax inspired university budget cuts: A controversial plan to hike sales taxes in order to increase money for schools ended up costing colleges and universities $153 million in the upcoming state budget, lawmakers said. Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, said a 16 percent budget cut to higher education is “direct retribution” against former governor and current University of Oklahoma President David Boren, who is the champion of the plan to increase the sales tax by a penny on the dollar. “It’s no secret at the Capitol,” said Morrissette. “It was clearly retribution. It’s very, very sad and very unfortunate. It was an easy target, and (there is) nobody to stop them.” [Norman Transcript]

Oklahoma legislature a dysfunctional mess: A couple of news events in the past week show us just how badly broken the Oklahoma state Legislature is. The first event was documented in a news story by CNHI statehouse reporter Janelle Stecklein. Stecklein reported that a proposed sales tax hike led by University of Oklahoma President David Boren — designed to raise money for the state’s schools — prompted “direct retribution” from legislators to the higher education budget. Legislators, presumably miffed that Boren’s group would do what the Legislature has failed to do, ie. try to properly fund education through a spike in the sales tax, exacted revenge by cutting the budget to the state’s colleges by $153 million [Glenn Puit / McAlester News-Capital].

Things need to change, but the change just launched: Session has been over for a week, but a week is not enough. It takes a while for legislators, legislative staff, the executive branch and probably the public to decompress from the questions, debates, challenges and proposals considered in a session like the 2016 edition of the Oklahoma legislature. The highs and lows that occur from one day to the next during a legislative session are not unlike a 7-game basketball playoff series. The pace is rapid, and the results are suddenly final [OK Policy].

New head of state tobacco trust to earn $250K: A state agency that manages tobacco settlement money has created a $250,000-a-year job and offered it to someone whose name was not disclosed. By comparison, the governor of Oklahoma makes $147,000 per year. Some have questioned the high salary for the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust’s new chief executive officer, a position created at a time when many state departments are facing severe budget cuts [NewsOK].

Tim Gilpin: Want to make Oklahoma great again? Vote for a teacher: What will make Oklahoma great again, or at least better? Answer — teachers. The last several years we’ve endured drastic cuts to education, public safety and health care programs. Cuts that are short-sighted and destructive to our present and future. This occurred while teachers were largely absent as a political force in Oklahoma. But, in the late 1980s educators were leaders in our state’s politics and we were better off for it [Tim Gilpin / Tulsa World].

Libertarians look to first appearance on Oklahoma ballot in 16 years: The last time there was a Libertarian Party primary election in Oklahoma was 2000, when three Libertarians ran for corporation commissioner. In that race, none of the three reached the threshold to win the nomination without a runoff. But the second-place finisher dropped out to save Oklahoma the expense of what would have been the only statewide runoff election. That year was also the last in which the Libertarian Party appeared on Oklahoma’s ballots. After a change in state law, some outside financial help and an all-out effort to gather signatures, the Libertarian Party is back [NewsOK].

Lankford misstates federal employment level: In a speech Friday morning speech to the Faith and Freedom Coalition here, Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, said this: “You know what? We have 4.1 million federal employees right now — the highest number of federal employees in the history of the government. “Our federal budget is over $4 trillion — the highest budget that it’s ever been in the history of the government.” The second statement is accurate, but the first is way off. Since 1962, the highest total federal employment was in 1968, when there were at 6.6 million federal workers and military personnel, according to figures from the Office of Personnel Management [NewsOK].

Brothers ride ‘Amazing Race’ fame into run for office: When he wants to go unnoticed in public, Jet McCoy sheds the black cowboy hat he donned for three seasons on “The Amazing Race” in favor of a regular ball cap. “It would take me 45 minutes to get out of Wal-Mart,” the 36-year-old rancher said of the attention he received after first appearing with his younger brother on the reality TV show in 2010. But McCoy’s trademark cowboy hat was squarely on his head Wednesday as he knocked on doors in Ada to drum up interest in a new venture where that kind of name recognition comes in handy: state politics. McCoy and his brother, Cord McCoy, are looking to capitalize on their fame as cowboys turned reality stars by pursuing seats in the Oklahoma Legislature — one as a Republican and the other a Democrat [US News & World Report].

In Oklahoma, $50 oil may test new quake regulations: Oil producers around the country enticed by crude’s jump to $50 a barrel are hoping to get production back on line, but for producers in Oklahoma, new regulatory barriers may keep key parts of the state shut due to worries about earthquakes. Crude’s recent rebound will mark the first test of more stringent regulations recently implemented in Oklahoma – and already, companies are looking for workarounds [Reuters].

Oklahoma disposal wells bought by AEP spinoff named in earthquake lawsuit: Oklahoma oil and gas assets purchased by White Star Petroleum, a spinoff of soon-to-be-defunct American Energy Partners, included disposal wells that had previously been named in a lawsuit over earthquakes in the state, court documents show. The litigation, which is ongoing, seeks to limit the volumes of wastewater the disposal wells’ previous owner, Devon Energy, along with three other defendants, can inject into deep underground caverns. In announcing the $200 million asset deal in April, neither Devon nor Energy and Minerals Group (EMG), the private equity firm backing White Star, disclosed that the disposal wells were included in the sale [Reuters].

Is Coal Ash Killing an Oklahoma Town?: The wind that blows through Bokoshe, Okla. is an ominous one. A small, low-income town near the Arkansas border, Bokoshe sits in the shadow of a coal power plant. Its toxic byproduct, coal ash, is trucked daily to a nearby dump, and when the wind blows through town, that ash rains down on its residents. They believe it is to blame for the asthma and cancer that runs rampant there [Inside Climate News]. Bokoshe residents have protested for years with no action from state agencies [This Land Press].

Osage Nation finalizes deal to buy Ted Turner’s ranch: Becoming one of the largest land owners in the state’s largest county, the Osage Nation completed a deal this week to buy Ted Turner’s Bluestem Ranch, covering 43,000 acres of prairie west of Pawhuska, officials confirmed Thursday. The tribe paid $74 million for the property, where the media mogul experimented with environmentally friendly ranching methods and raised more than 3,000 head of bison as well as cattle. The purchase was the latest and biggest step in Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear’s determined effort to buy as much land as possible in Osage County, where the tribe once owned nearly 1.5 million acres before it was divided up and allotted to individual tribal members in the early 1900s [Tulsa World].

Quote of the Day

“In the 21st century, the United States has reinstated a broad system of debtors’ prisons, in effect making it a crime to be poor. If you don’t believe me, come with me to the county jail in Tulsa. On the day I visited, 23 people were incarcerated for failure to pay government fines and fees, including one woman imprisoned because she couldn’t pay a fine for lacking a license plate.”

-New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof (Source)

Number of the Day


Cases of abuse of vulnerable adults confirmed by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services in FY 2015.

Source: Oklahoma Department of Human Services

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The myth that fewer people are going to prison: Reformers and policymakers who are concerned about the vast U.S. prison system have called for reducing the number of people behind bars. By that standard, they’ve made progress over the past several years, as the incarcerated population has declined from its peak in 2009. Yet even as fewer people are behind bars, the number going to prison nationally changed little during that time — outside of California, where the Supreme Court ordered major reforms to the state’s overcrowded system in 2011 [Washington Post].

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Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

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