In The Know: Fallin supports election on plan for school shelters

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

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Today you should know that Gov. Fallin is backing a measure to let individual school districts vote to go above their bond limits to fund storm shelters and school safety. Rep. Joe Dorman is seeking a statewide vote to issue a $500 million bond for school storm shelters. 

Governor Fallin and Republican leaders in the House and Senate reiterated their support for cutting the state’s income tax, but Fallin and Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman both said they would need to come up with ways to offset the lost revenue at a time when Oklahoma is already facing a $170 million budget shortfall. State Impact Oklahoma examined the legacy of State Question 640, which requires a 3/4ths supermajority in the Legislature to approve tax increases.

David Blatt’s Journal Record column explained how Oklahoma’s progress on mental health is being put in jeopardy by lawmakers’ push for more tax cuts and refusal to accept federal funds. The OK Policy Blog discussed why both Soonercare and Oklahoma’s mental health agency need millions more just to continue existing services. A parents’ group held a legislative forum on Oklahoma’s declining education funding.

Rep. Tom Newell filed legislation to dissolve the Oklahoma Board of Corrections and allow the governor to appoint the Department of Corrections director. A bill by Rep. Pat Ownbey would add carrying large amounts of prescription drugs to the list of drug trafficking crimes in Oklahoma. The city of Tulsa will pay a $425,000 to a man who was sent to prison by corrupt Tulsa Police officers. A coalition of non-profits is working to establish an electronic medical records system for health care providers throughout northeast Oklahoma.

The Number of the Day is the share of the unemployed in Oklahoma who have been jobless for 27 weeks or more. In today’s Policy Note, the Associated Press examines how stagnant wages and an increasing gulf between low-wage and high-skill jobs have forced more working Americans to rely on food stamps.

In The News

Fallin supports election on plan for school shelters

Gov. Mary Fallin said Wednesday that she was backing a measure to let schools vote to go above their bond limits on a one-time basis generate funds for storm shelters and school safety. Fallin said House Joint Resolution 1092 by Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore, and Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, would put the issue to a statewide vote in November. The announcement comes after Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, filed House Joint Resolution 1078 seeking a statewide vote to issue a $500 million bond schools could take advantage of to build storm shelters.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

State leaders discuss tax cut plans

Governor Fallin and Republican leaders in the House and Senate reiterated their support for cutting the state’s income tax. But both the governor and Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman suggested that the state would need to come up with ways to offset the roughly $120 million annual price tag for a .25 percent reduction in the income tax. With the Legislature already projected to have about $170 million less to spend on programs this year, Bingman said a tax cut would make it even more difficult to balance the budget.

Read more from the Associated Press.

The legacy and challenge of State Question 640

When the 2014 legislative session starts Feb. 3, state lawmakers will face more than 2,000 bills and resolutions, and are expected to have $170 million less to spend than last year. They will also be confronted by agency heads, most of which will argue, publicly, for more money. Many of the bills under consideration this year address revenue and spending, directly. Republican measures to cut the income tax, for example, or gross production taxes on oil and gas activity the energy industry would like to reduce. But all the budget meetings and bills — from pension reform to bonds for storm shelter construction at public schools — are affected by government funding, and will be shaped by a single state question Oklahoma voters made into law more than 20 years ago.

Read more from State Impact Oklahoma.

Prosperity Policy: No good options

Last week I heard Terri White, commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, give a gut-wrenching assessment of her agency’s budget outlook to a legislative committee, painting a picture of recent progress that is at risk. Mental illness and addiction are highly prevalent in Oklahoma, but limited resources mean that more than two-thirds of adults in need of treatment don’t receive care. In recent years, the governor and Legislature have made funding mental health services a priority. Money has gone for new crisis centers, suicide prevention efforts, prescription drug initiatives, and alternatives to incarceration. This progress is now in jeopardy.

Read more from The Journal Record.

See also: Avoiding devastating health care cuts will require hard choices from the OK Policy Blog

Parent group advocates for education funding

A parents group says the biggest problem with education in Oklahoma is a lack of funding. More than 300 parents, teachers and administrators met Tuesday night in Edmond with a four-member legislative panel to try to find some answers to the state’s education budget woes. This was the Parents Legislative Action Committee’s fourth forum of the 2013-14 school year. They met in November in Deer Creek and will be in Norman on March 4. Legislative panel members included Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, Sen. Susan Paddock, D-Ada, Rep. Scott Martin, R-Norman, and Rep. Scott Inman, D-Del City.

Read more from The Edmond Sun.

Lawmaker files bill to abolish Oklahoma Board of Corrections

If Rep. Tom Newell gets his way, by the end of the year the state Board of Corrections will no longer exist. Newell filed legislation for the 2014 session, which begins Monday, to do away with the seven-member board, a move he believes will create more accountability in the state Corrections Department. Newell is suggesting a move similar to one approved by voters last year placing the Department of Human Services under the supervision of the governor. In 2012, voters gave 60 percent approval to State Question 765, which dissolved the board that oversaw DHS and made the director of the department a position appointed by the governor.

Read more from NewsOK.

 Bill would add prescription drugs to drug trafficking crimes in Oklahoma

Carrying large quantities of certain prescription drugs would be added to the list of crimes for which a person could be charged with drug trafficking under a bill introduced in the state House of Representatives. Oklahoma’s drug trafficking laws currently pertain to illicit drugs like cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine. Under House Bill 2589, carrying 1,000 grams of a mixture containing morphine, 400 grams of an oxycodone mixture, 50 grams of a hydrocodone mixture or 15 grams of a mixture containing alprazolam (Xanax) would be punishable by a fine of $100,000 to $500,000 and prison time.

Read more from NewsOK.

Freed man gets $425,000 in settlement tied to Tulsa police corruption

The city of Tulsa has settled for $425,000 the federal lawsuit of a man who was freed from prison because of corruption within the Tulsa Police Department, attorneys on both sides of the lawsuit confirmed Wednesday. Larry Wayne Barnes Sr., 63, was released from prison after serving 16 months of a 66-month sentence he received after being convicted in April 2008 of two drug crimes. At least 48 people, including Barnes, have been freed from prison or had their cases modified because of civil rights violations or potential problems with their cases stemming from police corruption.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Oklahoma nonprofit coalition works to improve state’s health care system

Dr. David Kendrick approached being a doctor like an engineer would. And as a former engineer, he saw a broken health care system that he wanted to help improve. Kendrick helped create MyHealth Access Network, a nonprofit coalition of more than 200 organizations in northeastern Oklahoma, with a goal to improve health care quality and the health of area residents while controlling costs. Kendrick, MyHealth’s CEO, answered a few questions about how the system works and how it can help improve the quality of health care that residents receive.

Read more from NewsOK.

Quote of the Day

I think at this point it’s fiscally irresponsible. When you consider we’re funding public education at $200 million less than we were in 2008, when you consider the fact that our teachers haven’t had a pay raise since 2006 … I think it’s very irresponsible to talk about tax cuts at this time.

-Senate Minority Leader Sean Burrage, D-Claremore (Source:

Number of the Day


Share of the unemployed in Oklahoma who have been jobless for 27 weeks or more.

Source: Economic Policy Institute analysis of Current Population Survey microdata

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The new face of food stamps: Working-age Americans

In a first, working-age people now make up the majority in U.S. households that rely on food stamps — a switch from a few years ago, when children and the elderly were the main recipients. Some of the change is due to demographics, such as the trend toward having fewer children. But a slow economic recovery with high unemployment, stagnant wages and an increasing gulf between low-wage and high-skill jobs also plays a big role. It suggests that government spending on the $80 billion-a-year food stamp program — twice what it cost five years ago — may not subside significantly anytime soon.

Read more from the Associated Press.

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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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