In The Know: GOP needs Democrats’ help to pass revenue bills

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

GOP needs Democrats’ help to pass revenue bills: To pass reforms of Oklahoma’s tax structure, Gov. Mary Fallin needs to win support of both House Republicans and Democrats. It won’t be easy. The state constitution requires that all revenue-raising bills have to pass the Oklahoma Legislature with a three-fourths majority. In the state House, it’s 76 votes. House Republicans came out of the November election with 75 members, but two GOP lawmakers resigned before session began Monday [NewsOK].

Fallin’s put forward a bold tax plan to help poor and middle class Oklahomans: The bold tax initiative outlined by Gov. Mary Fallin in her State of the State speech Monday deserves more respect — and some consideration. The centerpiece is a proposal to do away with the state sales tax on groceries. Before we go further, let’s recognize that for what it is: The most aggressive move the state has made in the direction of tax equity in years. While past tax cuts to the state’s income tax rates have favored the wealthiest Oklahomans, the proportionate impact of eliminating the state sales tax on groceries clearly favors the working poor and middle class and it does so in a place they will actually recognize it, the cost of their food [Editorial Board / Tulsa World]. The Editorial Board also praised Amazon for collecting sales tax on behalf of Oklahoma [Editorial Board / Tulsa World].

Don’t go there: Block grants for Medicaid and SNAP could wreck America’s safety net: A fundamental part of the American social contract is that when times get tough, we help our friends and neighbors out. In Oklahoma, the biggest ways that we do this is through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) and SoonerCare, Oklahoma’s Medicaid program. Each of these programs help hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans get on their feet and stay there every year. However, Congressional Republicans are pushing to end these programs and replace them with block grants in order to cut federal spending, possibly by as early as this summer. Block grants would threaten to dismantle effective, efficient anti-poverty programs and leave Oklahoma families without access to adequate food or medical care [OK Policy].

Oklahoma Lawmakers File Bills To Repeal Criminal Justice Reforms: Thirty-three states have passed criminal justice reform in an attempt to reduce prison populations and save money. But although voters in Oklahoma approved ballot initiatives enacting reforms in November, some lawmakers have filed bills to repeal the reforms. Prisons in Oklahoma are at a 109 percent capacity, creating safety issues and budget problems. There’s no money for treatment, and things are so dire, many inmates are sleeping in makeshift spaces like the cafeteria. So private groups like The Education and Employment Ministry, or TEEM, are stepping in with classes to help inmates get jobs when they get out [NPR]. The Tahlequah Daily Press called the effort to rollback SQ 780 and SQ 781 a slap in voters’ faces [Editorial Board / Tahlequah Daily Press]. Here’s why OK Policy supported SQ 780 and SQ 781 [OK Policy].

Why does a speeding ticket cost so much? Fees are added to the fine: If you get caught driving too fast, you’ll find yourself facing a big fine. In fact, from 1992 to 2015, speeding tickets have gone up 150 percent, according to the Oklahoma Policy Institute. But why? Whether an officer, deputy or trooper writes the ticket, the fine for speeding is the same. It’s $35 for a violation of 20 mph over the speed limit but, it’s the fees that push your real cost to $251.50 [KJRH]. OK Policy released a report detailing the growth of fines and fees and their effect on Oklahomans and agency budgets [OK Policy].

Oklahoma’s higher education crisis Is real: In a recent editorial, The Oklahoman notes that tax cuts aren’t the only cause of Oklahoma’s revenue shortfall and budget deficit. Clearly, other factors such as energy prices are part of the picture. The editorial compares Oklahoma’s predicament to other states, which I think provides the opportunity to re-examine our situation and our priorities. Make no mistake: Oklahoma is an extreme outlier when it comes to the size of the hole in our budget [Kyle Harper / NewsOK]. Higher education cuts may be the greatest threat to Oklahoma’s economy [OK Policy].

Governor interviews Supreme Court nominees: Gov. Mary Fallin spent Tuesday afternoon interviewing candidates for her first Oklahoma Supreme Court appointment. The new justice will represent the southeastern part of Oklahoma and fill the seat of retiring Justice Steven Taylor. A nominating commission passed along three candidates late last month, and the law requires she make her decision by sometime in March. “There’s no real time frame other than the 60-day window,” said Fallin’s press secretary, Michael McNutt. “A lot of it depends on how the interviews go.” [Journal Record]

Environmental watchdog sues Pruitt for alleged open records violations: A liberal-leaning watchdog group said Tuesday it has sued Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt for violation of the state Open Records Act. Pruitt is awaiting a confirmation vote by the U.S. Senate on his nomination to head the Environmental Protection Agency. The Center for Media and Democracy, which opposes Pruitt’s nomination, says he and the Attorney General’s Office have ignored requests for communications relating to Pruitt’s relationship with fossil fuels industries and large-scale agriculture [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma senators vote to confirm Betsy DeVos: The Senate has confirmed school choice activist Betsy DeVos as Education secretary, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking a 50-50 tie. The Senate historian says it was the first time a vice president had to break a tie on a Cabinet nomination. Two Republicans joined Democrats Tuesday to vote to derail DeVos’ nomination. Democrats cited her lack of public school experience and financial interests in organizations pushing charter schools. DeVos has said she would divest herself from those organizations [KFOR].

State of Oklahoma joins EMSA kickbacks lawsuit: The state of Oklahoma has joined federal prosecutors in a civil lawsuit that names EMSA and its president in a kickback scheme with its former ambulance provider. The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office filed a complaint Monday in a Texas federal court seeking to partially intervene in a whistleblower lawsuit initially filed by a former employee of Paramedics Plus LLC, an ambulance services provider that contracted with EMSA. The Oklahoma complaint alleges the Oklahoma Health Care Authority paid over $64 million to Emergency Medical Services Authority “for false Medicaid claims submitted for services provided by Paramedics Plus under the EMSA contract.” [Tulsa World]

Freshmen legislators dig in: Oklahoma’s freshmen legislators have shaken off their first-day jitters, and although they’re still learning the ropes, even they know they need to set their sights on getting the budget out of its rut. Forty-three new legislators started their first session on Monday. The day started in the early afternoon, as Gov. Mary Fallin delivered her ship-guiding State of the State address, which coincided with her executive budget presentation. She called for a few measures that don’t jibe with Oklahoma’s typical political rhetoric, such as an increase in fuel taxes, issuing debt to pay for mental health centers and getting rid of grocery taxes. The newbies’ day-one takeaways: To-do lists are long, days are short, and Fallin’s budget proposal is unlikely to make it to May unscathed [Journal Record].

Oklahoma’s unemployment continues above national average: Oklahoma’s unemployment rate decreased for the first time since August. Going from 5.1 percent in November to 5 percent in December, the state remains above the national average of 4.7 percent, according to a report released by the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. Of Oklahoma’s 77 counties, 64 have an unemployment rate higher than one year ago, seven counties have a lower rate and six remain unchanged. Cimarron County, in the Panhandle, claimed the lowest unemployment rate in the state at 1.9 percent. Grant and Woods counties also had some of the lowest unemployment rates with 2.8 percent [Enid News & Eagle].

Trump rhetoric demonizes immigrants, despite evidence: By the end of his first week in office, President Donald Trump had taken a number of decisive steps to follow through on his controversial campaign promises on immigration. Given the central role of immigration issues in his campaign, it is unsurprising that he wasted no time in taking action. It is also not surprising that Trump’s executive orders on immigration contain not a single measure to create better opportunities for legal immigration or a path to legal status for immigrants already living in the United States without authorization, but seek only to make it more difficult for immigrants to enter or remain in the United States [Immigrant Rights Project Director Elizabeth McCormick / Tulsa World].

Kevin Durant Is Gone. Durant, Okla., Is Sad.: Kelly Green, the men’s basketball coach at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, battles relative obscurity by using all the tools at his disposal. Until recently, Green highlighted the campus’s unique geography to sell out-of-state prospects on his Division II program. “We’re in the city of Durant,” Green would tell recruits, “like Kevin Durant.” Green felt much more comfortable using this tangential connection back when Kevin Durant was still playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder. But those ties disappeared when Durant signed with the Golden State Warriors in free agency over the summer, forcing Green to scrap his pitch [New York Times].

Quote of the Day

“I didn’t hear about drug court until I got to prison. And a lot of fellows was asking me, ‘Why [didn’t they] send you to drug court? Why are you here?’ It was crazy.”

-Autrey Lake, an Oklahoma man who was sentenced to five years in prison for having half a pill of ecstasy (Source)

Number of the Day


Oklahoma children and teen deaths per 100,000 in 2014, down from 46 in 2008


See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Away from Washington, a new breed of prosecutors takes first steps: As the Trump administration prepares to roll back the budget and agenda of the Obama Justice Department, a handful of newly-elected local prosecutors are setting off in a different direction. As our Maurice Chammah reported in November, an unusual number of incumbent district attorneys faced challenges in this year’s election. Many of them lost to professed reformers, indicating that voters are paying closer attention to these down-ballot races — thanks in part to the Black Lives Matter movement and an influx of donations from liberal billionaire George Soros. Now, the incoming DA’s, who campaigned on less-punitive sentences, marijuana decriminalization, opposition to the death penalty, and charging fewer juveniles as adults, are putting some initial reforms into action [The Marshall Project].

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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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