In The Know: House goes into recess so cigarette tax negotiations can continue ‘off the clock’

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

House goes into recess so cigarette tax negotiations can continue ‘off the clock’: Gov. Mary Fallin made the rounds of legislative caucuses Wednesday in attempts to piece together a budget agreement after the special session wheezed to a halt. “I told them the people of Oklahoma expect us to solve the problem,” Fallin said early Wednesday evening after a 2½-hour closed-door session with House Republicans. Fallin met with Democrats earlier in the day and was to face Senate Republicans later Wednesday evening. House Republicans continued their closed caucus meeting after Fallin left about 5 p.m. [Tulsa World]

State health department employees to be furloughed amid budget crunch: While lawmakers are working in a special session to fill a $215 million budget hole, leaders at one Oklahoma agency say they are being forced to cut their budget. On Wednesday, the Oklahoma State Department of Health announced that it is working to reduce agency spending due to a shortfall of more than $10 million. Officials say the shortfall is due to a loss of federal funds, increased costs and reduction in state appropriation [KFOR].

As Oklahoma Lawmakers Try to Fill Budget Hole, State Employees Ask For Increased Pay: As Oklahoma lawmakers work to fix a budget hole of $215 million dollars during the special session, frustrated state workers are calling on the legislature to increase their pay. The Oklahoma Public Employees Association wants a $7,500 per person raise provided to state workers. Executive Director Sterling Zearley says most of the 34,000 employees in Oklahoma haven’t seen a pay increase in ten years and earn 25 percent less than those in the private sector [KOSU].

Six Ways to Bring in New Revenues in Special Session: Even before the court threw out the cigarette fee, the budget severely underfunded core services — worsening the teacher shortage, forcing senior nutrition sites to close, cutting support for foster families, and not even beginning to undo the damage to our communities caused by years of cuts. Lawmakers now have a second chance to get it right and fix the budget by passing widely-supported revenue options. Here are six of them [OK Policy].

Prosperity Policy: What’s really bad for business: As lawmakers convene in special session to address Oklahoma’s latest budget crisis, they will hear from plenty of nonprofits, state workers, and educators about the need to fix the budget and fund core services. But some of the strongest voices sounding the alarm about our current state of affairs have come from the business community. In the competition to recruit national and international companies looking for highly skilled workers to fill well-paid jobs, Oklahoma is too often left out of the running [Journal Record].

Calvey files bill to put wrap on film rebate program: “The film rebate is at the core of why we have a successful film industry,” said Lance McDaniel, executive director of deadCenter. But the rebates could end Jan. 1, 2018, if a House of Representatives bill is approved. State Rep. Kevin Calvey, R-Edmond, filed House Bill 1004, in which he proposes ending the Oklahoma Film Rebate Enhancement Program by ceasing rebates after Jan. 1, 2018. Calvey could not be reached for comment [Journal Record]. The bills filed in special session put many options in play [OK Policy].

Rep. Katie Henke out of country during special session: With the Oklahoma House of Representatives struggling to find a revenue agreement to plug a state budget hole in special session, Rep. Katie Henke (R-Tulsa) is out of the country. Multiple people with explicit connections to Henke told NonDoc that the third-term lawmaker is traveling abroad — some said to Italy — on a family trip that was planned in advance [NonDoc].

Oklahoma County commissioners hear jail trust report, extend contract for juvenile detention: A document establishing an Oklahoma County jail trust is ready for approval by the Board of County Commissioners. “We’re ready to set up the trust, if that’s what the board wants,” Randy Grau told the commissioners at their meeting Wednesday. Grau, chairman of a committee formed in April to explore formation of a jail trust, presented a status report at the meeting [NewsOK].

Biggs objects to early release of non-violent offenders: The same lawmaker who derailed efforts to reduce the state’s prison population this year is now criticizing corrections officials for releasing inmates early. Department of Corrections officials announced months ago they were working on a program to release all prisoners who had only 18 months left on their sentences and no violent crime convictions. Director Joe Allbaugh has said in several public meetings that the Legislature left the agency no choice but to do so when several bills to cut the population failed in committee [Journal Record].

Most Oklahoma metro areas had more people working in August: Oklahomans continued to see improved employment conditions in most of the state’s largest cities in August, compared to the same time a year earlier. Nonseasonal adjusted jobless rates for August were lower in Enid, Oklahoma City and Tulsa than they were during the same month the year before, according to data released Wednesday by the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics [NewsOK].

Governor Appoints District Attorney in Northeastern Oklahoma: Gov. Mary Fallin has appointed an assistant district attorney as the new district attorney for District 27 in northeastern Oklahoma. Fallin said Wednesday that she’s appointing Jack Thorp as prosecutor for Adair, Cherokee, Sequoyah and Wagoner counties. Thorp replaces Brian Kuester, who resigned after being appointed U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Oklahoma [Associated Press].

EPA’s Scott Pruitt took non-commercial flights totaling more than $58,000: In July, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt flew on a private plane for official travel in his home state of Oklahoma – leaving taxpayers on the hook for more than $14,000. Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general, along with staff and security, flew on an eight-seat Learjet on July 27 from Tulsa across the state to Guymon, Oklahoma. There, he met with farmers at a town hall to discuss water issues. Afterward, he boarded the same plane and flew to Oklahoma City [CBS News].

Quote of the Day

“We always hear legislators say how much they appreciate state employees and that’s all fine and good, but you know what—they need to pay them and retain them. There’s $120 million dollars worth of turnover rate. State employees are getting tired of saying ‘we appreciate you, we appreciate you’—that can just go so far. You need to compensate them appropriately.”

– Sterling Zearley, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, calling for a $7,500 raise for all state employees (Source)

Number of the Day


Share of jobs in Oklahoma with median annual pay below 100% of the poverty threshold for a family of four, 2015.

Source: Prosperity Now

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The Real Reason Middle America Should Be Angry: The relative decline of St. Louis—along with that of other similarly endowed heartland cities—is not simply, or even primarily, a story of deindustrialization. The larger explanation involves how presidents and lawmakers in both parties, influenced by a handful of economists and legal scholars, quietly altered federal competition policies, antitrust laws, and enforcement measures over a period of thirty years. These changes, which enabled the same kind of predatory corporate behavior that took the Rams away from St. Louis, also robbed the metro area of a vibrant economy, and of hundreds of locally based companies [Washington Monthly].

You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.


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.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.