In The Know: House Speaker says Oklahoma budget proposal will cut $300 million

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 Speaker: Oklahoma budget proposal likely next week: A budget proposal that’ll cut about $300 million from state agencies but protect health care services is expected next week, the speaker of the Oklahoma House said Friday. Rep. Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, did not offer details, but said the budget will be offered in time for the Legislature to adjourn by May 27 as constitutionally required. Oklahoma faces a $1.3 billion budget hole, which will be filled with money from tax code changes, the elimination of some tax credits and expected bond packages, according to Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, chairman of the House Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget [KOCO].

Budget Crisis Clips Credit For Working Poor: In their final rush to contend with Oklahoma’s budget crisis, state lawmakers have voted to curtail a tax credit described by advocates as one of the best programs ever devised to help the working poor. The measure to eliminate the “refundable” portion of Oklahoma’s Earned Income Credit would reduce the income of about 200,000 low-income households by $147 a year on average, according to a recent data study [Oklahoma Watch]. OK Policy said in a statement that lawmakers who voted to curtail the credit “have made a deplorable decision” [OK Policy].

‘A train wreck’: Bizarre legislative session drawing to a close with much left to do: While legislative leaders tout the accomplishments of the current session, some longtime observers view it as “a train wreck.” Lawmakers must adjourn by 5 p.m. Friday or call a special session. Meanwhile, legislative leaders have yet to announce a budget agreement to fill a $1.3 billion hole for fiscal year 2017. Last week, lawmakers spent time on bills dealing with transgender students and bathrooms and voted to make abortion a felony, despite a U.S. Supreme Court case legalizing it [Tulsa World]. Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed the bill that would impose felony charges on doctors who perform abortions, calling the measure vague and unconstitutional [New York Times].

State Senate leader Brian Bingman blames media for focus on social issues: Oklahoma’s top state Senate leader says the Legislature is focused on core issues such as education, transportation and health care but that the media’s focus on social issues such as abortion has distracted from that. Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman criticized the media while speaking to the Tulsa World during a fundraiser Thursday night in Tulsa, just hours after the Senate passed a bill that would make performing abortions a felony in the state [Tulsa World].

Lack of budgeting transparency hurting OK legislators’ cause: Citizens often complain that state lawmakers focus too much on minor issues appealing only to a minority while ignoring Oklahoma’s budget challenges. Those criticisms are not entirely fair, but lawmakers have done themselves no favors by conducting most budget work behind closed doors. The lack of transparency means many citizens and businesses are now being blindsided by apparently last-minute tax and spending plans [Editorial Board / NewsOK].

Anti-tax Legislature funding state government with a fee-for-all: When is a tax not a tax? When it’s coming through the Oklahoma Legislature. Then, there’s a pretty good chance it’s a fee, sometimes in name only. Oklahoma lawmakers hate taxes. Since 1992, they have only approved one proposal to raise a broad tax and even that wasn’t a universal burden. In 2004, lawmakers asked to raise the state cigarette tax by 55 cents. Voters went along with the idea. Otherwise, state tax rates — at least those taxes that we call taxes — have gone down [Editorial Board / Tulsa World].

Surely Oklahoma has reached the tipping point now: Oklahoma sure had one embarrassing week. After days like these, there’s a need for contemplation, a bit of anger and a lot of action. If this isn’t the tipping point, it must be near. Oklahoma has to do better than what our elected lawmakers are giving us. On Tuesday, 142 teachers had their last days at Tulsa Public Schools. Not because they aren’t needed or are bad at their jobs. Many are beloved and teach popular classes. It’s because the state government cut $110 million from the education budget. … The next 72 hours went something like this: The state Senate passed a clearly unconstitutional abortion law specifically to attract a legal challenge. A grand jury found that corrections officers were told “to Google” how to execute prisoners. The parole board refused mercy for a man serving life without parole for selling an ounce of cocaine. Lawmakers passed bills to “adjust” the earned income tax credit, eliminating or reducing a break for about 200,000 poor, working families [Ginnie Graham / Tulsa World].

For Oklahoma City student protest leader, taking a stand for education was worth the risk: Earlier this week, as Cassidy Coffey joined hundreds of other students walking out of U.S. Grant High School in the middle of a school day, that voice in her head was yelling at her to get back inside. Coffey, a 17-year-old junior, is a two-sport athlete, an honor roll student and sergeant at arms for the student council — charged with handling discipline and attendance. Coffey says she loves going to school, earns straight A’s and usually finds any excuse to help out after school or to stick around for extracurricular activities. But on Monday, she found herself in the uncomfortable spot of leading more than 1,100 students in a walkout to protest drastic cuts that the Oklahoma City school district is making in the face of an anticipated $30 million budget shortfall [NewsOK].

Plan to raise Oklahoma’s sales tax has supporters, detractors: Oklahoma’s two largest cities would have some of the highest sales tax rates in the nation if a one-cent increase were approved by voters in November. The average sales tax rate across the state also would become the highest in America. Supporters of the ballot initiative spearheaded by University of Oklahoma President David Boren — State Question 779 — say it will raise $615 million for education and teacher pay increases. But some say an increase in sales tax is not the appropriate vehicle for funding schools [NewsOK]. 

No Cuts To Nursing Homes On Monday: Nico Gomez, CEO of Oklahoma Health Care Authority, says he will not move forward with Medicaid cuts on Monday that would devastate the state’s nursing homes. Gomez told News 9 politics analyst Scott Mitchell he wanted to give lawmakers more time to find a way to prevent or reduce those cuts. “If we have to cut nursing homes, the earliest would be July 1,” Gomez said. “But we have to face some difficult decisions in light of not having a budget” [News9].

Oil Battles Wind on the Great Plains: The Great Plains of Oklahoma are dotted with cattle, wheat fields, and the seesawing donkey-shaped jacks that drag crude oil from the shale rock beneath. Notwithstanding the collapse of commodity prices, some 190,000 active oil and gas wells in the state provide jobs, directly and indirectly, to an estimated one in six Oklahomans. Even the statehouse in Oklahoma City is surrounded by wells; one is nicknamed Petunia, after the flower bed on which it was drilled. But increasingly, in Oklahoma’s western half, the land is also populated by wind turbines—giant, white structures on farms with names like Blue Canyon and Renewable Frontier [The American Prospect].

Fallin gets feedback: Ultimately, with the swipe of a pen, Gov. Mary Fallin can advance or derail the hopes and dreams of lawmakers and everyday Oklahomans. She’s the one, after all, whose name is inked to every piece of legislation that becomes law and is perhaps one of the most recognizable faces in the state. So perhaps it’s not surprising that more than 6,500 people this year have called, emailed or written letters to the state’s top Republican since the start of session in hopes of swaying her vote or seeking her intervention on personal matters [Enid News].

Mayor Mick Cornett’s roundtable event highlights OKC’s original sins: Once again, the big weakness of Oklahoma City’s annual Mayor’s Development Roundtable was the lack of people of color in the room as well as a lack of attention to the city’s social and economic problems. On the other hand, excellent speakers presented astute analyses of urban policies that are working in mid-size cities… In doing so, they didn’t seem to realize that they were offering alternatives to two of modern Oklahoma City’s original sins: letting the automobile drive suburban sprawl and letting racism turn that awful urban error into white flight [John Thompson / NonDoc].

Tribes rush to help Obama meet goal for putting land in trust: With President Barack Obama’s term coming to an end, the Cherokee Nation and other tribes across the state are working to put land into federal trust. In late April, the Cherokee nation signed 1,334 acres into trust, making it the largest tract ever placed into trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Eastern Oklahoma Regional office. Federal trust land is eligible for business development programs and is tax exempt. The federal trust status often comes with the connotation that the land will be developed for casinos, but that’s not always the case. Baker said future land tracts are for medical clinics, businesses and even cultural or religious grounds [Journal Record].

Quote of the Day

“It is a train wreck. They are avoiding dealing with the fundamental issues.”

Keith Gaddie, chairman of the political science department at the University of Oklahoma, speaking about how with just one week left in Oklahoma’s legislative session, lawmakers have yet to reach a budget agreement to fill a $1.3 billion hole (Source).

Number of the Day


Percentage of Oklahomans without a usual place of medical care (2014).

Source: National Center for Health Statistics

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Money, Race and Success: How Your School District Compares: We’ve long known of the persistent and troublesome academic gap between white students and their black and Hispanic peers in public schools. We’ve long understood the primary reason, too: A higher proportion of black and Hispanic children come from poor families. A new analysis of reading and math test score data from across the country confirms just how much socioeconomic conditions matter. Children in the school districts with the highest concentrations of poverty score an average of more than four grade levels below children in the richest districts [The Upshot].

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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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