In The Know: Hundreds of Oklahoma state employees get salary increases over $5,000

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

Hundreds of Oklahoma state employees get salary increases over $5,000: Hundreds of state employees got pay increases of $5,000 or more in 2016 even as Oklahoma faced historic budget problems. Information provided by the state Office of Management and Enterprise Services showed 554 increases in this category totaling just over $5 million. The hikes came as appropriations to most state agencies were cut amid a $1.3 billion budget hole created by an oil industry downturn, tax cuts and generous tax credits to industry [NewsOK].

8 key facts about Oklahoma’s budget: “The budget is not just a collection of numbers, but an expression of our values and aspirations.” This quote by U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew is an important starting point when we think about the state budget. Like a family that acts out its values when deciding how much to spend on things like saving for retirement, investing in education and activities for children, or paying for basic needs like food, shelter, and health care, the state of Oklahoma expresses our values through the budget for core public services like education, public health and safety, and infrastructure [Together Oklahoma].

Oklahoma’s education system is in 47th place and falling further behind: While our elected officials have been busy getting grades for schools and school districts, someone else was evaluating the state’s performance, and it’s pretty bad. The annual Quality Counts report card of state education systems puts Oklahoma in 47th place among the 50 states and District of Columbia. By consistent inadequate funding of public schools, the state of Oklahoma isn’t providing the opportunity for its next generation to succeed, and the results are apparent in academic performance and any other legitimate measure of education achievement [Editorial Board / Tulsa World].

Is Oklahoma due for a change in direction on the budget?: The past few sessions have been marked with budget holes. The Equalization Board has predicted another budget hole, this time of $868 million. Legislators have responded by filling the budget holes with patching together “one time money” from various sources, borrowing money through issuing bonds, budget cuts, and small tax and fee increases. Sure enough, the actions of past years have produced the context for next year. But there’s a law of physical nature that sometimes serves as an analogy for what happens in human affairs. Sir Isaac Newton’s third law of motion states that for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction [OK Policy].

Higher Ed Leader Pushes for Restoring Most of Large Cuts: Oklahoma’s 25 public colleges and universities were among the biggest losers in last year’s budget battle. Lawmakers cut the state’s higher education budget by $153.4 million, or nearly 16 percent, as part of the Legislature’s work to close a $1.3 billion shortfall during the 2016 session. This led to tuition increases, elimination of degree programs and layoffs across the system. But college and university leaders are hoping to avoid a similar fate this year when the Legislature again grapples with a significant shortfall [Oklahoma Watch].

Virtual, charter schools claim majority of midyear gains in public education funding: Seven fast-growing charter schools, including all four of the state’s virtual school choices, were among the top 20 in gaining state aid in annual, midyear adjustments made this week by the Oklahoma State Department of Education. In making midyear adjustments, state education officials distributed the final remaining 1.56 percent, or $28.6 million, in state aid for the fiscal year ending June 30, across 513 school districts and 31 charter schools [Tulsa World].

Four-day school weeks growing in popularity amid cuts: Leaders of the Little Axe Public Schools recently found themselves in a budgetary dilemma. Should their district just east of Norman cut three teachers to shave $100,000 from a $10 million budget? Or should it save the jobs and squeeze the school schedule to four-day weeks? The district with 1,284 students opted for the latter, beginning this year on a Monday-through-Thursday schedule. Pushed to make do with less, without cutting teachers or services amid growing enrollment and smaller contributions from the state, the number of schools with four-day schedules has nearly tripled since 2015 [Claremore Daily Progress]. Four-day school weeks could leave thousands of Oklahoma kids hungry [OK Policy].

Obamacare repeal could affect Oklahoma coverage rates: Members of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation have long railed against the Affordable Care Act. With a Republican in the White House on Jan. 20 and GOP majorities in the U.S. House and Senate, they will finally be able to help end the act, also known as Obamacare. While there has long been opposition to the act among Republicans, there is no consensus on how to replace it. Under the act, Oklahoma’s uninsured rate has dropped from 18.9 percent in 2010 to 13.9 percent in 2015, which translates to 192,000 people gaining coverage. Also under the act, people won the right to stay on their parents’ insurance policies until age 26. About 29,000 young adults in Oklahoma have used this provision. The act also prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage because of a pre-existing condition [NewsOK].

New program in Oklahoma provides naloxone at no charge to at-risk youth: Over the past decade, Oklahoma has seen prescription drug overdoses take the lives of hundreds of residents. In response to concerns about youth drug overdose, two state agencies have collaborated to create a program that provides naloxone, a drug that can reverse an opiate overdose if given in enough time, to youth 19 and younger. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority has partnered with the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to increase access to naloxone [NewsOK].

Injured worker challenges part of 2013 workers’ comp rewrite: An attorney with a history of successfully challenging the 2013 overhaul of the state workers’ compensation law has sued again. In a lawsuit filed Thursday at the Oklahoma Supreme Court, Oklahoma City attorney Bob Burke argued the law unconstitutionally bars coverage unless doctors use specific, but vague, words to describe an injury. “The reason it’s unconstitutional is it simply takes away from the judge, the trier of fact, any flexibility to determine whether or not this person has a new injury,” said Burke. “The entire decision of whether the worker gets benefits is based on the opinion of the treating physician, which under law is selected by the employer” [NewsOK].

National builders, other trade groups, sue OSHA over worker injury reporting rule in Oklahoma federal court: The National Association of Home Builders sued the U.S. Department of Labor over a new workplace rule in federal court in Oklahoma City because it’s a friendly venue, a state co-plaintiff said. “It was filed here, quite frankly, due to the conservative nature of our district courts and the particular circuit we are in,” said Mike Means, executive vice president of the Oklahoma State Home Builders Association. The lawsuit claims the OSHA had no authority to issue the rule, called “Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses” [NewsOK]. 

Energy efficiency programs paying off: Electricity customers saved a bundle thanks to utility company programs. Energy efficiency programs in Oklahoma have saved about 450 megawatts over eight years, nearly the equivalent of a new power plant. Those programs took advantage of the cheapest energy resource the state has, said Tracy Poole, an energy attorney with McAfee & Taft. Energy efficiency saves customers money and keeps utility rates low because it can help avoid building a new power plant. A 500 MW coal-fired power plant costs at least $500 million, Poole said. “Energy efficiency is the cheapest megawatt you’ll ever get,” he said [Journal Record].

Oklahomans travel to Standing Rock to join protest: News of the Christmas Day blizzard that would engulf the camp of about 1,000 protesters in less than 12 hours had many on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation preparing for temperatures lower than they had ever experienced. The wind was beginning to pick up as Tushka Hill, a member of the Fort Sill Apache tribe who lives in Seminole County, climbed on top of his yurt and handed heavy sand bags to another volunteer. They had to fix a tear in the small, round hut before the sun set and the biting winds started sweeping across the snow-covered hills. The night before, temperatures hovered around 0 degrees, and the next few days were not going to be much warmer [NewsOK].

Oklahoma disability, child advocates feel void after advisory panels shut down: Tom Walls was surprised last year when state lawmakers didn’t renew his citizen advisory panel on disability issues. Walls served as vice chairman on the five-member committee. It was formed in the wake of a statewide vote in 2012 that disbanded the commission overseeing the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. His panel was one of four tasked with giving advice and recommendations to the department Legislators only authorized the panels to meet until 2016 [NewsOK].

Bill would eliminate religious exemption in child welfare cases: State Sen. Jason Smalley wants to remove an exemption from the state’s child welfare laws. He said he was heartbroken when he learned a child in his district died of cancer a few weeks before Christmas. He wants to prevent potential deaths for children whose parents refuse medical treatment for religious reasons. But he said he’s concerned he will face push-back from those who want to protect theological liberty, even from his constituents. The Stroud Republican on Thursday filed Senate Bill 93, which would remove the portion of the law that allows parents and guardians to choose prayer instead of medical treatments or cures [Journal Record].

Oklahoma governor forms group to reform occupational licensing: A task force headed by state Labor Commissioner Melissa Houston will examine occupational licensing in Oklahoma with the idea of cutting through regulations that can be a barrier to potential workers. Gov. Mary Fallin announced in a news release Wednesday that she is forming the Oklahoma Occupational Licensing Task Force. “Occupational licensing often can be overly burdensome, which can hinder a person from earning a living and providing for their family,” Fallin said [NewsOK]. Occupational licensing often prevents ex-felons in Oklahoma from getting a job and rebuilding their lives [OK Policy].

Oklahoma to experiment with raising heights of highway bridges: Oklahoma transportation commissioners started out the new year by voting to try something new. They voted to contract with an engineering firm to design a project to raise the heights of nine county bridges over Interstate 35 to increase the clearances below. The first nine county bridges slated to be jacked up and raised all span I-35 in northern Oklahoma between Tonkawa and the Kansas state line. If that project proves successful, the procedure could later be replicated on dozens of other Oklahoma bridges — potentially saving taxpayers a lot of money and eliminating a lot of inconvenience for motorists, said Brian Taylor, division engineer [NewsOK].

Health is more than health care: When we think about achieving good health, it’s natural to think of visits to the doctor for “checkups” and age-appropriate interventions like vaccinations or cancer screening. But here’s something you might not know: The “health care system” as we know it, an American industry on which we collectively spend $3 trillion annually, only accounts for one-fifth of our overall health. Twenty percent? How can so much spending impact so relatively little of our well-being? Well, it turns out other factors collectively have a much greater impact [John Schumann / Tulsa World].

Quote of the Day

“In its drive to cut taxes at all costs, the Oklahoma Legislature has left public schools inadequately funded. As a result, we have children attending school four days a week and quality teachers migrating to other states. While state leaders were busy getting report cards for the schools, they were missing the mark on their own duties to financially underwrite education.”

Source: Tulsa World Editorial Board

Number of the Day


Percentage of Oklahoma students who scored below proficient in the 8th Grade Reading Oklahoma Core Corriculum Test in 2016. Students under the age of 18 must pass this test in order to get a driver’s license.

Source: Oklahoma State Department of Education

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The Enduring Myth That Government Should Be Run Like a Business: There were many and varied reasons behind the election of Donald Trump as president, but certainly one argument, heard time and again, contributed to his appeal: that the federal government was such a mess that the solution was to run it “like a business” and that the way to accomplish that was to elect a successful corporate executive. Now that the presidential transition is upon us, many of the people being selected or mentioned as cabinet appointees have stronger ties to the private sector than the public sector. Trump is not the first politician, by any means, to benefit from this this claim [Governing].

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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.

One thought on “In The Know: Hundreds of Oklahoma state employees get salary increases over $5,000

  1. I read up on the state’s constitution on education–wow! “to establish and maintain” free public education for all children compared to other states, even Alabama has higher standards require… could we sue over the “maintain” if schools have so little funds to offer classes only 4 days a week instead of 5 Maybe a court room fight will get enough Okies fired up –or maybe we could get the Governor on her knees for a day of prayer for our school children and their teachers — how many kids unable to read well enough to get thur a drivers’ test is the results of “low maintaince” when we have half of all kids failing how about 75% ???

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