In The Know: Lawmakers concerned cuts could lead to federal takeover

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.

Check out OK Policy’s resources for the Legislative session, including the Legislative Primer and Online Budget Guide.

Today In The News

Lawmakers concerned cuts could lead to federal takeover: Concerns are mounting that the Legislature’s ongoing budget woes could lead to a new court showdown and trigger a possible federal takeover of the state’s foster care system. And observers fear the biggest loser in the tussle would be Oklahoma’s most vulnerable children — the nearly 9,500 abused and neglected kids currently in foster care — the caseworkers who protect the, and the thousands of families who have agreed to shelter the youth in their time of greatest need. Critics, meanwhile, claim officials are flirting with disaster as they consider chopping millions in funding to the state’s foster care program in an effort to fill an $878 million shortfall. [Enid News]

New revenue must be part of Oklahoma budget debate: The Legislature just completed the final week for bills to be voted on in their house of origin. The fact the House was able to finish its work Wednesday night, instead of going late into Thursday or even into Friday, indicates the leadership is keeping the trains running on a pretty good schedule. However, it’s also true that important revenue-raising bills sought by Gov. Mary Fallin to help address an $878 million budget shortfall face an uncertain future, in part because they’ve been met tepidly by House leadership. [Editorial Board / The Oklahoman] See OK Policy’s proposed revenue options for a better budget here.

Budget hearings mark Oklahoma Legislature’s halfway point:  Members of the Oklahoma House got a budget update from agencies Thursday as lawmakers wrapped up the first half of session. Meanwhile, House Speaker Charles McCall said he has come up with a plan to fund teacher pay raises, but the plan will remain a secret for now. The budget meetings were a chance to tell lawmakers how the agencies have handled budget cuts so far, but also gave officials another chance to present dire results of a hypothetical 14.5 percent spending cut. [The Oklahoman] See our Legislative Primer for a full list of important dates this session.

Predatory lending needs to stop: Predatory lending is an evil practice that should be regulated heavily or abolished altogether. Unfortunately, some Oklahoma legislators think otherwise. The House this month voted 59-31 for House Bill 1913, by Rep. Chris Kannady, R-Oklahoma City. Called the Oklahoma Small Loan Act, it would allow a new type of loan to be offered in amounts up to $1,500 at a 17 percent interest rate per month. This amounts to an annual percentage rate of 204 percent. [Rev. R. Mitch Randall / NewsOK] The small loans that would be allowed under HB 1913 would mean big debts for Oklahoma families [OK Policy].

Two things the Legislature could do to make Oklahoma children safer: When it comes to child safety, there are two specific issues that I wished had gained more traction during my time in the Legislature: strengthening our system for recovering missing children and improving school background checks for school volunteers. I hope new legislators will recognize the need to increase safety and security for young Oklahomans and consider both concepts again. Legislative bodies and their priorities change but one thing never does: lawmakers listen to their constituents and try to respond to their wishes. If you have an idea that would help Oklahoma kids, don’t be afraid to speak out. If there is something out there important to you, please contact your state legislators and share your thoughts. [Joe Dorman / Tulsa World]

Uncertainty clouds Oklahoma’s health insurance market: Oklahoma’s tenuous presence in the federal individual health insurance exchange has been made more so by the uncertain political and regulatory environment, state Insurance Commissioner John Doak said Friday. “I have an obligation to keep people informed,” he said by telephone. Doak was clarifying an earlier statement that Oklahoma was in danger of not having any individual policies available on the federal exchange come 2018. Only one carrier, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, currently offers polices in Oklahoma through the exchange. [Tulsa World]

Women in Recovery: Good news from Tulsa County’s criminal justice system: The WIR program works closely with the criminal justice system, including Tulsa County Court Services, Public Defender’s Office, District Attorney’s Office and each of the criminal district judges, as well as multiple community partners. This enables these women to receive supervision, substance abuse and mental health treatment, workforce readiness training, job placement, assistance with family reunification and aftercare services. With all the negativity and just plain bad news recently about crime, the WIR program provides us some very good news indeed. [William LaFortune/Tulsa World]

‘A living death sentence’: Life without parole overused with death penalty on decline, some say: As the death penalty loses favor with juries, life-without-parole sentences have silently soared to more than 1,000 inmates in Oklahoma — costing a minimum of about $17 million a year. On average since 2000, about 35 inmates each year enter prison for life without parole, while four with the same sentence exit custody, usually after dying. [Tulsa World] Over-incarceration is a major problem in Oklahoma prisons that must be addressed to avoid disaster [OK Policy].

Health officials: 4 more Oklahomans die from the flu, including young child: Four Oklahomans have died from the flu virus in the last week, according to health officials. On Thursday, the Oklahoma State Department of Health announced that 68 people have died as a result of the flu this season. Four of those deaths occurred within the last week, including a child who was younger than 4-years-old. Officials say residents in Tulsa County has been hardest hit by the flu this season, leading to 18 deaths in that county. So far, 495 people have been hospitalized because of the virus in Tulsa County. [KFOR]

STDs continue to rise in county, state: Anyone who visited the State Department of Health’s online portal for sexually transmitted disease statistics in the past five months likely found a comforting picture. Just this past week, according to the updated figures, not a single county had an STD ratio greater than 1-to-1,000. That means in every county in Oklahoma, if 1,000 random residents gathered in one place, there was unlikely to be even one person with an STD in that group. Sounds pretty good, right? Well, Oklahoma would have to be the most populous state in the nation for that to be correct. [Norman Transcript]

Protection Coming For Oklahoma Job Seekers Impacted By Data Breach: Hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans are starting to get some answers after the state’s job website was hacked earlier this month as part of a national data breach. America’s Job Link Alliance runs employment websites for ten different states, including Oklahoma’s Those states are now coming together to demand protection for more than 4.8 million people nationwide whose personal information may be in jeopardy. “They are going to be providing credit protection and monitoring for everyone impacted in this particular breach for 12 months,” said Oklahoma’s chief information security officer Mark Gower. [News9]

Cherokee Nation awards $5 million to northeast Oklahoma school districts: The Cherokee Nation gave $5 million to 107 school districts across Oklahoma during the event at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. The funds come from Cherokee Nation car tag sales revenue, 38 percent of which is allocated to education each year and given to school superintendents to use at their discretion. “These revenues help bolster public education in an era when Oklahoma school budgets continue to be slashed because of poor policy decisions and the downturn in the state economy,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “I am so proud our tribal sovereign government supports public education and works to cultivate quality partnerships with area schools.” [Tulsa World]

Atoka superintendent: Current Oklahoma school funding path is untenable: Oklahoma’s rural schools are educating more than 200,000 students. That’s one in three students in the entire state. As superintendent of Atoka’s school system, I’m responsible for nearly 900 students in grades K-12. The impact of rural schools on Oklahoma’s future can often be misunderstood at the state Capitol. In Atoka Public Schools, we have seen our funding decline by more than $500,000 since 2009. The path we are on is untenable. [Jay McAdams / NewsOK]

Nap time is over… it’s time for legislators to listen to the demand for better school funding: There really is a difference between hearing and listening. Our state leaders and policymakers need to listen to what Oklahomans are saying about the importance of investing in public education and other essential services. According to a recent Sooner Poll, Oklahomans have identified education as the No. 1 funding priority in the state. Why are state leaders not listening to the people they serve? [Kirt Hartzler / Tulsa World]

Task force to tackle Oklahoma higher education overhaul: A new task force will review the status of Oklahoma’s higher education system and make recommendations to improve and modernize it. “The task force will be looking at the fiscal viability of each institution within the system, particularly in relationship to the budget cuts that have occurred the past several years,” Chancellor Glen Johnson said Thursday. The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education voted Thursday to form the task force and will approve the membership next month. [NewsOK]

Quote of the Day

“We’ve got a deficit in this state, and it is not a deficit in resources. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a deficit of will. There are enough resources in this state to do what we need to do with public education, and if the leaders of this state won’t do it, maybe we need to put a Cherokee in charge.”

Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. speaking at the Cherokee Nation’s Annual Public School Appreciation Day.  The Cherokee Nation gave $5 million dollars to Oklahoma public school districts at the event. [Source]

Number of the Day


Oklahoma’s effective tax rate on oil production, which is less than half the next lowest state (Texas at 6.74%).

Source: Headwaters Economics

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Handing Out Tax Breaks to Businesses Is Worse Than Useless: Even before being sworn in as President, Donald Trump jumped up and down at the chance to showcase the great deal he and Vice-President Mike Pence made to keep a Carrier plant in Indiana. The company pocketed $7 million in tax breaks in exchange for about 800 jobs. But the broad consensus among economists who study the subject is that such business incentives do little to alter the location decisions of companies. In fact, they’re often worse than ineffective—they’re counterproductive. [CityLab]

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Courtney Cullison worked for OK Policy from 2017 to 2020 as a policy analyst focused on issues of economic opportunity and financial security. Before coming to OK Policy, Courtney worked in higher education, holding faculty positions at the University of Texas at Tyler and at Connors State College in eastern Oklahoma. A native Oklahoman, she received an Honors B.A. in Political Science from Oklahoma State University, and an M.A. and Ph.D. with emphasis in congressional politics and public policy from the University of Oklahoma. While at OU, Courtney was a fellow at the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center. As a professor she taught classes in American politics, public policy, and research methods and conducted original research with a focus on the relationship between representatives and the constituents they serve.

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