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Today In The News
New cigarette fee not dedicated to health care: After months of debate and some significant language changes, it’s likely Oklahoma’s smokers will pay more for a pack of cigarettes. After both chambers passed the state’s general appropriations bill, which designates how the state’s $7 billion in revenue will be dispersed throughout fiscal 2018, the House of Representatives passed a bill on Friday afternoon to bring in about $250 million from tobacco sales. That money would plug about a quarter of the state’s nearly billion-dollar budget hole. Lawmakers sent three separate bills through the process, all of them pitching a $1.50 increase on cigarettes. One got filed early before the session began, before the January deadline, but it didn’t go far. Another went through the late-in-session budget committees, but it died when Democrats and conservative Republicans refused to pass it. On Friday, the House of Representatives passed the final version: a cigarette fee. The bill would also create the Health Care Enhancement Fund, and it says the Legislature can use its discretion to apportion money out of it [Journal Record]
Legislature adds sales tax to vehicle purchases but says it’s not a revenue measure: The Oklahoma Legislature passed a law to add a sales tax to cars, but the move hasn’t garnered many cheerleaders. House Bill 2433 places a 1.25-percent sales tax on cars, which buyers will pay in addition to the existing excise tax. Economists and policy analysts said the move would be harmful to auto dealers and any residents wanting to buy cars, but it’s not clear to what extent. The cost increase would average about $250, they said. Lawmakers had to plug a nearly billion-dollar budget hole before the end of the day on Friday, and several other revenue measures had been killed in the weeks before the vote. The sales tax on cars is projected to raise about $123 million in fiscal 2018, according to the Oklahoma Tax Commission. [Journal Record]
DHS forced to cut $33 million from budget, programs and jobs at risk: The Department of Human Services is one of 51 state agencies that will be forced to make budget cuts for the upcoming fiscal year. Gov. Mary Fallin was presented with a $6.8 billion budget bill on the last day of the legislative session. She called the budget “not ideal.” Sheree Powell, the DHS communications director, said they are grateful for the money did they receive, but they will still come up $33 million short of their current operating costs. DHS has compiled a list of 12 programs at risk of facing funding cuts, including: the Older Americans Act Services, Child Care Licensing and Subsidy, State Plan Personal Care Services, ADvantage Waiver Program, Smart Start Oklahoma, Adult Day Services, In-home Support Waivers, State Funded Community Services, TANF and Child Welfare Services. [KJRH]
Schools use food trucks to fight food insecurity during summer months: For Oklahoma families who are food-insecure, school meals can be a lifeline. Six in ten students qualify for free or reduced-cost meals at school. These meals offer solid nutrition while alleviating tight household budgets. But hunger doesn’t take a vacation during summer break, and although federal summer meal programs are available, participation in Oklahoma lags badly. However, some Oklahoma school districts have found success by building on a new distribution model: food trucks. [OK Policy]
Oklahoma City Council sets public hearings on sales tax, bond proposals: The Oklahoma City Council on Tuesday set public hearings for June 13 on bond and sales tax proposals designed to address residents’ No. 1 complaint — abysmal streets. Together, bonds financed by property taxes and extension of the MAPS 3 sales tax will bring in an estimated $725 million for streets and related improvements in the next 10 years. A significant share will be front-loaded by combining borrowing with the $180 million expected to be raised in the first 27 months through the MAPS sales tax extension. Under the proposal, property tax rates would be held steady, though taxes could increase if property values rise. The MAPS sales tax would be extended at the current rate of 1 percent. [NewsOK]
Shadow Mountain presented a ‘threat to life’ during recent inspection, slips in accreditation status: An accreditation agency has downgraded the status of a Tulsa youth psychiatric hospital while a U.S. senator pressured accrediting and federal officials for details of a recent inspection that found “an immediate threat to life” in the facility. U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, issued a news release Friday indicating that he has been unable to get information about a recent review of Tulsa’s Shadow Mountain Behavioral Health System by the Joint Commission, a private nonprofit organization that accredits hospitals and health-care organizations. On Tuesday, Joint Commission spokeswoman Elizabeth Zhani said an unannounced visit to the Shadow Mountain hospital at 6262 S. Sheridan Road on May 9-10 was made “in response to patient safety and quality concerns about the organization.” [Tulsa World]
Lawsuit: Oklahoma auto dealership, loan company engaged in predatory lending for years: A lawsuit filed in Oklahoma County district court accuses one of the state’s largest car dealership companies and one of the country’s largest auto lending companies of issuing scores of predatory loans to numerous Oklahoma customers by falsifying finance paperwork. The suit accuses David Stanley Dodge of adding fraudulent features and accessories to vehicles on finance paperwork and of inflating customer income information in order to obtain car loans for customers. The suit also accuses the lender, Ally Financial, of knowing many of the loans it accepted from the dealership were based on false financial information that inflated the incomes of applicants or over-valued vehicles the loans were based on. [The Frontier]
Why we should still talk about the race riot … and Terence Crutcher, too: The annual observance of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot comes immediately after one of the most racially charged moments in recent city history. The John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation plans a symposium on Reconciliation through the Lens of Art and Culture Wednesday through Friday. Wednesday’s events include a 5:30 p.m. Walk of Reconciliation from John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park to the 1921 Black Wall Street Memorial in front of the Greenwood Cultural Center. Thursday and Friday events are at the Hyatt Regency Tulsa. Jean Neal, administrative coordinator for the reconciliation center, says the recent trial of Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby and the 2016 shooting of Terence Crutcher are part of the racial atmosphere that the walk and the symposium seek to address. [Editorial Board / Tulsa World]
Quote of the Day
“There is nowhere you can cut in DHS that doesn’t hurt someone. This is all we do. We serve vulnerable Oklahomans. When you have to look at reducing those services, unfortunately these are the only options we have.”
-Oklahoma Department of Human Services communications director Sheree Powell, speaking about a $33 million state funding shortfall for the agency that will force cuts to programs for Oklahomans most vulnerable children and seniors (Source).
Number of the Day
Share of Oklahoma jobs that are in local government, April 2017.
Source: Kansas City Federal Reserve
For the price of Trump’s tax cuts, you could cut child poverty in half — and so much more: Donald Trump has a plan to cut taxes by about $5.5 trillion over 10 years. That’s a gargantuan sum of money — much larger than the Obama administration’s fiscal stimulus program and bigger than George W. Bush’s tax cuts. It’s such a big sum of money that it’s hard to get your mind around it. But one useful way to put the $5.5 trillion tax cut into perspective is to observe that it’s equal to the combined cost of a whole bunch of separate pie-in-the-sky proposals. The biggest dream project in American progressive politics right now is replacing the existing patchwork health care system with a single-payer, Medicare-for-all scheme. That would take considerably more money than the value of the Trump tax plan. Almost anything else on the liberal wish list, however, is not just cheaper but a lot cheaper. [Vox]
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