In The Know: Oklahoma budget hole nearly $900 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.

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Today In The News

Oklahoma budget hole nearly $900 million: Just six days after Gov. Mary Fallin predicted the state would face a $600 million budget hole, her finance secretary said Tuesday it actually will be a lot bigger. Preston Doerflinger said at a state Capitol news conference that current projections show the state will have $6 billion to spend next year. That means that when the Legislature gathers in February to start work on a new budget, they will be looking at an $868 million shortfall. Lawmakers will be forced to seriously consider ways to bring in more revenue if necessities are to be funded adequately [NewsOK]. Oklahoma has several revenue options for this year’s budget emergency [OK Policy].

It’s a tough time in Oklahoma, except for Scott Pruitt: The last few years have been grindingly tough for state government in Oklahoma as plunging oil prices decimated tax revenues, forcing agencies to lay off employees, shutter offices and scale back services. But you wouldn’t know that by looking at the office of Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has been nominated by President-elect Donald Trump to become director of the Environmental Protection Agency. While living in the same harsh fiscal climate and preaching small-government conservatism, Pruitt has managed to increase his office’s expenses by 40 percent and add nearly 60 employees since taking over, creating a dynamo for legal attacks on the Obama administration and a launching pad for his political career [Associated Press].

Shawnee Senator Wants To Prevent Automatic Income Tax Cuts, Use Fuel Tax For Teacher Pay: State Sen. Ron Sharp, a Republican, has filed a bill that could prevent automatic income tax cuts. He has also called for new revenue to support a teacher pay raise. Neither of those ideas have been popular among the GOP, but Sharp said they’re necessary. “We’ve just basically got to the point where there’s no more cutting that can take place without additional revenue,” said Sharp, R-Shawnee. “That’s the tragedy of the situation.” Senate Bill 13 keeps a trigger that would lower the income tax rate, but it adds a $500 million cushion. If the amount of general revenue growth isn’t greater than the cost of the next rate reduction plus $500 million, the income tax rate remains the same [Journal Record]. Even if revenues grow enough to reach the trigger, next year’s estimated general revenue collections will still be more than $400 million below what they were in FY 2015 [OK Policy].

It’s not just teachers; Oklahoma state employees seek higher pay: Cindy Shewmake spends her day helping low-income Oklahomans access support systems, such as food or child care assistance. Her passion for helping others led her to her career as a social services specialist for the state Department of Human Services, but too often she said her co-workers are the ones taking advantage of government support. As legislators prepare for the start of a new session in seven weeks, the need for teacher pay raises have already become a topic of discussion [NewsOK].

Seven Oklahomans get clemency as Obama pardons 78, shortens sentences for 153: President Barack Obama has pardoned 78 people and shortened the sentences of 153 others convicted of federal crimes, the greatest number of individual clemencies in a single day by any president, the White House said. Seven Oklahoma men were included on the list released Monday. Obama has been granting commutations at rapid-fire pace in his final months in office, but he has focused primarily on shortening sentences of those convicted of drug offenses rather than pardons [Associated Press].

Possible effects of Trump presidency worry Tulsa Hispanics, affect their spending habits: Many Hispanic people in Tulsa are nervous about the upcoming presidency of Donald Trump, whose campaign included promises of building a wall along the Mexican border and mass deportations of illegal aliens. Some Hispanic business owners say sales are down as people have cut spending to save money for an uncertain future. Trump’s call for immigration reform and border control struck a chord in Oklahoma, where he carried every county and beat Hillary Clinton 2-to-1 [Tulsa World].

System tweaks could ease pressure on Oklahoma County jail: One of the many compelling findings by experts who studied Oklahoma County’s criminal justice system is just how costly it can be for those who wind up in the county jail — before they’re ever found guilty of a crime. Policymakers should give this portion of the experts’ report a close look. Researchers from the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit that has worked on justice reform in several cities, noted that fines, fees and costs here are part of the process from start to finish [The Oklahoman Editorial Board].

OKC schools chief responds to principals’ concerns: Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Aurora Lora on Monday responded directly to principals and assistant principals who claim district leadership is unresponsive and undermines morale. Lora, in a lengthy email, addressed concerns raised by building administrators in a letter that was read during the Dec. 12 school board meeting. “I didn’t really have enough time to formulate a proper response to the letter in that board meeting since I had just received it, but I would like to be able to address it by the next board meeting,” the email states [NewsOK].

Oklahoma improves in infectious-disease prevention, control: Oklahoma showed slight improvement in a new report detailing preparedness to prevent and control infectious disease outbreaks. The state still ranks near the bottom when compared to other states. Click Here! The report, released Tuesday by the Trust for America’s Health, measured states on 10 indicators such as vaccinations, disease surveillance, climate change and food safety. Oklahoma was one of five states scoring 5 out of 10. Only four states scored worse [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma oil and gas industry hopes for brighter future: Oklahomans in the oil and gas industry have been celebrating OPEC’s decision to reduce crude oil production in a bid to raise gas prices. “The move is good news for Oklahoma, where the oil and natural gas industry is the backbone of the state’s economy,” Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association President Mike Terry said. This is OPEC’s first time reducing production since 2008. Since then, a global recession, followed by a dip in oil prices due to increased global supply, has continued to negatively impact the state’s economy [Norman Transcript].

Oklahoma’s new fracking guidelines aim to reduce quake risk: Oklahoma is imposing guidelines to reduce the risk of earthquakes caused by hydraulic fracturing in its oil-rich shale formations, the first rules in the state to target the controversial production technique. The guidelines are aimed at the South Central Oklahoma Oil Province (SCOOP) and Sooner Trend Anadarko Basin Canadian and Kingfisher counties (STACK) formations, which are anticipated to account for most new oil and gas activity in the state, authorities said on Tuesday [Reuters].

Quote of the Day

“We cannot afford another trigger, because that would hit from $90 million to $140 million taken out of the budget when we’re already strained. Can you imagine what would happen if the (Board of Equalization) said we had the amount of money needed for the second trigger to catch in? School districts would have to shut down in April if we make them another cut.”

-State Sen. Ron Sharp (R-Shawnee), explaining the need to modify an income tax cut trigger that could go into effect in 2018 (Source)

Number of the Day

$560 million

Yearly cost of uncompensated care in all Oklahoma hospitals.

Source: State Chamber of Oklahoma

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Why More Mass Deportations Would Be Bad News for the Housing Market: Right around the time foreclosures were starting to pile up in the housing crash, on their way to affecting nearly one in five homeowning Hispanic households, the very same communities took a second blow. The federal government’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, in partnership with local law enforcement, was increasing deportations of undocumented immigrants: more than three million in all between 2005 and 2013. About 85 percent of them were working Latin American men. New research now suggests that the deportations helped exacerbate foreclosures [The Upshot / New York Times].

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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.

One thought on “In The Know: Oklahoma budget hole nearly $900 million

  1. Just read that a state official added 60 people to his staff. Increasing the number of state employees is not the way to reduce spending. The number of state employees must be reduced, and the pay of state officials should be capped at $100,000. That is twice the average pay of US tax payers. and 3 times the average pay of Oklahoma citizens.

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