In The Know: Oklahoma Faces Another Revenue Failure, Agencies To See Mid-Year Budget Cuts

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

Oklahoma Faces Another Revenue Failure, Agencies To See Mid-Year Budget Cuts: The Oklahoma Board of Equalization declared a revenue failure for the current fiscal year, which will result in mid-year appropriations cuts to state agencies. State agencies will receive across board cuts of 0.7 percent between March and June of this year. In total, agencies will be cut by $34.6 million. Preston Doerflinger, the Director and Secretary of Finance, Administration and Information Technology, said the situation is dire and more revenue is needed. “I need you, members, I beg you to have an appreciation for the seriousness of the situation we have before us,” Doerflinger told the board members [KOSU]. Public schools are bracing for additional cuts [NewsOn6].

Will Oklahoma pass the cigarette tax bill? Maybe, leaders say: The level of support for a bill that would raise Oklahoma’s cigarette tax by $1.50 per pack changes every day, leading to concerns about the future of funding for state health services, leaders say. House Bill 1841, authored by Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, would provide more than $200 million in cigarette tax money for several health-related state agencies. The bill passed 17-10 out of the House appropriations and budget committee Feb. 13 and awaits a vote in the full House [NewsOK]. Legislators are divided on the issue [Woodward News].

Economic calamity awaits if we fail to act: In this young legislative session, we have witnessed a polarization in the executive branch. Gov. Mary Fallin’s call to recast our archaic 20th-century tax code for the 21st century was bold. The $1 billion in proposed new taxes went too far, and frightened our citizens and business community. In a theatrical move to signal his political opposition, Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb quit the cabinet offering no alternative plan for tackling the real budget mess we face. Do we cut or invest? I’m a pragmatist. I believe the answer is in the middle [Rep. Leslie Osborn / NewsOK].

Opposition Grows to Fallin’s Sales Tax Proposal: Thirteen more rank-and-file Republican legislators have announced their opposition to Gov. Mary Fallin’s plan to expand the existing state sales tax to dozens of services that are currently exempt. A news release Tuesday from the Oklahoma House says 27 House and Senate members have publicly said they are opposed to Fallin’s sales tax proposal. The state faces a budget shortfall of nearly $880 million and Fallin has proposed expanding the sales tax, along with increases in the tax on cigarettes and motor fuel [Associated Press].

A morally courageous, fiscally rational act in the Oklahoma Legislature: Congratulations to the House Appropriations and Budget Committee for passing Gov. Mary Fallin’s proposed $1.50 a pack cigarette tax increase last week. Under the proposal offered by Committee Chairman Leslie Osborne, R-Mustang, the money raised from the taxes would be directed to state healthcare and mental health costs. That makes fiscal sense for two reasons. First, cigarettes are the No. 1 cause of preventable death in Oklahoma and the nation, and it makes sense to use money paid by smokers to help reduce their burden on nonsmoking Oklahomans. Second, money of those healthcare costs can be leveraged against federal Medicaid funding, essentially turning every $1 in state tax money into about $2.50 in funding [Editorial Board / Tulsa World].

Oklahoma lawmakers should defer to voters on SQ 780: An appeal to protect children is generally a sure winner in the Legislature, thus it wasn’t a surprise to see a House committee give overwhelming approval to the “Keep Oklahoma Children Safe from Illegal Drugs Act of 2017.” Yet this bill merits closer scrutiny from the full House. House Bill 1482, approved 11-1 in committee last week, is an effort to right what its backers say voters got wrong in November when they approved State Question 780 and State Question 781. SQ 780 reclassifies simple drug possession and property crimes of under $1,000 as misdemeanors instead of felonies, with a goal of reducing the number of people who go to prison in Oklahoma each year [Editorial Board / NewsOK].

Oklahoma voucher bill faces backlash from school officials: A state senate panel passed a bill that would set up a school voucher system, and it’s getting backlash from school officials. Senate Bill 560 would allow parents to use money that would otherwise go to public education for private school tuition. Senator Rob Standridge (R-District 15) introduced the bill earlier this year. School vouchers are subsidies given to parents for private school tuition [Fox 23].

Payday lending bills floated from both sides of aisle: History: One either learns from it or finds oneself doomed to repeat it. That’s a memo that may have missed the desk of Sen. Dan Newberry (R-Tulsa). In early January, the mortgage banker introduced SB 112, which, as stated on page 14 of the 32-page chunk of legislation, would increase the maximum payday loan amount from $500 to $1,500. A monthly interest rate of 17 percent could then be set on the new maximum [NonDoc].

Oklahoma Senate panel passes bill protecting discrimination based on behavior, lifestyle or marriage: A Senate panel passed a bill that would protect those who discriminate based on marriage, lifestyle or behavior. Dubbed the “Oklahoma Right of Conscience Act,” Senate Bill 197 now heads to the Senate floor for consideration. Sen. Joseph Silk, R-Broken Bow, is the author. Toby Jenkins, executive director of Oklahomans for Equality, said the measure “will give business owners and government employees a free pass to refuse to do business or provide vital services for LGBTQ individuals and groups.” [Tulsa World]

Even doctors depend on the Affordable Care Act: One in three Oklahomans have a pre-existing condition that could have been used to deny them health insurance coverage prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). My husband, Eric, is one of those Oklahomans. When my husband was a small child, he was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma. He was treated at St. Jude’s hospital in Memphis. Although his treatments and back and forth trips from Oklahoma City were rough, he has good memories of the staff that took care of him [Sabine Brown / OK Policy].

Tulsa immigrants on edge about new memos expanding possibility for deportations: Tulsa immigrant families are bracing for mass deportations, raids and the breakup of families, members of Dream Act-Oklahoma say. More undocumented parents of children are seeking applications for power of attorney in case they get deported. Families have emergency plans in place for children who may come home to empty houses, says Jordan Mazariegos, president of the grassroots immigration reform group. “They are teaching kids that this can happen and are having conversations with kids about it. These are kids who are in elementary school and barely learning their names. It’s a burden they have to carry already,” Mazariegos said [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma turnpike toll hike begins March 1: Beginning March 1, it will cost motorists 12 percent more to drive on Oklahoma turnpikes. The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority approved the systemwide toll increase in December. The toll increases were enacted to help pay for a $480 million bond issue that will help finance construction of a new east Oklahoma County toll road, as well as work performed on the Gilcrease Expressway, the Muskogee Turnpike, the Turner Turnpike, the H.E. Bailey Turnpike and the Kilpatrick Turnpike [NewsOK].

Legislators unlikely to raid healthy pension funds: The pension systems that support many state-employed retirees are in good health and unlikely to be targeted by legislators seeking ways to balance the state budget, Rep. Randy McDaniel said. The Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System, for example, recently received high marks for performance in the same percentile as Standard & Poor’s, topping a wide range of funds nationwide for comparison by consultant firm NEPC. The OTRS has about 170,000 members, of which 90,000 are active and still contributing [Journal Record].

Politics, limited funding hamper biomedical industry: As Oklahoma suffers budget shortfalls and officials blame the economy’s dependence on volatile agriculture and energy markets, biomedical advocates say the industry isn’t getting enough attention. The budding sector already brings in billions annually, but political tension, leery investors and poor education funding have put a damper on its development, they said. The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber’s public affairs division became active in research policy seven or eight years ago, said President and CEO Roy Williams [Journal Record].

Gary Richardson forms committee for 2018 Oklahoma governor’s race: Former federal prosecutor Gary Richardson says he’s formed an exploratory committee for next year’s governor’s race. Richardson, who donated more than $2 million to his own campaign for governor in 2002, announced plans Tuesday for his exploratory committee. Richardson ran as an independent in 2002 against Democrat Brad Henry and Republican Steve Largent and won more than 14 percent of the vote in the race that was won by Henry [Associated Press].

Pruitt’s emails with energy companies to be released: The Oklahoma attorney general’s office said Tuesday it is complying with a judge’s order to surrender documents related to new Environmental Protection Agency leader Scott Pruitt’s communications with energy companies while he served as the state’s attorney general. The office had until 5 p.m. Tuesday to comply with District Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons’s order to turn over emails and other documents to the Wisconsin-based Center for Media and Democracy, which requested the documents more than two years ago under Oklahoma’s Open Records Act [Associated Press].

Trump rally planned at Oklahoma Capitol: In a year when political debate has spilled into the streets, supporters of President Donald Trump are planning a series of rallies across the nation next month, a response to a slate of anti-Trump demonstrations that have become common following his election. Demonstrations have been planned at state capitols across the country on March 4, and local Trump supporters have scheduled their own rally for the Oklahoma Capitol. However, the organizer of Oklahoma’s event doesn’t see it as a counter to anti-Trump events [NewsOK].

Quote of the Day

“If our legislature isn’t willing to solve some of these problems and prioritize our service, invest in some of our services, there may just come a time at the end of session where I just veto the appropriations until we get a deal worked that works for the state of Oklahoma.”

-Governor Mary Fallin, threatening to veto a budget that doesn’t include sufficient new revenue to fund services (Source)

Number of the Day


Money recovered for every $1 spent by DHS’s Child Support Services in 2016

Source: Oklahoma Department of Human Services

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Entrepreneurs: Health law changes may mean finding new jobs: Stay in business for yourself or go back to working for someone else? That’s the choice some small business owners and freelancers are worried they may have to make, depending on what changes Congress makes in the health care law. With Republicans working on legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, people who traded a full-time job for entrepreneurship are concerned that new insurance policies may be too expensive or not available at all — and possibly force them to find new jobs that offer cheaper and more comprehensive group plans [Associated Press].

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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.

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