In The Know: Oklahoma finance chief developing options for special legislative session

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 finance chief is developing options for possible special legislative session: The state’s top budget negotiator is developing alternative proposals for a special legislative session that contemplate using all, some or none of the extra $140.8 million the state has available for teacher pay raises. “The governor has asked my office for proposals to fund a permanent teacher pay raise at or above $5,000,” said Preston Doerflinger, secretary of finance, administration and information technology [NewsOK]. Since a good portion of the $140 million was cut from education to begin with, using it to fund a teacher pay raise would be like robbing Peter to pay Peter [OK Policy].

Teacher reluctantly leaving Tulsa for Texas: ‘It’s not just salary … it’s about respect’: If Texas is like a whole other country, as the state’s tourism slogan goes, then Oklahoma is its chief teacher exporter. The latest Tulsa teacher to pack up her classroom and head 270 miles south is LeAnna Snyder, former fifth-grade teacher at Carnegie Elementary School. “Leaving Carnegie is one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made. My stomach was in knots for months,” Snyder said, as her eyes welled with tears. “I feel like I’m letting the children down — and my district — but I’ve stayed here as long as I can.” [Tulsa World]

Health insurance costs increasing for state employees, retirees: State employees and retirees on the state’s insurance plans are likely to see a rate increase next year. The Oklahoma Employees Insurance and Benefits Board approved increases in all of the plans it oversees, from 6 percent for one of three HMOs and nearly 16 percent for the Medicare-based high option plan offered through the state’s self-insured group. The rate increases are the highest in recent years. In one of the plans offered by the self-funded HealthChoice program, rates never grew beyond 5.5 percent since 2010. Next year, pending approval from Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger, monthly rates will go up 8.4 percent [Journal Record].

Dozens of districts prepare to begin 4-day week: As many school districts throughout Oklahoma prepare to go back to class this month, many districts will only be going to school four days a week this year. Dozens of districts across Oklahoma are making the switch to four-day weeks because of state budget cuts. Jay Thomas, superintendent of Little Axe Public Schools, said the change will save three to four teacher positions, which will help keep the class sizes small. However, the district still had to eliminate six teacher positions and one assistant principal position [KOCO]. For kids whose most reliable meals come from school, a shortened school week can mean going hungry [OK Policy].

Education sales tax debate heats up ahead of election: As Oklahoma educators seek the largest injection of public school funding in a generation through the form of a penny sales tax increase, opposition to the effort is stepping up with the statewide election 85 days away. State Question 779, officially called the Oklahoma Education Improvement Fund, and commonly referred to as the “Boren Tax,” — in reference to University of Oklahoma President David Boren’s spokesperson status for the initiative — seeks to raise the state sales tax rate by one cent per dollar with a bulk of the new revenue going to teacher salaries. School reading programs, early childhood education, colleges and career technology centers would also receive a piece of the funding pie [Oklahoman].

Indian Advisory Council expresses concern over budget cuts: The impact of reduced education funding on students was a top concern of attendees of the Oklahoma Advisory Council on Indian Education at their July 20 meeting. The group met at the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City. Dwight Pickering, director of American Indian Education with the Oklahoma State Department of Education, said the more than 130,000 Native American students enrolled in Oklahoma’s public schools are experiencing the same difficulties as all children in the state. “In some instances, our tribes across the state are helping those districts that are in their tribal jurisdiction,” said Pickering. “The partnership the tribes have created with the schools is so important” [Norman Transcript].

Nonprofit among several hanging in balance due to state cuts: Emergency shelter, health care and food for hundreds of thousands of Oklahoma residents provided by a nonprofit could be at peril should cuts to the state’s Department of Human Services remain in place. 211 Oklahoma, which links residents in need to one of 3,000 groups able to help when they dial 211, gets about $600,000 a year from the state agency. If the mid-year cuts stand, the nonprofit’s budget stands to be slashed by 30 percent. The program is emblematic of what similar agencies that depend on a mix of state and private funds face as state lawmakers and Gov. Mary Fallin decide what to do with $140 million in unspent state money [KRMG].

Task force could explore sustainable revenue sources for OKC, state: The Oklahoma City Council is looking for ideas to steady the ship of state, from the Capitol to City Hall. The council passed a resolution asking the governor, House speaker and Senate president pro tem to convene a task force to study tax reform and look for ways to curb wasteful spending. The resolution encourages other local governments to join the effort to promote what Mayor Mick Cornett called a “comprehensive examination” of how government is funded at every level [NewsOK].

Tulsa County DA opposes state questions on justice reform: Almost everyone connected with the state’s criminal justice system, it seems, agrees Oklahoma puts too many people in jail. They don’t always agree, though, on what to do about it. Many prosecutors, for instance, are leery of two state questions that address the issue by eliminating felony drug possession from the state penal code, and by creating a special rehabilitation fund for those whose criminal activity is driven by addiction or mental health problems [Tulsa World]. Oklahoma has among the harshest punishments in the nation for drug possession, and district attorney discretion has meant drug possession is punished inconsistently in different parts of the state [OK Policy].

Presidential candidates sue over state ballot access: Two presidential candidates are suing the State Election Board because they won’t be on the November ballot. Jill Stein of the Green Party and independent candidate Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente argued in a federal lawsuit that Oklahoma’s ballot access laws are too strict. The lawsuit is joined by several voters who support the candidates. Tulsa attorney James Linger wrote in the lawsuit that Oklahoma has an unnecessarily early filing deadline, a petition signature requirement that is too high and that the law discriminates against presidential candidates who are not Republican or Democrat [Journal Record].

Inside the Landmark State and Tribal Agreement That Ends Standoff Over Water in Southeast Oklahoma: After five years of court proceedings and confidential negotiations, the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations have reached an agreement with the state over control of water in southeast Oklahoma. The deal, announced Thursday, clears a path for Oklahoma City to pump water out of Sardis Lake — a plan city officials say is essential to meeting the metropolitan area’s long-term water needs — which the tribes blocked with a 2011 lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. The agreement also establishes rules over how much water can be taken from the lake without disrupting tourism [StateImpact Oklahoma].

Cherokee Nation celebrates national holiday: More than 100,000 people are expected to travel to Tahlequah for the Cherokee Nation’s annual cultural and arts festival on Labor Day weekend. Activities Sept. 2-4 will include an intertribal powwow, parade, arts and crafts vendors, a 5K run and a children’s fishing derby. The celebration commemorates the signing of the Cherokee Nation Constitution in 1839, which re-established the Cherokee Nation government in Indian Territory after forced removal from the Cherokees’ original homelands in the Southeast [Journal Record].

Kansas Regulators Issue Order Restricting Wastewater Injections: The Kansas Corporation Commission approved an order on Tuesday that restricts the amount of oilfield saltwater injections which are introduced into the Arbuckle formation in parts of five counties located in south central Kansas. The state regulatory panel hopes that the new rules will place more restrictions on the volume of wastewater that can be dumped into disposal wells located in seismically sensitive areas. Earthquakes began occurring more frequently in Oklahoma and southern Kansas during 2013 after an uptick in hydraulic fracturing [OK Energy Today].

Quote of the Day

“It’s like cutting Google from the internet. It takes away the ability to marry up people in need with agencies that can provide a whole array of services.”

-Donnie House, spokesperson for 211 Oklahoma, which had its budget slashed 30 percent in Oklahoma’s midyear cuts and could be forced to scale back the helpline that connects Oklahomans to emergency shelter, health care, and food assistance (Source).

Number of the Day

103 million metric tons

Total carbon dioxide emissions by Oklahoma in 2013.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

A simple change that could help solve one of the biggest problems facing poor people: Middle- and upper-class city dwellers tend to live near supermarkets. But if the trek feels too far, in many cities and suburbs they can order grocery deliveries, often for a single-digit delivery fee, from services such as Instacart, Peapod and FreshDirect. That’s not an option for the 14 percent of Americans who rely on food stamps. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s benefits cannot be used online. That only worsens food access for poor Americans who live far from grocery stores [Washington Post].

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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: Oklahoma finance chief developing options for special legislative session

  1. As the Tulsa DA becomes a leader against the small-bore sentencing reforms proposed for initiative approval this election, it would be good to remember this. In the past, that office has been loudly outspoken about lessened penalties for drug and small-level property offenses, including second degree burglary. “That’s just a rape or murder where no one is home,” as the state DA org exec director loves to say and as no research ever, anywhere has ever demonstrated. UNTIL that office’s budget lost a large portion of its income from its “hot check” fund since so few people write checks comparatively anymore. Where, oh, where would new revenue come from? Why, the DA’s office could start a “DA Diversion” program where, for a fee, offenders could be put on a kind of probation supervised by highly trained [sic] assistant DAs rather than end up in the process and sooner or later ending up incarcerated. And who were the people assigned to this diversion? Drug and small-level property offenders, including second degree burglary.

    NEVER buy the OK DA rhetoric that their opposition to the same reforms that have brought crime rates much, much lower in other similar states compared to the crime rates in OK which have remained higher due to the opposition of those similar reforms by OK DA is due to their concern about “public safety.” The easily verified crime rate evidence is proof to any objective analyst that true concern about reducing crime and victimization would lead to embracing far broader reforms than those proposed in these initiatives. For OK DAs, it’s all about a generous helping of dollars, power, position, and prestige, ladled over with politics and put on the menu as “public safety.” If OK were to be given an “EASY” button that would eliminate 90% of all state crime, the OK DAs would find reasons to oppose pushing that button. Crime, if it ever decides to retire, would consider OK one of its first choice locations, thanks to the work of OK DAs.

    Let’s make the next initiative funding for a comparative study of state prosecutor data in OK versus similar states. DAs really sure that they are protecting “public safety” the best it could be protected would welcome that study as verification of their points and power. They probably would have proposed it themselves by now. But if you think OK DAs are opposed to the initiatives, just wait . . . .

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