In The Know: Oklahoma lawmakers advance $6.8 billion at midnight

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 Advocacy Alerts, the Legislative Primer, the What’s That? Glossary, and Online Budget Guide.

Today In The News

Oklahoma lawmakers advance $6.8 billion at midnight: Tuesday at the Oklahoma Capitol ended with leadership introducing two long-awaited budget bills. The proposals, each estimated to be $6.8 billion in spending for state agencies and programs, were introduced to House lawmakers at 11:14 p.m. One bill included a teacher pay raise and the other didn’t [NewsOK]. Legislators are attempting again to pass a last-minute budget without time for scrutiny [OK Policy].

Cigarette fee, auto-sale levy are proposed to close huge state budget hole: Lawmakers will attempt to pass a $1.50 fee on cigarettes in lieu of a tax in an effort to close the state’s budget hole, House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols said Tuesday. Echols, R-Oklahoma City, said he expects the Legislature to adjourn by Friday, thus avoiding a special session. The decision to run the cigarette levy as a fee signaled an end to protracted negotiations with House Democrats, who had sought to trade their votes on a cigarette “tax” for an increase in the gross production tax [Tulsa World].

Donations, Lobbying Reflect Influence of Oil and Gas Industry: Oklahoma’s budget hangs in the balance as Republicans and Democrats battle over how much to raise gross production taxes on oil and gas wells. But there’s a third party at the bargaining table: the oil and gas industry. Oil and gas companies, along with their trade groups, have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations to lawmakers over more than two years, with top Republican leaders at the forefront of budget talks taking in some of the largest amounts. Republicans received more than 90 percent of total donations [Oklahoma Watch]. See how much your legislator received from energy interests [Oklahoma Watch].

Oklahoma lawmakers work on sales tax bills: Bills imposing a $1.50 per pack cessation fee on cigarette sales and a 1.25 percent sales tax on motor vehicle sales were being cobbled together by state lawmakers Tuesday night as they continued to look for ways to fill a $878 million budget hole. State lawmakers have been talking for months about levying a $1.50 per pack tax on cigarette sales, but have been unable to gather enough votes to pass the measure in the House [NewsOK].

Oklahoma House Passes Temporary Tax Increase on Oil & Gas Industry: The Oklahoma House of Representatives has passed a bill raising the gross production tax from one percent to four percent on a small, select group of oil wells. By a vote of 68 to 30 on Tuesday morning, lawmakers passed House Bill 2429, which affects less than 6,000 wells drilled between July of 2011 and July of 2015. But, some Democrats, like Oklahoma City Rep. Collin Walke, are calling the bill unconstitutional [KOSU].

Oklahoma budget crisis spurs battle among oilmen: An impasse among Oklahoma lawmakers over how to fix the state’s worst budget problem in decades has sent the legislature spiraling into chaos and focused blame on the usually sacrosanct oil and natural gas industry for not paying more taxes. The industry has historically been the key driver of the state’s economy, providing tens of thousands of jobs and accounting for about 13 percent of Oklahoma’s household earnings [Associated Press].

State revenue deal should satisfy no one: With budget negotiations stymied and time running out in the legislative session, Gov. Mary Fallin and Republican legislative leaders have moved ahead with a package of revenue proposals that would balance the state budget and get an exhausted and undistinguished Legislature across the finish line. It’s an insufficient solution to a huge challenge that no one should like and whose best selling point is that there were alternatives that were much, much worse [Editorial Board / Tulsa World].

Senate committees to consider fee on cigarette sales: Oklahoma legislative committees are preparing to hear a bill on Tuesday afternoon that would levy a $1.50 per pack cessation fee on cigarette sales. State lawmakers have been talking for months about levying a $1.50 per pack tax on cigarette sales, but have been unable to gather enough votes to pass the measure in the House. By making the revenue-generating measure a fee rather than a tax, only a majority vote would be needed for passage rather than a three-fourths majority [NewsOK].

House passes measure capping amount of itemized deductions: Despite complaints that it could harm working families trying to deduct mortgage, childcare and student loan expenses from their taxes, Republican House members Monday pushed through a measure capping how much Oklahomans can claim. The move, which caps the amount of itemized deductions at $17,000 per year, is expected to raise more than $100 million in new revenue to help plug the state’s lingering $878 million shortfall in the final days of session. State Rep. Kyle Hilbert, R-Depew, said the revenue generated by the measure will help keep class sizes from increasing, road and bridge projects from stalling and prevent the wait to access disability services from growing [Tahlequah Daily Press].

Time to hit the brakes on SoonerCare privatization: Oklahoma’s efforts to privatize expensive care for the most fragile SoonerCare patients was contentious from the beginning. In 2015, HB 1566 directed the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which administers the state’s Medicaid (SoonerCare) program, to initiate requests for proposals for care coordination models for the program’s aged, blind, and disabled members. This would be no small change. More than 100,000 SoonerCare members are aged, blind, or have one more disabilities, and while they make up less than 20 percent of Oklahoma’s Medicaid population, their care constitutes nearly half of its spending [OK Policy].

Oklahoma Legislature considering ACA waiver program: Oklahoma is preparing to subsidize its own health insurance program to replace the Affordable Care Act marketplace. The plan has been formulated for months as a waiver that will be submitted to the federal government. Federal law allows states to develop an “innovation waiver” to provide residents with health insurance. Once adopted, the government could waive Oklahoma’s participation in parts of the ACA. The bill is the next step in the process [NewsOK].

Out for summer, teachers head to Oklahoma Capitol: Jodee Jacobsen was camped out in front of the main doors to the Capitol’s House floor Tuesday, ready to tell any state lawmaker who passed by she supported an increase in Oklahoma’s gross production tax. The lobby near the door was bustling and loud, but Jacobsen had her “teacher’s voice” ready to go [NewsOK].

Oklahoma House OKs bill on parole for decrepit inmates: The Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday that would authorize paroles for medically fragile inmates — but only after heavily amending the measure in committee to severely limit the types of inmates who would be eligible. The bill passed the House 81-15 and will now go to the Senate. Lowering the incarceration rate for nonviolent offenders assessed as being a low risk to the community is one of the key elements of criminal justice reform efforts approved by voters last November [NewsOK].

State Lawmakers Confront Series Of Sexual Harassment Scandals: There’s more awareness than ever of sexual harassment in workplaces, especially in workplaces long dominated by men. But there’s still work to go in addressing it. We’re going to explore what’s happening in state legislatures. Since the beginning of 2016, four lawmakers across the country have resigned or been expelled for inappropriate behavior toward women. These are legislators whose jobs include writing the laws that govern workplaces elsewhere. We’re going to go to a couple state Houses dealing with this issue [NPR].

Oklahoma rep. launches long-shot bid for Oversight chair: Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.) announced Tuesday that he’s running to lead the House Oversight Committee, making him the first Republican to formally enter the race to succeed outgoing Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). Russell is considered a long shot to win the coveted, high-profile gavel. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) is considered the front-runner for the spot, if he chooses to run. Russell, first elected to the House in 2014, is 18th in seniority on the House Oversight Committee [The Hill].

Oklahoma’s Lawmakers React to President’s Budget Plan: Tuesday, Oklahoma lawmakers reacted to a $4.1 trillion budget proposal with a note of cautious optimism. Rep. Tom Cole made it clear the plan won’t make it through Congress unscathed. “There’s quite a bit of the president’s budget that simply aren’t (sic) going to be supported by any Democrats at all,” he said. He went on to say “our final product will be better because we had the president’s input, but it certainly won’t mirror the president’s proposals.” Senator James Lankford also noted that the president’s plan is only the beginning of the process [KRMG].

Quote of the Day

“We put together what we could with 51-vote [revenue-raising] measures. These are horrible funding levels. We are massively underfunded in state government.”

-House Budget Chairwoman Leslie Osborn, introducing budget proposals in a midnight committee meeting last night (Source)

Number of the Day


Share of Oklahoma’s FY2015 general revenue that came from the federal government

Source: Census Bureau’s 2015 Annual Survey of State Government Finances via Governing

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

My Medicaid, My Life: I am a Medicaid welfare queen. When Republicans talk about safety net programs like Medicaid, Social Security and food stamps, they evoke images of people like me gabbing on their smartphones, eating steak and watching TV from the comfort of home. Political rhetoric and media coverage paints us as unmotivated and undeserving individuals, passive consumers of taxpayer dollars who are out to “game the system,” taking resources away from hard-working people. The reality of being a disabled person on Medicaid is far more complex and nuanced [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.

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