In 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
Why Oklahoma and Other Red States Might Pump Up Gasoline Taxes to Fill Budget Holes: Oklahoma lawmakers are staring into a budget hole that’s nearly $900 million deep — and they might not be able to cut their way out of it. Legislators are considering tax increases to help fund state government, and one idea is gaining traction: Hiking taxes on gasoline and diesel. State taxes on motor fuel haven’t been touched since 1987 [StateImpact Oklahoma]. Another idea worth considering is to adopt a temporary gas tax increase that only stays in effect as long as gas prices are low [OK Policy].
Oklahoma House takes a deep dive into department budgets: This year, the entire Oklahoma House of Representatives is taking on the budget in a new way. For the first six days of the session, the five largest state departments will present their budget proposals to the entire House. Wednesday, the Department of Education started the process with a day-long session dedicated to presentations from State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister and her staff in the morning and questions from representatives in the afternoon [Norman Transcript]. State Transportation Department Director Mike Patterson explained his budget needs to a couple dozen representatives in the House chambers [NewsOK].
Oklahoma’s prisons are still on a path to disaster: Even with positive and important criminal justice reforms passing in the Legislature and in the ballot box this year, the Oklahoma prison population is on track to grow by 25 percent – about 7,200 inmates – in the next ten years. Unless we do something to prevent this growth, it will cost nearly $2 billion in new prison construction and operating costs in that time [OK Policy].
Education Bills Emerge: Teacher Pay, History Exams, 4-Day Weeks: Lawmakers will take another stab at increasing teacher salaries, will attempt to stymie four-day school weeks and try to eliminate the end-of-year exam in U.S. history. With the filing deadline on Jan. 19, bills have been streaming in, including many related to common education. Additional bills could surface later because of exceptions to the deadline and shell bills whose language is often replaced mid-session [Oklahoma Watch].
Proposed bill would make 5-day school weeks mandatory in Oklahoma: Inola Public Schools is one of about 100 school districts in Oklahoma doing something a little different this school year. In August 2016, Inola adopted a four-day school week. “For 23, or 22 years, prior to that, I’ve taught on a five-day week,” said Inola Middle School teacher Rodney Ferguson. “I didn’t know what to expect. In the very beginning, I was like, what time is it?” [KTUL]
Initiative aims to expand postsecondary education: Gov. Mary Fallin recently announced a new initiative focused on post-secondary education and training for Oklahomans to meet the state’s growing demand for a skilled labor force. “Projections show that in 2025, 77 percent of the state’s new labor market will require greater than a high school diploma, highlighting the critical need for higher education,” Fallin said, who authorized Launch Oklahoma in Executive Order 2016-41 [Norman Transcript].
$2.6 Million Paid By Farmers And Ranchers Missing From Oklahoma Beef Council: A federal investigation has been launched into the alleged embezzlement of $2.6 million by an employee of an obscure state board that promotes the beef industry, money created by a mandatory government program funded by farmers and ranchers. No criminal charges have been filed, but the non-profit Oklahoma Beef Council in October 2016 filed a civil lawsuit seeking the recovery of money it says was obtained by its former accounting and compliance manager, identified in court records as Melissa Morton [StateImpact Oklahoma].
Amid OHP Dispatcher Shortage, State Senator Looks To Lower Requirements: Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers said budget cuts are making it harder for them to do their jobs. Troopers said traffic citations were down about six percent in December, compared to a year ago. The state troopers are under a new restriction, limiting them to driving only 100 miles a day [NewsOn6].
Oklahomans to receive new license plates: Oklahoma drivers are now required to renew their vehicle license plates this year at their local tag office. Oklahoma began issuing the new-design plate on Tuesday and drivers can now pick up their new plates, which will cost an additional $5, at the time of the vehicle’s next registration or tag renewal [The Miami News-Record].
Taxpayers deserve a straight answer: Leading the Oklahoma House never was a job for the faint of heart. It has its powers and its perks, but its migraines, too. New Speaker Charles McCall was schooled in this herding cats reality even before formally grabbing hold of the gavel this week. The sexual harassment scandal involving Tulsa Rep. Dan Kirby presented McCall his first leadership test – and it’s not likely to be resolved any time soon [Arnold Hamilton / Journal Record].
Quote of the Day
“There’s really no such thing as a Republican pothole or a Democratic bridge. It’s an issue that brings the parties together.”
– Carl Davis, research director at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, on why raising the gas tax and earmarking the revenues for transportation can be a bipartisan effort (Source)
Number of the Day
Percent of Oklahoma nursing homes that received a 1- or 2-star rating by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in 2015. The rating scale for nursing homes is 1-5 stars, with 5 being the best and 1 being the worst.
Source: Kaiser Family Foundation
America’s concern for the poor is about to be tested: Poor Americans are facing the gravest threat to the federal safety net in decades as President-elect Donald Trump takes office accompanied by a Republican-controlled Congress. The risks to essential benefits for tens of millions of low- and moderate-income Americans include losing coverage extended to them by the Affordable Care Act, threats to the fundamental structure of the Medicaid health-insurance program for the poor and further reduction of already squeezed funding for scores of other important programs serving the most vulnerable Americans [Robert Greenstein / The Washington Post].
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