In The Know: Oklahoma Speaker-Elect To Investigate Sexual Harassment Settlement

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 Speaker-Elect To Investigate Sexual Harassment Settlement: The Speaker-elect of the Oklahoma House of Representatives has announced plans for an investigation into a payment to settle a sexual harassment complaint by a former legislative assistant. State Rep. Charles McCall, R-Atoka, announced Thursday his first action after officially becoming Speaker will be to authorize an investigation into the wrongful termination settlement agreement paid to Hollie Bishop, who was fired in November 2015 after less than a year working for state Rep. Dan Kirby, R-Tulsa [KGOU]. The Oklahoma House has a sketchy recent history with policing its own [Tulsa World].

Republican leaders in Oklahoma rethinking income tax cut: Republican leaders in Oklahoma are reconsidering whether to keep an income tax cut that could be triggered as early as next year. Their decision comes at a time when the state has a budget hole of nearly $870 million and declining revenue collections. The trigger for the individual income tax rate cut from 5 percent to 4.85 percent is when tax collections increase by about $100 million annually — enough to cover the cost of the tax cut [Associated Press]. The Oklahoma state auditor [NewsOK] and the Tulsa World Editorial Board recently endorsed repealing the trigger [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma gas tax may be raised: An increase in Oklahoma’s gasoline tax will likely be on the table next legislative session as it’s one of the smallest in the nation, it hasn’t been adjusted in nearly three decades, fuel prices are comparatively low and state leaders are seeking new revenue. While Oklahoma’s gas tax has remained constant at 17 cents since 1987, No. 47 in the nation, other states have been increasing theirs, including seven that have approved hikes that will go into effect on Sunday [NewsOK]. Raising the fuel tax is among the revenue options to address Oklahoma’s budget shortfalls [OK Policy]. Oklahoma Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger urged lawmakers to consider several several revenue-raising measures [News9].

Prosperity Policy: It’s the revenue: If the first step in solving a problem is admitting you have one, Oklahoma may at last be moving toward fixing the state’s revenue problem. “We have to have a serious conversation about revenue in this state,” said Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger as he announced that next year’s budget shortfall will approach $900 million. “I think it is important for everyone to realize you are not cutting your way out of this situation.” For years, top state officials, with few exceptions, held as a sacred truth that state government had more than enough money, if we’d just spend it more wisely [David Blatt / Journal Record].

Tax incentive review doesn’t end need for tough choices in Oklahoma: After months of intense study, the Incentive Evaluation Commission has completed its review of 11 tax incentives and issued a final report. Members have attempted to quantify the real costs and associated benefits of each tax incentive. Given that such data apparently has never been compiled in one place, the information should be of value to policymakers. But one thing is also clear: The commission’s work won’t provide an easy out for legislators hoping to close this year’s $868 million shortfall. “This is not a quick fix,” commission Chairman Lyle Roggow said last week [Editorial Board / The Oklahoman].

Say you want a resolution? It’s a new year, and time to kick 2016 to the past and cast our gaze toward the future. We aren’t peering into a crystal ball, and have find any lost prophecies from Nostradamus. Instead, the EE simply wants to suggest ways to make Bartlesville and Oklahoma better places to live and work. Oklahoma’s lawmakers must stop kicking the declining revenue can from session-to-session. State officials can’t keep on finding short-time solutions to a long-term problem [Editorial Board / Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise].

A different year, same budget deficit, bad solutions: The state of Oklahoma projects a significant budget deficit. Gov. Mary Fallin’s solution is to increase sales taxes. Sound familiar? We’ve already been through this earlier in 2016, when a looming $1.3 billion budget deficit and failed cigarette tax increase dominated headlines in the first quarter. Now, facing another massive deficit quickly shooting toward $1 billion, Fallin has suggested the cigarette tax again, in addition to eliminating some sales tax exemptions, to fill the gap [Editorial Board / Norman Transcript].

Oklahoma certifies record number of emergency teachers: The Oklahoma State Board of Education has approved a record number of certificates for emergency teachers to fill vacancies caused by a lack of certified ones. The board has approved 1,082 certificates this school year, up from 1,063 the previous year and more than double the 505 approved two years ago during the 2014-15 school year. The greatest number of certificates are for elementary, early childhood, science and math teachers. An estimated 52,000 students, about 7 percent of all public school students in the state, are being taught by an emergency certified teacher [Associated Press].

Did Gerrymandering Give Republicans Dominance in Legislature? A recent federal court ruling could open a new wave of redistricting challenges across the country. And that includes Oklahoma, where Republicans now control 78.5 percent of the statehouse seats – a 10 percentage-point increase since the GOP-controlled Legislature redrew legislative boundaries five years ago. In a possible watershed case decided in November, a three-judge panel struck down the Wisconsin state assembly’s redistricting map by saying it unlawfully favored Republicans. The case is notable because it’s only the second time in the nation’s history, and the first time in decades, that a redistricting map was thrown out on partisan grounds [Oklahoma Watch].

Breaking the cycle of addiction and violence: Parents may not realize the impact of their decisions on children’s lives. “When children are around instability (substance abuse and violence), it creates chaos,” said Dr. Shimi Kang, a medical professional and award-winning author. A 2016 National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) survey showed that 5 percent of children in the eighth grade had used marijuana within a month of the survey. This number grew to 14 percent in 10th-graders and about 23 percent of 12th-graders [Norman Transcript].

Oklahoma prison system’s homicide rate nearly triple national average, according to feds: State and federal prisoners in Oklahoma are among the most likely to be killed or die accidentally behind bars, according to a new federal study. The figures released earlier this month by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics show Oklahoma had the second-highest prison homicide rate in the country from 2001 to 2014, with 13 killings per 100,000 state and federal inmates. Oklahoma’s rate was more than double the national average of 5 per 100,000 inmates and second only to Maine’s rate of 14 per 100,000, but the study warned Maine’s figures were unreliable because of a small sample size [Associated Press].

Most Oklahoma counties see jump in unemployment rate: Oklahoma officials say that the November unemployment rate is higher this year compared to a year ago in three-quarters of the state’s counties. The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission says McIntosh County had the highest unemployment rate in the state last month, at 8.9 percent, followed by Stephens and Latimer counties. The lowest unemployment rate was in Cimarron County, at 2.1 percent, followed by Beaver, Grant and Woods counties [Associated Press].

Job cuts continue in Oklahoma City, Tulsa: Sunglasses aren’t yet required to evaluate the state of Oklahoma’s economy. But both a state employment expert and an area economist say they are beginning to see more light at the end of Oklahoma’s recessionary tunnel — provided current trends stay on track. A household survey the state conducts shows that more Oklahomans went back to work in November, the Oklahoma Employment Securities Commission announced Thursday [NewsOK].

Oklahoma lawmaker filing bill to mandate five-day school week: An Oklahoma lawmaker is pushing for a five-day school week. Sen. Kyle Loveless said a five-day week is better for our children when it comes to learning, and he’s hoping his bill will be heard at the Capitol this session. Loveless said after talking with school districts that have gone to four-day weeks, he believes the switch has been more of an inconvenience than a saving. Loveless said teachers are on a fixed salary, so the only place they are saving money is in operation costs and he said it’s a very small portion of the district’s overall budget [KOCO].

An Oklahoma Newspaper Endorsed Clinton. It Hasn’t Been Forgiven: One Sunday after church, Jeff Mullin and his wife were in line at the Western Sizzlin steakhouse here when a man, fists clenched, threatened to beat the hell out of him. “My first thought was just to kind of try to keep things calm. Otherwise, it was going to be two old guys rolling around on the floor of the steakhouse, and that would be pretty unseemly,” recalled Mr. Mullin, 64, the mustachioed senior writer for Enid’s daily newspaper, The Enid News & Eagle. The dispute was not personal. It was, of all things, editorial [New York Times].

Quote of the Day

“This law was written on the premise that taxes would be cut based on increasing revenues. Nothing could be further from the truth. Right now we have a defective statute that reduces taxes based on comparing estimates from different points in time. It does not reflect what is actually occurring in the state’s revenue streams.”

-Oklahoma State Auditor Gary Jones, urging legislators to repeal the income tax trigger that could cut the top tax rate from 5 percent to 4.85 percent (Source)

Number of the Day


Percentage of high school graduates meeting college readiness benchmarks on the ACT and SAT, 2014.

Source: State of Oklahoma

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

What Would It Take to Replace the Pay Working-Class Americans Have Lost? Poor and working-class Americans have fallen behind over the last generation, receiving few of the gains of an expanding economy. But we could change that by using one of the most powerful tools in the federal government’s policy arsenal. President-elect Donald J. Trump says he will do this by using large tax cuts on business and to wealthy families to encourage more business investment, while aiming to create more high-paying jobs in construction and manufacturing by spending more on new infrastructure projects and renegotiating trade deals. But another, more direct approach is possible, one aimed at turbocharging the wages of people who have lost out on the economic gains of the last few decades [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.

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