In The Know: Supporters of sales tax increase to aid education deliver signatures to state

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

Supporters of sales tax increase to aid education deliver signatures to state: Supporters of raising the state sales tax by 1 cent to support education turned in what they say is a historic number of signatures Thursday to get a measure on the ballot. Backers of State Question 779 delivered more than 300,000 signatures, well over the 124,725 needed, to the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s office. They’re aiming for the measure to be on the Nov. 8 ballot [Tulsa World]. OK Policy’s statement on the proposed ballot initiative is here

In ‘trying times,’ will Oklahoma legislators cut mental health funding? The first week in February, when the Legislature convened, a silent disease killed at least 19 Oklahomans. A bricklayer, an electrician, a banker, grandparents, parents and college students. The cause of death wasn’t mentioned in their obituaries, and maybe not their eulogies. So far this year, at least 200 Oklahomans have died by suicide, according to medical examiner records. Oftentimes, a person dies by suicide after a long struggle with mental illness or substance abuse [The Oklahoman]. This budget crisis could be an unprecedented disaster for Oklahoma [OK Policy].

Ongoing higher education budget cuts called ‘morally wrong,’ ‘not smart’: Continuing to cut funding for higher education is counterproductive to economic development in Oklahoma, the presidents of the state’s two largest universities said Thursday. They were among several college presidents who addressed the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education about the funding crisis facing their institutions. Presidents said they are angry, frustrated and disheartened that higher education continues to fall short when it comes to state funding [NewsOK].

Cuts to education spending hurt more than just our children: A couple of weeks ago Williams announced that it was cutting approximately 100 jobs in Tulsa. This announcement was front-page news and sent ripples of anxiety through the entire community. Can you imagine the uproar from the business community if these jobs had been lost due to a policy decision at the state Legislature? If the folks down in Oklahoma City had passed a bill that would, on its own, destroy 100 decent middle-class jobs in Tulsa, we could expect a full court press attack by the Chamber of Commerce [OK Policy].

TPS Considers Changing Start Times, Cuts To Athletics To Save Money: Thursday, Tulsa Public Schools announced a new two-part plan to cut costs. The district hopes to tweak schedules for all of its schools, and also cut some sports programs. If the plan passes, elementary students will start earlier and middle school and junior high students will start later. Is 7:30 too early for elementary school students to start class? So far parents have mixed reactions [NewsOn6]. Oklahoma continues to lead the nation for the largest cuts to general school funding since the start of the recession [OK Policy].

Day cares could feel effect of short school week: Budget cuts continue to befall Oklahoma education and the effects are starting to trickle down to the rest of the community. With many schools considering and some even testing the waters of a four-day school week, the effects of losing a school day is becoming more apparent to communities. For families with working parents that can’t afford to live on a single income, the possible change could be crippling [Tahlequah Daily Press]. Child care is getting less accessible for Oklahoma’s working parents [OK Policy]. Four-day school weeks could leave thousands of Oklahoma kids hungry [OK Policy].

Online Sales Tax Bill Clears Oklahoma Senate: An attempt to get more Oklahomans to pay the required sales tax on online purchases has cleared the state Senate. The Senate passed House Bill 2531 by a vote of 31 to 12 on Thursday and sent it to the back to the state House for consideration. Senator John Ford of Bartlesville says the bill directs out-of-state retailers to notify Oklahoma customers annually of how much they spent and that state sales tax may be due [News9]. Improving sales tax collection from online sales is one of our suggested revenue options for the budget emergency [OK Policy].

Medicaid Rebalancing Act a win-win for state: Rural hospitals closing! Nursing homes shutting down. Nurses and health-care providers closing practices, leaving Oklahoma. Oklahomans unable to find health care. Mental health services cut. These are frightening headlines that will become reality if we fail to act now. The state is on the threshold of an unprecedented health crisis [Joyce Van Nostrand / Tulsa World]. Here’s what we know about the Medicaid Rebalancing Act so far [OK Policy].

Helping provide health care by balancing priorities: It is not melodramatic to suggest the Legislature’s fiscal malpractice could end up killing Oklahomans. Misplaced taxing and spending priorities at NE 23rd and Lincoln Boulevard precipitated the recent closure of hospitals in Sayre and Frederick. As many as 40 others – many in already medically underserved rural areas – teeter on the financial brink [Arnold Hamilton / Journal Record]. Rejecting federal funds has been devastating to Oklahoma’s rural hospitals [OK Policy]. The state’s already-ragged health care safety net frayed further when the state Department of Health announced it was eliminating the Uncompensated Care Fund [OK Policy]. 

Autism insurance bill clears another hurdle in Oklahoma Legislature: A bill that would require insurance to cover autism screening and treatment for children cleared a legislative hurdle on Thursday. House Bill 2962, by Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, and Sen. A.J. Griffin, R-Guthrie, passed the Senate by a vote of 36-5. The measure now returns to the House for consideration. Senate Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, said the bill has generated a lot of calls from constituents [Tulsa World].

Alcohol-laws reform debate turns racial in Oklahoma Legislature: Blacks and American Indians have a history of trouble with alcohol and should vote against changes to state laws regulating its sale, a state lawmaker told the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Thursday afternoon. State Rep. Todd Russ, R-Cordell, a passionate teetotaler who had a close family member who was killed in an alcohol-related automobile crash, was in the midst of an emotional argument against Senate Joint Resolution 68 when he implored the Native American Caucus to vote against the measure because whites exploited Indians “at the rim of the alcohol bottle” [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma House passes Real ID bill: Oklahoma is one step closer to bringing the federal Real ID to the state after a bill passed through the state Senate on Thursday. Senate Bill 683, would also allow Oklahomans to opt out of the new driver’s license system and continue to use a traditional state ID. The federal Real ID Act of 2005 was passed following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks [NewsOK].

Domestic violence measure signed: Gov. Mary Fallin signed legislation signed into law designed to broaden the definition of domestic violence, giving law enforcement and prosecutors a greater ability to go after abusers. Current statute defines domestic violence as a pattern involving three or more incidents of abuse within a 12-month period [Journal Record]. 

Vaccine bill sent to Oklahoma governor: A bill passed through the state Legislature on Thursday that would require doctors to provide information on the “benefits and risks” of vaccines to parents before administering the procedure. Co-author of the bill Senator Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, said the measure was a way to offer reassurance to parents who are vaccinating their children [NewsOK].

Two New Energy Bills Signed into Law by Governor Fallin: Two more energy-related bills were signed into law this week by Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, one concerning wastewater from oil and natural gas wells and the other regarding gross production taxes on those wells. Senate bill 1122, by Senators A.J. Griffin and Eddie Fields and Rep. Kevin Calvey is an act requiring state agencies to “encourage industrial use of water produced in oil and natural gas operations” [OK Energy Today].

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and Tulsa leaders say they had a positive meeting with the chairman of Williams Cos. board of directors: Gov. Mary Fallin and Tulsa leaders say they had a positive meeting with the chairman of Williams Cos. board of directors as they tried to persuade the company not to move hundreds of jobs from Oklahoma. The meeting comes after Dallas-based Energy Transfer Equity — which hopes to merge with Williams — recently said in a filing that if the merger is approved, most of Williams’ operations in Tulsa will be eliminated or moved to Dallas [Daily Journal]. 

TU President Steadman Upham will retire at the end of 2016: University of Tulsa President Steadman Upham announced Thursday that he would retire at the end of 2016. Upham has served two tenures as TU’s president for a total of 12 years. He was president for eight years before retiring June 30, 2012. TU hired Geoffrey Orsak as president, but he was fired less than three months later. Upham began his second tenure as TU president on Oct. 1, 2012 [Tulsa World].

Why Killing the Agency Protecting Oklahoma’s Most Delicate Rivers Might Be the Only Way to Preserve Them: The Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission is a small agency with a big job: Police the Illinois River and protect six of the state’s most delicate waterways from pollution. But budget cuts have forced the commission to plan for its own death [StateImpact Oklahoma].

Quote of the Day

“When will the political will manifest itself and rise up and say, ‘Enough is enough — we’re going to invest in our people, in our families?’ When are going to make a serious attempt to intervene early in people’s lives?”

– Mike Brose, CEO of Mental Health Association Oklahoma, on the state’s persistent underfunding of mental health and substance abuse treatment (Source)

Number of the Day


Decrease in the number of jobs in Oklahoma between March 2015 and March 2016

Source: Kansas City Federal Reserve

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Leaked documents show strong business support for raising the minimum wage: Whenever minimum wage increases are proposed on the state or federal level, business groups tend to fight them tooth and nail. But actual opposition may not be as united as the groups’ rhetoric might make it appear, according to internal research conducted by a leading consultant for state chambers of commerce. Among the most interesting findings: 80 percent of respondents said they supported raising their state’s minimum wage, while only eight percent opposed it [Washington Post].

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Carly Putnam joined OK Policy in 2013. As Policy Director, she supervises policy research and strategy. She previously worked as an OK Policy intern, and she was OK Policy's health care policy analyst through July 2020. She graduated from the University of Tulsa in 2013. As a student, she was a participant in the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute and interned with Planned Parenthood. Carly is a graduate of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Nonprofit Management Certification; the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking; The Mine, a social entrepreneurship fellowship in Tulsa; and Leadership Tulsa Class 62. She currently serves on the boards of Restore Hope Ministries and The Arc of Oklahoma. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and doing battle with her hundred year-old house.

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