In The Know: Senate passes GPT bargain, puts pressure on House

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

‘A path forward’: Senate passes GPT bargain, puts pressure on House: In an unexpected turn of events, the Oklahoma State Senate passed a bipartisan grand revenue bargain this afternoon that includes a hike in the gross production tax incentive rate from 2 to 4 percent. The bill passed 37 to 5, achieving the necessary three-fourths majority for revenue-raising measures. The Senate convened shortly after 4 p.m. Monday to take up HB 1035, which they amended in a manner to make it like HB 1034, the “grand bargain” revenue bill featuring GPT that stalled in a House committee in late October [NonDoc]. The measure’s passage came on the same day that House Speaker Charles McCall blamed the Senate for inaction during special session [KOKH]. Governor Fallin applauds Senate revenue package, urges action from House [KOKH]. Frequently asked questions about Oklahoma’s special session [OK Policy]. Lawmakers must use special session to fix the budget, not pass the buck [OK Policy].

Reality Check: Restoring Oklahoma’s Gross Production Tax won’t hurt the economy: In a recent editorial, The Oklahoman newspaper accused critics of Oklahoma’s huge tax breaks for the oil and gas industry of ignoring reality. They wrote that the claim that oil and gas companies pay far less taxes in Oklahoma than in other states is “false upon inspection.” They go on to claim that removing the tax break would push investment out of Oklahoma. However, to justify their argument, The Oklahoman makes deeply flawed assumptions about Oklahoma’s taxes and the role of those taxes in decisions about drilling. Here are the facts [OK Policy].

New Oklahoma Health Department Leader Says Finances Grim: The temporary new leader of the Oklahoma State Department of Health says the agency is suffering from financial mismanagement that stretches back more than five years and needs an immediate infusion of cash from the Legislature just to meet payroll for the next few months. Gov. Mary Fallin’s top finance official, Secretary of Finance and Revenue Preston Doerflinger (DOR’-fling-ur), delivered the grim financial picture and asked the Legislature for an emergency $30 million appropriation during a briefing on Monday at the Cleveland County Health Department in Norman [AP].

Expensive Battle Likely if Oil, Gas Tax Hike Goes to Voters: The battle over Oklahoma’s tax on oil and gas production could soon spread outside the State Capitol to dinner conversations and public debates across the state. A group of small oil and gas producers said despite recent efforts in the Legislature to raise the gross production tax temporarily to 7 percent on some wells, it will forge ahead with trying to put a state question on the 2018 ballot that would set a permanent 7 percent tax on all wells [Oklahoma Watch].

Democrats in this state are doing something unusual: Winning their elections: The newest state legislator in Oklahoma leaned over his bathroom sink, teasing his tousled hair to get that John F. Kennedy bouffant. The blue suit came from J.C. Penney and fit snugly; the tie was tied tight. A month before, he was a middle school geography teacher driving a Chrysler PT Cruiser with no air conditioning, knocking on doors at the end of a hot Oklahoma summer. Now, he is the poster boy for a national party desperate to rebuild its bench [Washington Post].

Oklahoma City, Tulsa schools allowed to intervene in lawsuit: The Oklahoma City and Tulsa school districts are being allowed to intervene in a lawsuit by charter schools over funding. An Oklahoma County district court judge ruled Friday that the two can join the lawsuit by the Oklahoma Public Charter Schools Association against the state Board of Education. District officials say each stands to lose $1 million to $1.5 million if the lawsuit succeeds [AP].

Moody’s warns Oklahoma Legislature on continued use of rainy day funds: A Wall Street credit rating agency issued another warning to the Oklahoma government regarding its continued use of one-time funds. The practice could lead to a credit downgrade, making debt financing more expensive, said a university economist. Moody’s released a report on Monday that criticized the Legislature’s lack of comprehensive budget plans and decision to tap the Rainy Day Fund for recurring expenses [Journal Record].

Tobacco settlement trust funds on the table: A big pot of money remains tantalizingly out of reach for cash-starved lawmakers. Amid the state’s worsening budget crisis, a fight is now brewing over whether lawmakers should be allowed to decide how millions in that tobacco settlement funds are spent. While other states quickly burned through their settlements, Oklahomans were fearful lawmakers would squander their sudden windfall [Tahlequah Daily Press].

Oklahoma’s mental health crisis: The availability of mental health services in Oklahoma is limited, and looming budget cuts have what’s left in a strangle hold. It has been a battle at the Capitol, while legislators agree and disagree on how to keep state agencies funded, and fill a 215-million-dollar shortfall. Oklahomans are waiting with bated breath wondering if their lifesaving mental health services will be cut. One of those Oklahomans is Pia Hilderbrandt, and she lives a mostly independent life, but it wasn’t always that way [KOKH]. Oklahoma’s costly lack of foresight in not funding mental health care [OK Policy].

James Lankford says he won’t support tax bill if it increases debt too much: Sen. James Lankford says he would vote against any tax reform package that would increase the debt too much. “I’m actually not comfortable with increasing the debt. This has been a behind the scenes conversation for a long time,” the Oklahoma Republican said in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “It’s one thing to be able to cut taxes. It’s another thing to be able to say how are we going to deal with our debt and deficit? So, my main focus has been whatever economic growth model we put in place has to be reasonable to be able to do it,” he added [CBS News].

Commission approves 5-year plan for county roads and bridges: The Oklahoma Transportation Commission approved a work plan Monday that calls for nearly 400 county bridges to be replaced or rehabilitated and improvements to be made to more than 800 miles of county roads over the next five years. About $926 million in federal, state, local and tribal funds would go toward the County Improvement for Roads and Bridges work plan approved Monday. The plan, commonly referred to as the CIRB work plan, is a program administered by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation [NewsOK].

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Vote Could Come Early: Election Day for medical marijuana may come a few months early in Oklahoma. Activists who succeeded in collecting enough signatures to qualify a medical cannabis measure for the state’s ballot had been expecting it would go before voters in November 2018. But it looks like Gov. Mary Fallin (R) may move the marijuana question to the June primary election ballot instead, according to a group campaigning to pass the measure [Marijuana Moment]. How does SQ 788 compare to other states’ medical marijuana laws? [OK Policy]

Former Rep. Scott Biggs chosen for USDA Oklahoma state director position: The U.S. Department of Agriculture has selected Former House Representative Scott Biggs, of Chickasha, as Farm Service Agency (FSA) state director for Oklahoma. The announcement was made following Biggs’ resignation as State House Representative for District 51 on Thursday. As a FSA state director, Biggs will help implement USDA policies in planning, organizing and administering FSA programs in Oklahoma, according to the USDA [Chickasha News].

Quote of the Day

“Members, we have been extremely frustrated for the five or six weeks that we’ve been in special session, and frustrated before months before that. We have been frustrated that we have not been able to put a vote on the board to be statesmen, to be leaders and to put this state on the right path. My hope is that when we do this, we will show the way to the chamber across the rotunda to do the same.”

– Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz (R-Altus), debating in favor of a comprehensive revenue package that the Oklahoma Senate passed by a 37-5 vote on Monday (Source)

Number of the Day


Number of juvenile cases referred to criminal or adult court in Oklahoma in 2016

Source: OSBI

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Kansas Warns Congress Not to Repeat Its Tax-Cut Mistake: The regretful Republicans of Kansas have a message for the tax-cutting Republicans of Congress: Don’t follow our lead. If states are, as Justice Louis Brandeis famously called them, the laboratories of democracy, then Kansas’s experiment in conservative tax reform set off an explosion of red ink. Steep cuts for businesses and individuals failed to produce a promised economic boom, and busted the state’s budget instead. Now, the GOP legislators that oversaw—and ultimately cancelled—that fiscal study are increasingly worried that Washington will ignore its central finding [The Atlantic].

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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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