In The Know: Session ends with 11th-hour budget, but other issues fall by the wayside

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

Session ends with 11th-hour budget, but other issues fall by the wayside: The Oklahoma Legislature ended the session by passing a state budget in the 11th hour. The House on Friday signed off on a budget that resulted in no additional cuts to common education, Medicaid and corrections but reduced funds for higher education and most other state agencies. State agencies were appropriated $6.78 billion in the wake of a historic $1.3 billion budget hole caused by depressed energy prices, tax cuts and an inability to reduce tax credits and incentives granted to generate economic activity [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma Makes the Poor Poorer: As they sliced and diced state programs this month to close a budget deficit, Republicans controlling the Oklahoma Legislature cruelly targeted some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens — the working poor — by cutting an average $147 a year from the income of 200,000 households. This may seem negligible to the state’s wealthy and middle class, but not to a poor family with a breadwinner struggling at the margins [Editorial Board / New York Times].

Where next year’s shortfall starts: Budget counts on $600-$750 million in one-time revenues: OK Policy’s analysis of the General Appropriations bill and budget documents released this week shows that far more than half of the additional revenues agreed to by legislative leaders and Gov. Fallin as part of the FY 2017 budget consists of non-recurring revenue that will not be available in future years. This reliance on one-time funding ensures that Oklahoma will remain mired in a deep budget hole going into FY 2018, even if energy prices recover over the coming year [OK Policy].

Winners and Losers in the Legislative Session: Few true winners emerged from a contentious legislative session that saw lawmakers slashing spending, cutting tax credits and struggling to find new revenue amid a record $1.3 billion budget shortfall. But in the end, after the Legislature approved a $6.8 billion budget Friday, it was clear that some groups came out ahead more than others [Oklahoma Watch]. The Oklahoma education activities budget is facing nearly $40 million in cuts [NewsOK]. Budget cuts were higher than expected for higher education [NewsOK]. 

5 Things That DIDN’T Happen In Oklahoma’s 2016 Legislative Session: Shortly after noon Friday, the Oklahoma Senate adjourned sine die. At the same time, members of the House entered the third hour of questions on the $6.8 billion budget bill to fund state government for the 2017 fiscal year that begins July 1. This legislative session saw significant budget cuts, long-awaited corrections reform, and changes to the state’s alcohol laws moved forward (you can read more about those here). But several proposals that had been widely talked about in February never quite came to fruition this year [KGOU].

Legislature fails to fix tax cut trigger; we could be headed to another fiasco: What’s the best part of hitting yourself in the head with a hammer? Stopping. The Oklahoma Legislature wasn’t able to figure that one out this year. When the Legislature adjourned Friday, Senate Bill 1618 remained unapproved, which means a cock-eyed triggering mechanism on a pending income tax rate cut — another income tax rate cut — could lay the state low again as soon as Jan. 1, 2018 [Wayne Greene / Tulsa World].

Is Oklahoma trying to be America’s least progressive state? Sitting in a boat on a lake in northern Oklahoma, on a weekend away, Troy Stevenson took a phone call about the news from Washington. He resigned himself to a busy Monday. Endless war: Trump and the fantasy of cost-free conflict Read more That was two weeks ago, and he has hardly stopped since. Stevenson is executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, an LGBT rights group [The Guardian].

Oklahoma’s legislative session results are ‘disappointing’: Most Oklahoma lawmakers finished the 2016 legislative session Friday with muted celebration, believing the budget that was approved in the final hours had averted the level of cuts many feared. But even backers of the budget deal understood the public’s frustration that seemed to be a constant theme during the four-month session [NewsOK].

End of session means start of campaign season: The Legislature’s approval of the fiscal year 2017 budget Friday to avoid a special session started the campaign season. Lawmakers said they were glad to return home, whether it was to spend more time with family or to ramp up the full-time campaign. Incumbent John Paul Jordan, R-Yukon, drew three Republican challengers in the June 28 primary. The winner will face an independent candidate and one of two Democrats vying for the state House of Representatives seat [Journal Record].

If elimination of the state’s double deduction feels like a tax hike, that’s understandable: Faced with a $1.3 billion budget hole, the Oklahoma Legislature has increased the tax bills of thousands of Oklahomans. On Tuesday, Gov. Mary Fallin signed Senate Bill 1606, which will end the so-called double deduction for taxpayers who itemize their federal deductions. Oklahoma income tax calculations begin with the taxpayers federal adjusted gross income [Editorial Board / Tulsa World].

DHS to freeze Child Care Subsidy Program: Oklahoma Department of Human Services will freeze its Child Care Subsidy Program effective June 1 in an attempt to save money. Communications Manager for Oklahoma DHS Mark Beutler said the hiatus of the program stems from the ongoing budget shortfall. “This means new applications will not be approved after May 31, 2016,” he said [Duncan Banner]. A bill approved Friday directs DHS to spend about $120 million on the plan to improve the child welfare system [Journal Record].

State Could Fall to Bottom in Average Teacher Salaries: In South Dakota, one of two states with lower average teacher pay than Oklahoma, the Legislature in March approved a half-cent sales tax intended to boost salaries by thousands of dollars. The other state, Mississippi, also is phasing in a teacher pay increase. By contrast, when Oklahoma legislators adjourned Friday, they left ambitions of higher salaries for teachers unfulfilled [Oklahoma Watch].

Once taboo discussion, Tulsa Race Riot now included in state academic standards: Oklahoma history isn’t all “corn as high as an elephant’s eye” and “bright morning haze on the meadow.” It’s also tear-stained trails, starving sharecroppers and shady land deals. And it’s Tulsa’s 1921 Race Riot. For decades, the deadly events of that night and morning were shoved in the state’s vault of things not to be mentioned further back than Woody Guthrie and “The Grapes of Wrath” [Tulsa World].

Tuition, faculty salaries are low at 4-year colleges, report finds: Oklahoma’s public four-year colleges and universities charge the lowest tuition and pay the second-lowest faculty salaries among 16 states, according to a new Southern Regional Education Board report. The report on 2014-15 data was presented Thursday to the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. Annual tuition and mandatory fees charged to in-state undergraduate students at the four-year schools averaged $5,688 in Oklahoma, $589 less than the next lowest state [NewsOK].

Court ruling raises possibility Kansas schools can’t open: Kansas faces a threat that its public schools won’t open for the next school year after the state Supreme Court rejected some education funding changes made by the Republican-dominated Legislature. The Legislature had revised parts of the state’s school finance system but didn’t change the overall aid for most of its 286 local districts. The court said Friday that the remaining flaws make the system unfair to poor districts, violating the state constitution [Associated Press].

Judge Now Must Decide if ETE Can Break Off Merger With Williams Cos.: The ball is back in Williams Companies’ court after its proposed merger-partner, Energy Transfer Equity L.P. filed a counterclaim lawsuit against Williams last week. The legal action came after a judge in Dallas County, Texas granted a motion to dismiss a related lawsuit brought by Williams against Kelcy Warren, the billionaire owner of ETE [OK Energy Today].

Quote of the Day

“What’s the best part of hitting yourself in the head with a hammer? Stopping. The Oklahoma Legislature wasn’t able to figure that one out this year.”

-Tulsa World Editorial Pages Editor Wayne Greene, on the Legislature’s failure to fix an income tax cut trigger that could take effect as early as January 1, 2018 (Source)

Number of the Day


Medical doctors per 100,000 Oklahomans. The national average is 286.5

Source: Opportunity Index

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

New Study on Drug Use Confirms What Black People Have Been Saying This Whole Time: A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that delinquent, non-Hispanic whites are more likely to abuse “hard drugs,” such as cocaine or opiates, than their black counterparts, which might be news for some Americans. But for many blacks across the nation, the study confirms what was already known [Yahoo News].

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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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