In The Know: Spending cuts left Oklahoma with $100M cash surplus at end of fiscal year

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

Spending cuts left Oklahoma with $100M cash surplus at end of fiscal year: Oklahoma finance officials, concerned over sagging tax revenues, cut spending so much in recent months that the state will end its fiscal year in two weeks with a cash surplus likely to top $100 million. That amounts to a rare bit of good news on the state financial front, but it also means painful funding cutbacks were larger than they needed to be, including for agencies serving the mentally ill and the elderly. Shelly Paulk, deputy budget director, said through 11 months of the fiscal year, the general revenue fund surplus is $166.6 million. Allowing for the possibility of further declines this month, the state will likely end the fiscal year with more than $100 million [NewsOK].

Oklahoma oil production stays stable, but tax revenues for state dwindle: The oil keeps flowing in Oklahoma even as prices remain low, but new tax rates for oil are also putting a dent in the state’s budget. The latest state revenue figures show the amount of taxes from oil sent to the state’s general revenue fund are expected to end the fiscal year at their lowest level in decades. For the first 11 months of the fiscal year, gross production taxes from oil sent to the general revenue fund totaled $3.5 million, the Office of Management and Enterprise Services said this week. That compared to $126 million in the first 11 months of fiscal year 2015 [NewsOK].

Made In Oklahoma Coalition faces 25-percent budget cut: Made In Oklahoma Coalition marketers will have a tougher time of introducing local products to buyers this summer. The program faces a budget cut of up to 25 percent. “We’re sort of treading water right now,” marketing coordinator Barbara Charlet said. “Our fingers are crossed that we will receive an appropriation of some sort from the Legislature. (Otherwise), it would put a real dent in the kinds of marketing activities we can do.” The nonprofit program under the state Department of Agriculture is supported by an annual appropriation. Last year it received $285,000, down from $330,000 the year before [Journal Record].

Why I Was Wrong About Welfare Reform: In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed a controversial compromise bill for welfare reform, promising to “end welfare as we know it.” I was sympathetic to that goal at the time, but I’ve decided that I was wrong. What I’ve found in my reporting over the years is that welfare “reform” is a misnomer and that cash welfare is essentially dead, leaving some families with children utterly destitute. Every year I hold a “win a trip” contest to choose a university student to accompany me on a reporting trip to cover global poverty in places like Congo or Myanmar. This year we decided to journey as well to Tulsa, in the heartland of America, because the embarrassing truth is that welfare reform has resulted in a layer of destitution that echoes poverty in countries like Bangladesh [New York Times]. Oklahoma’s cash assistance to families has plummeted 80.8 percent since 1997, to the point that the program known as ‘welfare’ barely exists in Oklahoma [OK Policy].

What last-minute change in student testing law means for the Class of 2017 and beyond: One of the final acts of the legislative session obscured by state budget talks could spell the end of the “test culture” pervasive in Oklahoma’s high schools. Under House Bill 3218, Oklahoma’s five-year-old requirement for high-schoolers to pass at least four of seven End of Instruction exams in order to earn a diploma came to an abrupt halt. Since the passage of the new law occurred after most districts had dismissed for summer break, schools haven’t had any opportunity to enlighten students and parents about the changes that will greet them in 2016-17 [Tulsa World].

Lawsuit regarding distribution of motor vehicle tax revenue to school districts filed in Oklahoma County: Litigation regarding how motor vehicle tax revenue is distributed to Oklahoma school districts is now filed in Oklahoma County District Court. Eight school districts joined the suit Wednesday in an attempt to get the Oklahoma Tax Commission to change how it’s interpreted House Bill 2244 since July 1, 2015. Former Sand Springs Chief Financial Officer Gary Watts said in a statement that House Bill 2244 shifted more than $14 million of statewide motor vehicle tax collections among school districts across the state during fiscal year 2016 [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma City School Board considers banning comment at meetings: A spate of recent outbursts and contentious exchanges has prompted the leader of the Oklahoma City School Board to consider eliminating public participation at meetings, The Oklahoman has learned. Board Chairwoman Lynne Hardin said Thursday she also is considering whether to eliminate board member comment and plans to meet with the panel next month to discuss both options. The board’s next regular meeting is June 27. Hardin said she will consider whether to suspend both comment periods for that meeting, typically the longest of the year [NewsOK].

Debate in Oklahoma sharpens on state question about agriculture: Opponents of State Question 777 have raised concerns the ballot measure could strip away the ability to pass new legislation to protect the state’s water from agricultural pollutants like animal waste and fertilizer. “There is no other industry in this state right now that is going to give the free rein being offered to corporate agriculture by State Question 777,” said Sen. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City. Speaking at a news conference along the Oklahoma River on Friday, Floyd was joined by Norman Mayor Cindy Rosenthal, representatives from the Cherokee and Choctaw nations, the Sierra Club and the Oklahoma Stewardship Council [NewsOK].

Legislators, State Officials Accept More Gifts from Interest Groups: As Oklahoma policymakers grappled this year with a $1.3-billion budget shortfall, special-interest groups plied them with more meals, drinks, Thunder tickets and other gifts. Oklahoma Ethics Commission filings show a total of 195 lobbyists gave out $344,600 worth of gifts from January through May – or nearly $30,000 more than in the first six months of 2015. It was also more than double the $155,892 spent in the first half of 2014 – the last year when stricter lobbying polices were in place [Oklahoma Watch].

Campaign cash flowing in Tulsa congressional race: U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine and oilman Tom Atkinson spent more than $1 million combined over nine weeks in their Republican primary fight for the Tulsa area congressional seat. Atkinson, who entered the race less than three months ago, outraised Bridenstine — even when the $400,000 contributed by Atkinson in personal funds isn’t counted — and outspent him from April 1 through June, according to new reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. It is the only Oklahoma congressional race in which the fundraising is anywhere near competitive [NewsOK].

Three city districts could serve as real ‘barometer’ of political shifts: In a state where few legislative seats appear to be true tossups, two House districts in northwest Oklahoma City could feature Oklahoma’s most competitive contests this November. But first a slate of primary races on June 28 will determine what type of Republican will be pegged to defend the red districts and which Democrat will attempt the upset. Republicans have had a stronghold on the House seats that include the middle class communities along Northwest Expressway and Route 66 through Oklahoma City, Bethany and Warr Acres. But as the population grows more diverse and younger, Democrats hope the advantage has shifted to more moderate candidates [NewsOK].

Why some lawmakers want to rethink Oklahoma’s judicial districts: Rep. Chris Kannady (R-OKC) has requested an interim study on District Attorney District and Judicial District consolidation. Many of the district attorney districts and judicial districts in the state are composed of the same counties, but not all. For example, both DA District 23 and Judicial District 23 are composed of Pottawatomie and Lincoln Counties. However, DA District 10 is composed of Osage and Pawnee Counties, but Pawnee County is in Judicial District 14 with Tulsa County [OK Policy].

Gov. Fallin delays implementation of Highway Patrol program using card ‘readers’ in asset forfeiture: After more than a week of mounting controversy, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has delayed implementation of a Department of Public Safety (DPS) program that would allow law enforcement officials easily to read magnetic strips on credit, debit and gift cards. DPS purchased a total of 20 card reader devices – assigning 16 of those to Highway Patrol officers — and had begun training on how to use them to secure assets (cash) on bank cards, debit cards and gift cards in instances where illegal activity (usually drug trafficking and transport) is suspected [CapitolBeatOK]. Several groups including OK Policy has asked the Governor for an executive order to stop the card reader program [Tulsa World].

Garvin County Jail worker disguised inmate as an officer to help transport immigrant detainees: A Garvin County transport deputy was fired after telling an inmate to dress as a fellow deputy and help him transport U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees. Ted Williams, 45, was assigned to transport Aaron R. Hull, 35, on April 11 to Garvin County after Hull was arrested in Payne County for not paying court fines on a misdemeanor drug charge. While on their way to Garvin County, at about 12:45 p.m., Williams told Hull to put on a solid black windbreaker jacket and a deputy sheriff ball cap, according to jail inspection records from the state Health Department. Next, Williams removed Hull’s restraints and had Hull help handle federal immigration detainees at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Processing Center in Oklahoma City [NewsOK].

Groups voice opposition to state rep’s proposed study on ‘radical Islam’: Several organizations have voiced their objections to an Oklahoma legislator’s proposal for an interim study on “Radical Islam, Shariah Law, the Muslim Brotherhood and the radicalization process.” An open letter from various groups was recently sent to Oklahoma Speaker of the House Jeff Hickman asking him to reject State Rep. John Bennett’s request for the interim study. The organizations opposing Bennett’s request include the Dialogue Institute of Oklahoma City, Interfaith Alliance Foundation of Oklahoma, Interfaith Alliance of Tulsa, Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice, Oklahoma Conference of Churches, Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City, Jewish Federation of Tulsa, Respect Diversity Foundation and Tulsa Metropolitan Ministry [NewsOK].

Quote of the Day

“Every year I hold a ‘win a trip’ contest to choose a university student to accompany me on a reporting trip to cover global poverty in places like Congo or Myanmar. This year we decided to journey as well to Tulsa, in the heartland of America, because the embarrassing truth is that welfare reform has resulted in a layer of destitution that echoes poverty in countries like Bangladesh.”

-New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof (Source)

Number of the Day


Number of morticians, undertakers, and funeral directors working in Oklahoma in May 2015.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Millionaire Tax Flight Myth Debunked — Again: An important new study conclusively debunks the myth that raising state income taxes on the wealthy causes many of them to flee to lower-tax states. It also shows that repealing state income taxes — a change the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and others are promoting across the country — likely won’t attract rich business owners and workers with sought-after scientific and technological skills, let alone average families [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities].

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Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

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