In The Know: State Auditor and House Democrats unveil compromise budget plan

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.

In The News

Oklahoma State Auditor unveils compromise plan to state’s budget woes: The Oklahoma State Auditor has proposed a compromise to the state’s budget woes. State Auditor Gary Jones announced the compromise Feb. 15 alongside the House Democrats, who endorsed the plan. Jones’ plan includes an increase in the oil and gas gross production tax to five percent for the first 36 months, a 75 cent tax on cigarettes and little cigars, a three cent tax on gasoline and a six cent tax on diesel. “This proposal will generate approximately $448 million in revenue and is sufficient to fund a $5,000 pay raise for teachers and raises for state employees,” Jones said. “To make this happen, both sides are being asked to give a little” [FOX25]. Oklahoma House Democrats rally behind auditor’s budget proposal [Public Radio Tulsa].

State agencies to be cut by nearly 2 percent each month through June: After years of budget-slashing, state agencies will be required to cut monthly spending nearly 2 percent more for the remaining four months of the 2018 fiscal year under a measure passed Thursday by a Senate and House joint committee. The measure is expected to be heard on the House and Senate floors next week. Meeting separately, the House and Senate members of the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget agreed to House Bill 1020. The move follows Monday’s failure in the House of a $581.5 million revenue bill that would have paid for a $5,000 teacher pay raise and freed reserve funds to close the FY 2018 budget shortage. The cuts approved Thursday will free up about $44 million, said Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Kim David, R-Porter [Tulsa World]. State agencies bracing for ‘disheartening’ cuts [Enid News & Eagle].

Group ready to move forward to fund Oklahoma education: A group wanting to raise gross production taxes is gearing up after the failure of Step Up Oklahoma. Restore Oklahoma Now is proposing State Question 795 to raise GPT to 7% which will bring in an extra $288 million with most of that going to common education. Executive Director Mickey Thompson says he delayed pushing forward while Step Up Oklahoma worked its way through the State Capitol [KOSU].

Bill Watch: Legislation threatens to cut Oklahomans’ access to health care: A greater share of Oklahomans are uninsured than almost any other state, and our comparatively poor health has serious economic consequences. One might hope that Oklahoma’s legislators would be working this session to make sure more Oklahomans, not fewer, have access to health care. Unfortunately, some lawmakers have instead filed bills that would yank health coverage from low-income parents  and repeat failed experiments of the past [OKPolicy].

A Scorecard for Criminal Justice Reform: About a dozen new and holdover bills that would overhaul Oklahoma’s criminal justice system are in the legislative pipeline. Although it’s too early to tell, there are indications the bills have momentum. In her State of the State address, Gov. Mary Fallin again endorsed bills recommended by the Oklahoma Criminal Justice Reform Task Force and urged, “Send them to me to sign.” House Speaker Charles McCall later assured, “Criminal justice bills will move forward.” Oklahoma Watch put together a scorecard with bills that proponents say could lead to a significant drop in rates of incarceration in prisons and jails and greater use of alternative treatment programs [Oklahoma Watch].

One way to relieve overcrowded prisons: make lock-up a last resort for probation violations: More than 30 people sit uncomfortably on hard, wooden benches under the watchful eyes of Judge Tim Henderson. It’s late morning in Henderson’s courtroom at the Oklahoma County courthouse. Some people have been waiting for hours. Most of these people are on probation, and they’re anxiously waiting for their chance to make a deal. Judge Henderson says these people broke their plea agreements [State Impact].

Programs fighting hunger in Oklahoma reeling from president’s SNAP cut proposal: Leaders in the fight against hunger in Oklahoma said the president’s proposed cuts to food stamps would have broad consequences in the state. President Trump wants to cut Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funding $17 billion next year. Hunger Free Oklahoma’s Chris Bernard said SNAP benefits account for around $1 billion in spending in the state each year — an impact felt even more in areas with high participation [Public Radio Tulsa].

Analysis finds racial disparities in Tulsa, Oklahoma City mortgage approvals: A study by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting found that Tulsa and Oklahoma City were two of 61 cities across America where people of color were routinely denied conventional mortgage loans at rates far higher than their white counterparts. The study was based on an analysis of conventional purchase loan data collected in 2015 and 2016 and made public under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. Data produced by Reveal’s analysis shows during 2015 and 2016 that blacks and Native Americans in the Tulsa metropolitan area were more likely to be denied a conventional mortgage than white applicants. The analysis also found that blacks in the Oklahoma City metro area were more likely to be denied a conventional mortgage than white applicants [Tulsa World].

For students from Oklahoma, a look under the fractured hood of democracy: So, the meeting with the senator did not go well. There were handshakes and photos and smiles at the beginning. Not a bad start. A typical Washington reception. But then the students asked questions and they didn’t like the answers — or nonanswers — they received from Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), their state’s senior senator. Tate Michener, a high school senior, said he asked what Inhofe thought of the pay gap between men and women who performed the same jobs. The query didn’t land well, apparently. “He said he didn’t agree with the premise of the question, so he wasn’t going to answer it,” Michener said [Washington Post].

New citizens: Award-winning Sapulpa teacher among group taking citizenship oath: As she stepped up to the podium, hundreds of well-wishers cheering her on, Nicky Cooper sensed something familiar about the experience. “It kind of feels like I’m getting married,” she said, laughing. In one way, of course, that’s exactly what Cooper was doing. On Wednesday, 24 years after first moving to the United States from Scotland, the award-winning Sapulpa Public Schools educator finally made her commitment official. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma launches innovation initiative to boost its tech economy: The State of Oklahoma is targeting its technology soft spots with the launch of an innovation program designed to modernize government, encourage civic engagement and support new businesses in the local economy. The Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) touted the initiative, called Innovate Oklahoma, in a blog post on Thursday following a soft launch in September. It will be led in partnership between OMES and the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) [StateScoop].

Construction of American Indian Cultural Center resumes this summer: Construction should resume this summer on the American Indian Cultural Center in downtown Oklahoma City. Land agreements between the State, City of Oklahoma City, and the Chickasaw tribe wrapped up this week. According to those at the museum, now that those land agreements have been signed, the project can start moving forward. The inside the Cultural Center looks pretty much like it did six years ago when construction came to a halt after the state ran out of money [News9].

Health department offers free shots as Oklahoma flu deaths hit record: Oklahoma marked two grim milestones this week: a record for seasonal flu deaths and the first pediatric death from flu in the state this season. The pediatric patient, who was between the ages of 5 and 17, died in Oklahoma County. Since the flu season started in September, 22 county residents have died of flu complications, and 587 have been hospitalized, according to the Oklahoma City-County Health Department. The state Health Department announced Thursday that it will offer flu shots for free at all county health departments to anyone 6 months or older. A high-dose vaccine for senior citizens also is available [NewsOK].

Tulsa County, 61 other Oklahoma counties now under burn ban: Tulsa County is among 52 counties under a governor’s burn ban. Gov. Mary Fallin on Thursday extended and expanded a burn ban issued Jan. 30 because of extreme fire danger. The ban covers all of western and central Oklahoma, as well as some of Tulsa County’s neighbors: Washington, Osage, Pawnee, Creek and Okmulgee counties. In addition, the following are under county bans: Atoka, Coal, Haskell, Hughes, Johnston, LeFlore, Marshall, Mayes, McIntosh [Tulsa World].

Quote of the Day

“The costs of drug tests or whatever — it’s impossible for somebody who’s not middle class or above to be able to pay these costs and to stay current on probation. That’s the reason for the failure.”

-Oklahoma County Chief Public Defender Bob Ravitz, who said he thinks the No. 1 reason Oklahomans have their probation revoked is lack of money to pay court fees and other costs (Source).

Number of the Day


Percentage of Oklahoma jobs that are in low-wage occupations, with median pay below the poverty line for a family of four ($24,250).

Source: Prosperity Now

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

In Defense of Social Security Disability Insurance: SSDI is a thin piece of duct tape holding the American safety net together, ensuring people hit with severe medical misfortune have some means of survival. Cutting it without providing a viable alternative wouldn’t revitalize the economy or help disabled people find dignified work. It would leave some of the country’s most vulnerable without a way to get by [Vox].

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Jessica joined OK Policy as a Communications Associate in January 2018. A Mexican immigrant, she was a Clara Luper Scholar at Oklahoma City University where she obtained a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy. Prior to joining OK Policy, Jessica worked at a digital marketing agency in Oklahoma City. She is an alumna of both the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute (2013) and OK Policy's Summer Policy Institute (2015). In addition to her role at OK Policy, Jessica serves as a board member for Dream Action Oklahoma in OKC and communications director for Dream Alliance Oklahoma in Tulsa.

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