In The Know: State budget cuts put strain on programs for vulnerable adults

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

State budget cuts put strain on programs for vulnerable adults: When Jana Gildon lost her job at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services due to budget cuts, she was one of just four state workers tasked with investigating abuse, neglect and exploitation at long-term care facilities like nursing homes. Gildon’s job was one of about 100 DHS positions that were eliminated in August. The layoffs were part of $45 million in funding cuts for the 2017 fiscal year that DHS was forced to implement due to a more than $100-million shortfall at the agency amid state budget cuts. “People are losing their jobs even after years with the state because our Legislature and governor have not handled our budget very well,” Gildon said [The Oklahoman].

Only 4 Of 274 Claims Paid Out After Largest Oklahoma Quake: The sidewalks around the more than 110-year old Arkansas Valley National Bank building are still roped off to guard pedestrians from falling chunks of sandstone nearly two months after a 5.8-magnitude earthquake shook Pawnee. The hand-cut sandstone facade of the building, a historic landmark in downtown Pawnee, sustained heavy damage in the Sept. 3 earthquake. Bank building owner Keith Cheatham just laughed when asked if he had earthquake insurance. “If you have earthquake damage, you are pretty much on a self-help program,” he said. As of Sept. 30, Only four insurance claims worth $24,232 have been paid out of the 274 claims filed for damage from the Sept. 3 earthquake, according to the Oklahoma Insurance Department [The Oklahoman].

GOP expected to maintain super majorities in Oklahoma: Republicans are expected to maintain super majorities in both the Oklahoma House and Senate after the November elections, but Democrats remain hopeful they could pick up a seat or two in each chamber. Republican and Democratic politicos predict there won’t be any major swings in either chamber, but a byproduct of the GOP’s major gains over the last decade is that Republicans have more open seats to defend: 19 in the House and nine in the Senate. Republicans currently hold a 39-9 edge in the Senate and a 71-30 advantage in the House [Associated Press].

Evangelical voting bloc remains a force in Oklahoma: The path to victory in an Oklahoma election goes through the pews of the state’s evangelical churches. And while the number of self-proclaimed evangelicals has declined in recent years, it remains one of the state’s largest voting blocs and is instrumental in deciding everything from the result of state questions to Oklahoma’s seven presidential electoral votes. As a part of America’s Bible Belt — if not the buckle — Oklahoma’s likely voting population on Nov. 8 is estimated to be 55 percent evangelical, according to SoonerPoll’s analysis of likely voters [NewsOK].

Seven state-level judges on Nov. 8 retention ballot: Oklahomans will decide Nov. 8 whether seven state-level judges should stay in office, but there’s really not much suspense. Voters in this state have never removed a judge appearing on a retention ballot. The judges are not running against anybody. Voters are simply asked to decide with a “yes” or “no” whether they should be retained, or stay in office [NewsOK]. Included on the Nov. 8 ballot, voters will decide whether to retain two Supreme Court justices, two Court of Criminal Appeals judges and three Court of Civil Appeals judges [Enid News & Eagle]. We took a look at how judges are chosen, what’s at stake in the elections, and how you can learn about the candidates [OK Policy].

State Question 779: What would a $5,000 pay raise mean to Oklahoma teachers?: With less than 10 days before the election, the politics of State Question 779 are being fiercely debated in ad campaigns, op-eds and social media platforms. But what does the ballot measure’s promise of across-the-board, $5,000 raises mean to teachers? In Oklahoma, a teacher’s salary can be the deciding factor in needing a second or third job — or leaving the state or profession altogether to make more money. “When you can drive 30 minutes across the state line to Missouri, or 20 minutes to Kansas, and make an average of $7,800 more, you’ve got to make some decisions that are best for your family,” said Miami Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Hogan [Tulsa World]. See OK Policy’s fact sheet on SQ 779 here.

With Election Day Near, Education Tax Opposition Groups Form: A last-ditch effort to derail a proposed 1-cent sales tax increase for education is underway, driven by a political action committee and a nonprofit that formed just weeks before the Nov. 8 election. Oklahoma Deserves Better, a so-called “Super PAC” that is against the proposal, registered with the state Oct. 20. Such PACs can raise and spend unlimited sums of money and must report their donors. A social-welfare nonprofit by the same name registered Oct. 14. Such 501(c)(4) nonprofits don’t have to identify donors and are often used to channel funds to PACs to mask the donors’ names [Oklahoma Watch].

Oklahoma’s $1.3 billion school funding gap: There was more bad news this week that Oklahoma, for the third straight year, had the largest cuts in the United States in state aid funding for education. The per pupil state aid formula cuts were 26.9 percent after inflation between fiscal year 2008 and fiscal year 2017, nearly twice as much as Alabama which was the next worst state. It’s hard to believe that publicity like this enhances our reputation as a good place to live and do business [OK Policy].

Oklahoma schools accused of squandering millions on bond fees: Oklahoma school districts are spending millions of taxpayers’ dollars every year by paying high fees for financial advisers, bond counsel and underwriters, says Jim Joseph, the state’s bond adviser. Many school districts continue to do the same thing year after year, while stubbornly refusing to use cost-saving competitive selection measures, he said. “It’s like picking a roofer right after a storm because he’s the first guy who came to your door,” Joseph said. “You’re not going to get a deal, that’s for sure.” [NewsOK]

Oklahoma voters should reject SQs 776 and 777: Oklahoma’s state constitution is among the nation’s longest, largely because it is packed with provisions that should have been handled in statute. If anything, the Oklahoma Constitution should be reduced in size, not expanded. That alone justifies opposition to State Question 776 and State Question 777. Both would add provisions to the constitution without any obvious public benefit in response to no obvious problem [Editorial Board / NewsOK]. See OK Policy’s fact sheet on SQ 776 here and on SQ 777 here.

Group abandons efforts to get second liquor question on future ballot: The Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma has abandoned efforts to get its version of a liquor modernization state question on a future ballot. The group was unable to obtain the 123,725 signatures needed by the deadline to get State Question 791 on a ballot, Bryan Kerr, president, said Friday. Kerr said he didn’t know specifically how many signatures the organization lacked. “We decided to suspend the campaign and try to defeat State Question 792 and come back with a bigger and better plan afterwards,” he said [Tulsa World]. See OK Policy’s fact sheet on SQ 792 here.

Oklahoma City Hotel Tax Revenue Lower Than Expected; Budget Cuts Threaten Rural Firefighting Program: On Tuesday, the City of Oklahoma City announced hotel/motel tax collections fell for the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2017, and were down even below the most conservative estimates. The so-called “tourist tax” was down 5.9 percent compared to FY 16, but 2.7 percent below estimates. The Journal Record’s editor Ted Streuli says the effect was felt city-wide, but the downturn really differs based on geography. … Declining sales tax revenues in rural communities are already constraining municipal budgets, and that’s exacerbated by additional state budget cuts that could threaten core city services [KGOU].

‘Drugs Were Around Me Every Day’: Too often, we talk about Native American oppression in the past tense. The Trail of Tears, genocide and forced adoption are part of our history, but inequality is still present today, made clear when examining how drug addiction plays out in Native American communities. In Tulsa, Okla., I met a woman named Dah-Day-We Warrior, a Ponca Native American who grew up in White Eagle, a nearby town. At 23, Warrior has five children and is on her second round of rehab for a methamphetamine addiction. When she left rehab for the first time last year, she said she moved home — and immediately relapsed [New York Times].

Pruitt Nixes Rumors Of Congress Run, Eyeing Race For Governor: Oklahoma’s Attorney General Scott Pruitt said he is not considering a 2018 run for the First Congressional District seat, currently held by Rep. Jim Bridenstine. Pruitt sat down Tuesday with the Examiner-Enterprise prior to a town hall meeting at the Bartlesville Public Library to talk about his political future, among other subjects. He said he is considering running for governor, but not Congress. Pruitt said he will making a public decision about running for governor after the Nov. 8 general election [Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise].

Quote of the Day

“Could it take four days for us to respond instead of three? Yes. Could it take five days instead of three? Yes. Could people be concerned that Adult Protective Services wasn’t there on day one? Yes.”

Gail Wettstein, director of Adult Protective Services for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, speaking about state budget cuts that have forced the agency to cut staff and reduce their physical presence to just 50 of the state’s 77 counties (Source).

Number of the Day


Percentage of people entering Oklahoma prisons in 2013 whose most serious offense was possession of a controlled substance.

Source: Oklahoma Department of Corrections

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Five reasons teacher residencies often outperform traditional training: As expectations for educators continue to rise, we must ensure that every aspiring teacher has an adequate opportunity to master and apply their craft. Just like doctors in training, aspiring teachers need sustained clinical experiences alongside expert practitioners to build links between educational theory and practice and to develop the hands-on techniques and strategies that help children learn. As director of the Sustainable Funding Project at Bank Street College, I regularly meet with educators, policy makers, and other stakeholders across the country to help advance high-quality teacher preparation through sustainably funded teacher residencies [Hechinger Report].

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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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