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Today you should know that the Mercy health system is planning to lay off up to 300 people in four states including Oklahoma. As reason for the layoffs, they cited reductions in insurance payments and a lack of Medicaid expansion in most of the states the hospital system serves. The agency responsible for providing services to Oklahomans with disabilities faces a $368,000 cut in next year’s budget.
Oklahoma Watch reported on how plunging corporate income tax collections contributed to Oklahoma’s budget cuts this year. Nationwide state revenues and employment have both surpassed pre-recession levels, but some states including Oklahoma are still struggling with shortfalls. The east tunnel entrance to the state Capitol was closed due to a smell that was too much for a security guard to maintain his post for the entire day. State Treasurer Ken Miller called for consolidating more state boards and agencies and overhauling teacher pensions to save money.
KGOU shared four takeaways from the legislative session by University of Oklahoma political scientist Keith Gaddie. The OK Policy Blog discussed a legislator’s fearmongering about ‘The Bluest Eye’ by Toni Morrison in the debate over Common Core standards, and why Oklahomans ought to read the book. The mother of a special-needs student says State Superintendent Janet Barresi violated the privacy rights of her child and others by providing their names and home addresses to her campaign for re-election.
Department of Corrections officials said they have reduced the nearly 2,000 state inmates backed up in county jails to less than 300. A former Tulsa man who served about 16 years in prison before being paroled and cleared of wrongdoing by DNA evidence is suing the city of Tulsa in federal court. The lawsuit claims that city officials used manufactured evidence to convict him and then obstructed his exoneration efforts while he was in prison and on parole.
Tulsa, Oklahoma City and a handful of other Oklahoma cities will be forced to dismantle their property registration programs under a new state law approved during the last session. Due to a court ruling that the company must comply with federal anti-pollution rules, OG&E will convert two of the three coal units at its Muskogee plant to use natural gas. The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahoma kindergartners in 2012-13 that had vaccinations for measles, mumps, and rubella. In today’s Policy Note, the New York Times discuss how access to health care has become divided by state lines in a community on the Arkansas-Texas border. Arkansas is accepting federal funds to expand health coverage while Texas is not.
In The News
No Medicaid expansion reason for Mercy’s plans to lay off up to 300 workers in four states
Operators of the Mercy health system are looking to lay off up to 300 people in four states this month, citing less money coming into the health care system because of reductions in insurance payments and a lack of Medicaid expansion in most of the states the hospital system serves. “Like all health care providers, Mercy is managing the impact of market changes, including reimbursement reductions from government and commercial payers, lack of Medicaid expansion in most of the states we serve and declining inpatient utilization,” Mercy spokeswoman Barb Meyer said in a statement. The specific number of layoffs that Mercy will make in Oklahoma has not been announced.
Oklahoma Rehabilitation Services Faces 1.2% Cut
The Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services faces a 1.2 percent cut after budget negotiations for the 2015 fiscal year concluded with lawmakers and the governor approving a $7.1 billion budget. The agency says its cut amounts to approximately $368,000 but it has not determined where the cut will be implemented. Jody Harlan, public information administrator, said Monday it is unlikely client services will be disrupted but commissioners and agency leaders did not give any indication as to what would be affected during their monthly meeting Monday morning.
Taxing Corporations: Oklahoma’s Fiscal Roller Coaster
Oklahoma’s corporate income tax has become the wild card of state finance, gyrating unpredictably from one year to the next as firms take advantage of tax credits and legal accounting practices. This year’s corporate tax collections have fallen so far below expectations that the state came within a hair’s breadth of declaring a “revenue failure.” That, in turn, would have triggered across-the-board cuts in scores of state programs. Sixteen months ago, the state estimated that the corporate tax would generate $482 million for the general revenue fund. It turned out to be a colossal forecasting error.
Some states rake in revenue, others struggle
For the first time since the recession ended, state revenues and employment have both surpassed pre-recession levels, at least in the country as a whole. But if this is finally the “good times,” it sure doesn’t feel like it to some states. A majority of states opened their 2014-2015 legislative sessions this year “in a better budgetary position than at any other point since the start of the recession,” said Gabriel J. Petek, an analyst for Standard & Poor’s credit rating agency. But while California, New York and Minnesota are raking in tax revenue and churning out new jobs at a pace exceeding pre-recession levels, other states are still struggling.
Tunnel entrance to Oklahoma state capitol closes due to smell
The east tunnel entrance to the state Capitol was closed after heavy weekend rains made it smell damp and musty, building officials announced Monday. It’s common for rainwater to seep into the 680-foot-long tunnel, but that problem was exacerbated when a belt broke on a large fan that keeps air flowing through the underground space, said John Estus, a spokesman for the state Office of Management and Enterprise Services. The belt has been replaced, Estus said, but the musty smell was too much for a security guard to maintain his post for the entire day.
Oklahoma officials propose ways to save taxpayers money
Oklahoma has seven pension plans for state employees, and six of them have their own boards, staff, offices, consultants and investment managers. If they all were consolidated under a single administration, as is done in many other states, taxpayers would save about $15 million a year, state Treasurer Ken Miller said. Another $10 million could be saved if all state agencies, officers, boards and commissions used the services of the Oklahoma attorney general’s office rather than hire their own attorneys, the treasurer said.
Four Takeaways From The 2014 Legislative Session
Now that the dust has settled at the state Capitol after the May 23 end of the 2014 Oklahoma legislative session, journalists, lobbyists and the public will try to figure out what the legislature did (or didn’t) accomplish as lawmakers shift their focus to a contentious primary season ahead of June 24. University of Oklahoma political scientist and regular KGOU contributor Keith Gaddie gathered three Capitol reporters to sort through the metaphoric (and literal) rubble surrounding the intersection of Northeast 23rd Street and Lincoln Blvd. Here are four observations from the second session of the 54th Oklahoma Legislature.
Read This: The Bluest Eye
On the state Senate floor in the waning hours of the final day of the 2014 legislative session, Sen. Josh Brecheen (R-Coalgate) read a passage from Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye as part of his effort to derail Common Core in Oklahoma. Ignoring that Common Core doesn’t require any schools to read The Bluest Eye (the books listed are suggestions), Sen. Brecheen’s use of The Bluest Eye indicates not only fundamental misunderstanding of the work but also precisely why Oklahomans ought to read it. Its frank portrayal of poverty, misogyny, and racism, still all too common in Oklahoma, helps readers to empathize with those affected by oppression. By giving them the tools to understand the world around them, The Bluest Eye equips readers to change that world.
Parent claims Barresi violated her child’s privacy rights
The mother of a special-needs student says State Superintendent Janet Barresi violated the privacy rights of her child and others receiving state-funded scholarships to private schools by providing their names and home addresses to her campaign for re-election. The woman said she kept her concerns to herself for two years at the request of Joel Robison, Barresi’s chief of staff at the Oklahoma State Department of Education, but a new Barresi television campaign ad reignited her anger over the experience. Barresi’s ad features a recipient of the state-funded Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships and accuses her GOP primary rival of “conspiring with education bureaucrats” to prevent other special-education students from obtaining the scholarships.
Oklahoma Corrections Department aims to empty county jails of state inmates
Faced with a lawsuit and the frustrated pleas of county sheriffs, the state Corrections Department this year attempted to significantly reduce the number of inmates awaiting transfer from county jails to state prisons. Department officials said they discovered nearly 2,000 inmates waiting for transfer in jails across the state. Now, they say that number stands at less than 300. “It’s a potential savings of millions of dollars,” Corrections Department Director Robert Patton told The Oklahoman in April when the department first took on the county jail backlog.
Wrongly imprisoned former Tulsan cleared by DNA sues city
A former Tulsa man who served about 16 years in prison on robbery and burglary convictions before being paroled and eventually cleared of wrongdoing sued the city of Tulsa and others in Tulsa federal court Monday. Sedrick Courtney, who now lives in Stephens County, claims in his lawsuit that city officials used manufactured evidence to convict him and then obstructed his exoneration efforts while he was in prison and on parole. Courtney, now 42, had been found guilty in a 1995 case in which two masked intruders robbed a woman at her Tulsa apartment. The victim identified Courtney — who denied any involvement and had alibi witnesses.
New law bans mandatory city property registries
Tulsa, Oklahoma City and a handful of other Oklahoma cities will be forced to dismantle their property registration programs under a new state law approved during the last session. House Bill 2620, known as the Protect Property Rights Act, will prohibit municipalities from implementing mandatory property registration programs. Tulsa already requires nuisance property owners to register with the city and had been considering a rental unit registration program in the wake of a January 2013 quadruple homicide at a south Tulsa apartment complex. “That law took Tulsa a step backwards,” said Dwain Midget, Director of Community Development.
OG&E plans move away from coal to comply with EPA rules
Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. has big plans for its aging Mustang natural gas plant and wants to install scrubbers at its Sooner coal plant in Red Rock to comply with environmental regulations, the utility said in a planning update submitted to Oklahoma regulators. While it’s too early to determine exact costs, OG&E representatives said the changes could increase customer bills by 15 to 20 percent when it’s fully implemented by 2019. OG&E said its plan meets federal mandates in a way that preserves reliability and minimizes the effect on customers.
Quote of the Day
“I think a lot of the decisions we’re making in Oklahoma City tend to be more based more on campaign contributions and lobbyists’ concerns than they are on what’s in the best interests of the citizens of Oklahoma.”
-State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones, speaking about the decline of corporate income tax revenues as companies continue to pressure lawmakers to create more tax breaks (Source: http://bit.ly/1s2x4YF).
Number of the Day
Estimated percentage of Oklahoma kindergartners in 2012-13 that had vaccinations for measles, mumps, and rubella.
In Texarkana, uninsured and on the wrong side of a state line
On a hazy, hot evening here, Janice Marks ate a dinner of turkey and stuffing at a homeless shelter filled with plastic cots before crossing a few blocks to the Arkansas side of town to start her night shift restocking the dairy cases at Walmart. The next day, David Tramel and Janice McFall had a free meal of hot dogs and doughnut holes at a Salvation Army center in Arkansas before heading back to their tent, hidden in a field by the highway in Texas. None of the three have health insurance. But had Ms. Marks, 26, chosen to sleep on the side of town where she works, or had Mr. Tramel and Ms. McFall, who are both in their early 20s, made their camp where they had eaten their dinner, their fortunes might be different.
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