In The Know: Teacher pay plans begin to emerge in Oklahoma Legislature

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

Teacher pay plans begin to emerge in Oklahoma Legislature: Sen. Ron Sharp was the first state lawmaker to file a teacher pay raise bill ahead of the 2017 legislative session. But his bill to raise the state’s minimum pay scale by $5,000 highlights the challenge the Legislature will face in finalizing a pay raise plan. “It’s one thing to say teachers should be paid more, which is what my bill does,” said Sharp, R-Shawnee. “But the hard part is coming up with a way to pay for it and that’s what we still need to come up with.” Rep. Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City, is proposing a teacher raise paid for by increasing the income tax rate for high earners [NewsOK].

Without new revenue, we can expect more of the same problems: The way legislators are talking now, the top agenda item for next session will be finding a way to give teachers a pay raise. No doubt those running for election this year got an earful from their constituents about the condition of our schools. Lawmakers seem to be interpreting the failure of SQ 779 as a message that people want a pay raise for teachers but they don’t want a tax increase. At the state chamber legislative forum last week, Speaker-elect Charles McCall expressed support for education but said new taxes would not be on the table [OK Policy].

New state Rep. Collin Walke, D-Oklahoma City, presses for restoration of Earned Income Tax Credit: Legislation that would restore the earned income tax credit to previous spending levels will be filed soon by newly elected state Rep. Collin Walke, an Oklahoma City Democrat. Senate Bill 1604 approved last year by the Legislature and signed by Governor Fallin. The new law reduced tax credit’s benefit for low-income working families by nearly 75 percent. The bill, one of several measures intended to help close a $1.3 billion state budget gap, will increase state income tax collections by an estimated $29 million. S.B. 1604 “penalizes some of Oklahoma’s neediest citizens by withholding funds they desperately need to buy milk and food for their families,” said Walke, D-Oklahoma City. “Balancing the state budget on the backs of our state’s poorest citizens is unconscionable” [CapitolBeatOK].

President expected to sign historic Oklahoma water rights agreement: The U.S. Senate gave final passage Saturday to a water projects bill that includes a historic water rights settlement among Oklahoma City, the state of Oklahoma and the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations. The bill, approved 78-21, now goes to the White House. President Barack Obama is expected to sign it. The water rights settlement was announced in August by the state of Oklahoma, Oklahoma City, and the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations. It is expected to double the city’s future water supply by granting an average of 110,000 acre feet per year of water from the Sardis Lake reservoir in southeastern Oklahoma [NewsOK].

Oklahoma May Resist Federal Regulation, But Its Environmental Record Isn’t Terrible: Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general, is probably best known nationally for his role in orchestrating a legal backlash against President Obama’s environmental regulatory agenda. Now he’s President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. So it’s probably a good time to look a little more closely at the state of the environment in Oklahoma. Pruitt’s history — and the state’s notorious issues with earthquakes caused by the disposal of wastewater from the oil and gas industry — might suggest that Oklahoma would fare particularly poorly on indicators of environmental quality and protection. But the state is solidly middle-of-the-road in many respects, neither the best nor the worst, and even boasts some environmental wins that could come as a surprise [FiveThirtyEight]. Oklahoma is already well on its way to meeting carbon emission reduction goals set by the EPA’s Clean Power Plan [OK Policy].

Trump passes over Fallin for Interior secretary, according to reports: President-elect Donald J. Trump plans to nominate a U.S. congresswoman as Interior secretary, passing over Gov. Mary Fallin after an “awkward” interview last month. USA Today and The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Trump has settled on Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, of Washington, for the Interior post. Trump has not made an official announcement. Several other people were considered. Fallin interviewed for the job with Trump on Nov. 21 in New York City and characterized it as “a great meeting.” Sources told The Oklahoman this week, though, that the interview was “awkward” [NewsOK].

Oklahoma Oil Regulators Adding Limits on Fracking to Earthquake-Reduction Plan: Oklahoma’s oil and gas regulator for the first time will issue guidelines designed to reduce earthquake activity linked to hydraulic fracturing. To date, the state’s earthquake response has centered around curtailing earthquakes linked to wastewater injection wells. Hydraulic fracturing — the well-completion technique known as “fracking” — is known by researchers to trigger earthquakes, both in Oklahoma and in oil and gas fields around the world. But scientists and officials believe the potential size and scale of fracking-related earthquake activity is significantly smaller than that posed by wastewater injection. The commission is preparing to release the fracking guidelines along with a new package of restrictions on wastewater injection wells crafted to reduce earthquakes in and around Pawnee and Cushing, where 5.8 and 5.0-magnitude quakes caused minor injuries and widespread damage in September in November [StateImpact Oklahoma].

Education groups seek return of A-F overhaul to task force: A growing group of individuals are seeking to delay a vote on the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s final proposal to overhaul the A-F school report card system. State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said the delay is “unnecessary” and she is fully committed to the proposal she will ask the state Board of Education to approve on Thursday. Hofmeister has overseen a months-long effort to gather public input and a task force that recommended a reboot of Oklahoma’s much-maligned A-F school grading system. In doing so, she said repeatedly she anticipated that federal education regulations would require it to persist. But on Nov. 28th — after the task force’s final meeting — the U.S. Department of Education released final regulations that revealed states will not be required to grade schools with A-F letter grades or other single indicator score of school performance after all [Tulsa World].

Tulsa race riot story told in exhibit at new African American museum: In a nook on the third floor of the newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture is the typewriter of B.C. Franklin, an attorney who moved to the Greenwood section of Tulsa in 1921 just before white mobs — and the city itself — burned it to the ground. Set up in a Red Cross tent, Franklin used the typewriter to draft lawsuits seeking to hold the city and others responsible for the destruction of the prosperous area known as Black Wall Street. No one paid then and no one paid reparations a decade ago after a renewed effort went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court [The Oklahoman].

Mayor Bynum appoints new Chief Resilience Officer to address racial disparities in Tulsa: Mayor G.T. Bynum has appointed a new Chief Resilience Officer to oversee development and growth of the city’s resilience efforts, specifically focusing on racial disparities in Tulsa. Bynum selected DeVon Douglass to fill the position, according to a news release from the city. Douglass was previously an analyst for the Oklahoma Policy Institute focusing on economic opportunity and poverty. “In Tulsa, we are serious about bringing all the resources at our disposal to address racial disparities in our city. If our city is to be truly resilient, we must address these honestly and strategically,” Bynum said in the release [KTUL].

We’re hiring! Now taking applications for policy analyst and research interns: OK Policy analyst Devon Douglass is leaving to become Chief Resilience Officer for the City of Tulsa under new mayor G.T. Bynum. It’s a loss for OK Policy but a great opportunity for Devon and Tulsa, and we look forward to working with her in her new position. That also means we are looking to hire a new policy analyst to produce research and organize campaigns around economic security for low- and moderate-income Oklahomans. Skills designing reports and infographics are also highly desired for this position [OK Policy].

Think tank criticizes ‘overcriminalization’ in Oklahoma: A national policy research institute has released a study criticizing Oklahoma for “overcriminalizing” behavior and punishing people otherwise acting in good faith or doing their jobs. The Manhattan Institute, a New York City think tank, released “Overcriminalizing the Sooner State: A Primer and Possible Reforms for Oklahoma” on Nov. 17. Oklahoma is the fifth state the institute has studied. The report points out the Oklahoma criminal code contains 1,232 sections sprawling over 629 pages. On average, the state has created 26 new crimes every year over the last six years [The Oklahoman].

Bill could make GRDA sale possible: Two lawmakers say they plan to file a bill that would set up a process for the state to sell the Grand River Dam Authority. State Rep. Leslie Osborn and state Sen. Greg Treat said the plan would outline the steps and clarify a process to divest of the GRDA. The GRDA is a non-appropriated state agency that is primarily funded by revenue from the sale of electricity. “This is not necessarily a bill to sell the GRDA,” said Osborn, R-Mustang, and chairwoman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee. “But during tough budget times, we need to have a plan in place should the need arise.” The Vinita-based GRDA was formed by the Legislature in 1935 [Journal Record].


OKC sales tax free fall continues: December sales tax fell 6 percent compared to the same month last year. Year-over-year monthly sales tax revenue now has dropped in 14 of the past 15 months. In response, the city council agreed this week to $9.2 million in budget reductions, eliminating 39 positions in departments including police, parks and public works. Combined with cuts adopted in June, the city has cut 83 positions from the budget and “frozen” 69 others, 21 in fire and 48 in police, in fiscal 2017 [NewsOK].

Cherokee Nation attorney general says tribe must recognize same-sex marriages: While a tribal court recently avoided ruling on the issue, the Cherokee Nation will begin recognizing same-sex marriages under an opinion issued Friday by the tribe’s attorney general, who said that Cherokees practiced something similar to gay marriage in past centuries. While agreeing that the tribe, as a sovereign nation itself, was not bound by the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision that made gay marriage legal in all 50 states, Todd Hembree echoed the court’s reasoning, deciding that the tribe’s own constitution “protects the fundamental right to marry” regardless of the genders involved in the relationship [Tulsa World].

Quote of the Day

“It would take about $300 million to fund a $5,000 raise and that’s going to take some form of new revenue. A plan is just rhetoric until it includes an actual way to fund it.”

-Amber England, Executive Director of Stand for Children Oklahoma, who said she has heard lots of support for a teacher pay raise, but not as many details about how to do it (Source).

Number of the Day

$412 million

How much Oklahoma’s FY 2018 general revenue could be below FY 2015 while still being enough to trigger another tax cut under a bill passed in 2014.

Source: Oklahoma Policy Institute

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

If you’ve ever described people as ‘white working class,’ read this: Somehow America’s largest demographic group caught the country by surprise this year. The white working class has received enormous attention since Election Day thanks to its critical role in electing Donald Trump the next president. Exit polls show he won this group — defined as white adults over 25 without a four-year degree — by an overwhelming margin of 39 percentage points. Census data show that 42 percent of American are part of the white working class, bigger than any other single group. Yet although this demographic acted with surprising uniformity on Election Day — few other groups swung so far toward a particular party’s direction since 2012 — it is far from monolithic. And it is certainly doesn’t match the stereotype of the rural, blue-collar worker that has often been cited as a typical member of the white working class [Washington Post].

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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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