In The Know: Teacher pay raise bill gives ‘false hope,’ Oklahoma Senate leader says

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.

Check out OK Policy’s resources for the Legislative session, including the Legislative Primer and Online Budget Guide.

Today In The News

Teacher pay raise bill gives ‘false hope,’ Oklahoma Senate leader says: Legislative leaders appear to be far apart in their beliefs about whether a teacher pay raise will be funded this year. The Oklahoma House on Tuesday passed a pay raise bill, House Bill 1114, by Rep. Michael Rogers, R-Broken Arrow, with a total price tag of $316 million. It would phase in a teacher pay raise starting with $1,000 for fiscal year 2018, which begins July 1. A $1,000 raise would cost about $52 million, but the measure does not have a funding source. Additional raises would be $2,000 and then $3,000. [Tulsa World]

Budget Crisis Leaving Lawmakers At Odds: This week, state lawmakers passed a bill to give teachers raises without a plan to pay for it, and little was done to bridge the state’s nearly $900-million budget gap. “There has been no significant revenue streams brought before the Oklahoma House of Representatives in an attempt to fill a nearly $900-million budget hole,” said Representative Scott Inman (D) House Minority Leader. Senate Republicans say their GOP counterparts in the House are falsely raising teachers’ hopes. House Democrats suggested raising the gross production tax on oil and natural gas production. Oil execs say that’s not the answer, but they did lobby lawmakers to allow them to expand drilling. [News9] Lawmakers have asked for ‘crippling’ budget cut scenarios, state employees say [Fox25].

Cigarette tax debate burns on: Debate continues over Gov. Mary Fallin’s proposal to hike taxes on cigarettes, but both sides agree that doing so would lead some shoppers to jump state lines. A House bill that would implement the plan has passed out of committee and is waiting for a floor vote. Conservative organizations and industry representatives lament the measure for a handful of reasons, including the assertion that raising prices will shove some shoppers to neighboring states, all of which would have lower tax rates on cigarettes if the measure goes through. Economists and policy analysts who support the measure said there is no doubt some people will cross the borders for cheaper smokes. That’s not the question, they said. Scale is. [Journal Record] Considering the dire need for revenues to fix Oklahoma’s budget mess and the proven health benefits of taxes that discourage smoking, a cost-benefit analysis of HB 1841 shows low- and moderate-income families coming out ahead. [OK Policy]

Proposed law lets Oklahoma hire tax auditors in other states: There soon could be Oklahoma tax collectors stationed in Texas, Arkansas or any other state where companies doing business here have a headquarters. House Bill 1427 would let the Tax Commission lease office space and hire auditors. The auditors will work directly with companies to make sure they’re collecting and remitting the right amount of tax.The author, state Rep. Kyle Hilbert, said the bill focuses on companies that have brick-and-mortar stores in Oklahoma or employ people here.  [NewsOK]

Should State Allow Tax-Credit Donations to Public Schools?: Since 2013, Oklahoma taxpayers have been allowed to take a state income-tax credit in exchange for donations made to private schools. Now, a state lawmaker and others are wondering: Why not offer tax credits for donations to public schools? That, in fact, is what one legislator proposed this year and a House subcommittee unanimously supported, although the bill has since gone dormant. The concept is already in place in a handful of other states, and Oklahoma already offers a little-known tax credit for donations to certain programs in public schools. [Oklahoma Watch] Some taxpayers can make a profit from donating to private schools in Oklahoma due to generous state and federal tax breaks [OK Policy].

Oklahomans want a less barbaric criminal justice system. The state does not.: In November, Oklahomans voted overwhelmingly to reform their bogged-down criminal justice system. In one of the most conservative states in the country, voters approved two referendums to make low-level drug and property crimes misdemeanors instead of felonies and to use the subsequent cost savings to fund rehabilitation programs. The will of voters won’t necessarily become enacted as state law, though. The referendums were put forward as “state questions” rather than binding constitutional amendments, which means the Oklahoma Legislature can edit the reforms any way they want before they go into effect on July 1. State representatives are using that power to try to stop criminal justice reform before it takes root. [Slate]

Cancellation of inmate contracts creates hardships for county sheriffs in Oklahoma: Across Oklahoma, sheriffs are responding with emotions ranging from concern to near panic to Corrections Department Director Joe Allbaugh’s announcement last week that he was canceling contracts to house state inmates with 10 county jails in an effort to save $775,000 this fiscal year. The announcement came as the state continues to deal with a revenue shortfall that is projected to grow by $878 million next fiscal year. [NewsOK]

Summer Policy Institute Applications are Now Open: Oklahoma Policy Institute is excited to announce our fifth annual Summer Policy Institute (SPI) from July 30 – August 2, 2017 at the University of Tulsa. The Institute is hosted and led by the staff of OK Policy and involves leading policy experts from government, academia, and community organizations throughout Oklahoma. The Institute is open to current undergraduate or graduate students at an Oklahoma college or university, or out-of-state college students who graduated from an Oklahoma high school. [OK Policy]

Tulsa early childhood advocates to testify before Congress this week: Tulsa will be making the case for early childhood programs with two of four people set to testify in a congressional hearing on Thursday representing local organizations. Featured on the panel will be Steven Dow, executive director of the Community Action Project of Tulsa, which administers the federal Head Start grant, and Don Millican, chief financial official of Kaiser-Francis Oil Co., who will speak on behalf of the George Kaiser Family Foundation. U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., will oversee the hearing as chairman of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies. It is responsible for making decisions on the allocations to those agencies. [Tulsa World]

Study reveals economic impact of immigrants in Oklahoma: Nearly 220,000 immigrants of all legal statuses call Oklahoma home and many play an important role in the state’s economy, especially in career fields suffering from a shortage of skilled workers, according to a new report on immigration in the state. In 2014, immigrants in Oklahoma paid over $346 million in state and local taxes, according to a report from the New American Economy and promoted by the local nonprofit Aspiring Americans. [NewsOK]

Across the Parched Prairie, Fires Scorch 2,300 Square Miles: Wildfires raging across four states, fanned by winds and fueled by a drought-starved prairie, have killed at least six people and burned more than 2,300 square miles. Winds in western Kansas and the Oklahoma Panhandle were easing somewhat on Wednesday, but weather officials said that conditions were challenging for fire crews and were expected to worsen on Thursday and Friday, renewing concerns about getting the fires under control. “These conditions will make it somewhat easier for firefighting efforts, but far from perfect,” Bill Bunting, forecast operations chief for the Oklahoma-based Storm Prediction Center, told The Associated Press. “The fires still will be moving.” [New York Times]

Scott Pruitt’s office deluged with angry callers after he questions the science of global warming: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s phones have been ringing off the hook — literally — since he questioned the link between human activity and climate change. The calls to Pruitt’s main line, 202-564-4700, reached such a high volume by Friday that agency officials created an impromptu call center, according to three agency employees. The officials asked for anonymity out of fear of retaliation. By Saturday morning calls went straight to voice mail, which was full and did not accept messages. At least two calls received the message that the line was disconnected, but that appeared to be in error. [Washington Post]

Gov. Fallin’s general counsel resigns: Gov. Mary Fallin’s top legal adviser is resigning. Jennifer E. Chance is leaving March 23, five months after becoming general counsel. She has worked for Fallin since 2013, at first as deputy general counsel. “After prayerful consideration, I have decided to pursue other opportunities,” she wrote in her resignation letter, dated March 8. [NewsOK]

Quote of the Day

“The district attorneys who opposed our reforms are very influential within the state legislature. They are good at scaring and pressuring and manipulating lawmakers into passing policies that ultimately benefit their position.”

-Oklahoma for Criminal Justice Reform Kris Steele, speaking about Oklahoma district attorneys’ efforts to roll back justice reforms passed by a large majority of Oklahoma voters as SQ 780 (Source).

Number of the Day


The gap between the minimum wage in Oklahoma ($7.25) and the hourly wage needed to support a family of four in Tulsa County ($22.30).

Source: MIT Living Wage Calculator via ESRI

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

It’s simply not true that as wages go up, jobs go down. But trickle-downers need people to believe it.: Few issues have moved more quickly from fringe to consensus than the “Fight for $15.” When colleagues and I suggested at a Democratic political conference in early November of 2012 that we should raise the minimum wage to $15, people in the audience literally laughed. When New York City fast food workers first walked off the job two weeks later demanding a $15 minimum wage (more than twice the federal $7.25 rate, both then and now), the number was widely dismissed as overreaching and symbolic—a mere bargaining tactic on the part of workers who had little if any bargaining power at all. Nobody predicted what would follow. As an early and vocal advocate for $15, even I was surprised by how fast the dominoes would fall. [Democracy Journal]

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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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