In The Know: Eight school districts win lawsuit against Oklahoma Tax Commission; outcome to affect hundreds of districts

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

Eight school districts win lawsuit against Oklahoma Tax Commission; outcome to affect hundreds of districts: An Oklahoma County judge has sided with eight school districts who sued the Oklahoma Tax Commission over the new way it has been distributing motor vehicle tax collections. A June lawsuit by Sand Springs, Muskogee and six other school districts claimed that the Tax Commission had misinterpreted a new law and beginning July 1, 2015, incorrectly distributed more than $14 million of motor vehicle collections from across the state among Oklahoma’s 419 independent school districts [Tulsa World].

How Voters Are Leaning on State Questions, and Why: Bill Shapard of SoonerPoll talks with Oklahoma Watch’s Brad Gibson about which of the seven state questions on the Nov. 8 ballot are leading, which are behind and which are hard to predict – and the reasons behind the trends [Oklahoma Watch]. Read our guide to the 2016 State Questions here.

How did your Oklahoma legislator vote? In the midst of a budget crisis across Oklahoma, all eyes were on the Legislature to find a solution to the $1.3 billion shortfall. Between the stress of state budget cuts and a series of controversial bills, Oklahoma lawmakers were heavily criticized last session. In fact, their decisions made national headlines. ‘Oklahoma Makes the Poor Poorer‘ was the headline of an editorial in the New York Times in May [KFOR].

Alcohol state question uncorks many issues for Oklahoma voters: SQ 792 would begin the biggest overhaul to Oklahoma’s alcohol laws since the state went wet nearly 60 years ago. The measure would allow for wine and cold, full-strength beer sales in grocery and convenience stores, as well as change the state’s alcohol distribution system. A companion bill, Senate Bill 383, would rewrite many of the state’s alcohol statutes, including raising minimum age of store cashiers to sell beer to 18, up from 16 at grocery and convenience stores [NewsOK]. See OK Policy’s fact sheet on SQ 792 here.

For State Questions 780, 781: Oklahoma leads the nation in female incarceration and suffers mightily from prison overcrowding. While we would be concerned if county jails experienced an unfunded increase, we believe the dollars directed to counties for treatment and mental health care will be statutorily protected for their intended use. We urge Oklahomans to vote “yes” on SQ 780 and 781. These sentencing reforms have been successfully implemented in other states and should help reduce our prison population. Most importantly, these proposals will save money for our financially challenged state [Editorial Board / Enid News & Eagle]. See OK Policy’s fact sheet on SQ 780 and 781 here.

State Question 776 accomplishes little and should be rejected: We can’t find that State Question 776 would accomplish much, if anything, if it passes, and can’t see any reason why state voters on either side of the capital punishment debate should vote for it. The proposal would add a new section to the state Constitution to “enshrine” the death penalty in Oklahoma. Although the state’s ability to carry out capital punishment has fallen into doubt in recent years, the death penalty already is well established in state law, a fact that is made obvious by the fact that we have put 111 murderers to death since 1990 and have another 48 people sitting on death row [Editorial Board / Tulsa World]. See OK Policy’s fact sheet on SQ 776 here.

Some Thoughts For Your Penny: In three weeks, Oklahoma voters will go to the polls to decide the fate of an estimated 42.7 billion pennies a year in Oklahoma ($427M). By raising our state portion of sales tax by one penny, from 4.5 to 5.5 percent, passage of State Question 779 will give voters the opportunity to do what our state legislature has failed to do for more than eight years – give our woefully underpaid teachers a well-deserved pay raise. I am not going to get into the weeds in this post as to how this question would be implemented if approved [A View From The Edge]. See OK Policy’s fact sheet on SQ 779 here.

State legislators get one right (for once) in revitalizing state tax commission enforcement auditors: If you haven’t been paying your state taxes, watch out. In a smart move this year, the Legislature authorized the Oklahoma Tax Commission to hire new auditors and hike their pay to get more aggressive on state tax cheats. Commission Executive Director Tony Mastin told legislators in May that for an investment of about $4 million in staff and software, the state could bring in more than $30 million a year in unpaid or underpaid taxes [Editorial Board / Tulsa World].

Oklahoma Lawmaker, Physician Ervin Yen Will Try Vaccine Mandate Again In 2017: State Sen. Ervin Yen, R-Oklahoma City, plans to explore vaccination issues during the 2017 legislative session. In an interview Friday morning, the Oklahoma City Republican told eCapitol’s Tyler Talley vaccination rates have plummeted over the last decade, and he said it’s his duty as a physician to advocate for vaccinations. Last year, Yen authored a bill that would’ve removed a provision that allows parents of public school children to opt out of the 11 required vaccines for medical, religious, or personal reasons [KGOU].

Lawmakers want stricter registry for working with children: A loophole in state legislation could mean someone prosecuted for child abuse is taking care of your child. Now, there’s a push for more transparency on child abuse registry. Lawmakers and child advocates are hoping for stricter rules on who is hired to take care of Oklahoma’s children. “In a state where just over 10 percent of child abuse cases are actually prosecuted, that leaves 90 percent of these cases where it warranted an investigation, something was found to have happened but no one will ever really know,” said A.J. Griffin, Republican senator for District 20 [KFOR].

Quote of the Day

“Oklahoma has a revenue problem: We don’t have enough money to do the things that have to be done. The result is four-day-a-week public schools, dangerously overcrowded prisons, and talk of state highway patrol furloughs. … The Legislature didn’t get many things right this year, but in agreeing to revitalize the enforcement mechanism of the tax commissioner it took a stand for good government and fairness.”

-Tulsa World Editorial Board, applauding the Legislature for authorizing increased staffing and salaries for auditors at the Oklahoma Tax Commission (Source)

Number of the Day


Oklahoma’s worldwide ranking for incarceration rate if every U.S. state and territory were a country.

Source: Prison Policy Initiative

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Why Are Politicians So Obsessed With Manufacturing? When Donald J. Trump landed in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago, the city was buzzing about Uber’s deployment of the world’s first fleet of driverless taxicabs. Political leaders were thrilled that Silicon Valley was hiring highly paid workers and investing hundreds of millions of dollars in western Pennsylvania. Local taxi drivers were understandably less excited that robots were coming for their jobs [New York Times Magazine].

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Ryan Gentzler worked at OK Policy from January 2016 until November 2022. He last served as the organization's Reserach Director and oversaw Open Justice Oklahoma. He began at OK Policy as an analyst focusing on criminal justice issues, including sentencing, incarceration, court fines and fees, and pretrial detention. Open Justice Oklahoma grew out of Ryan’s groundbreaking analysis of court records, which was used to inform critical policy debates. A native Nebraskan, he holds a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Oklahoma and a BA in Institutions and Policy from William Jewell College. He served as an OK Policy Research Fellow in 2014-2015.

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