In The Know: Voters send two more Democrats to the Oklahoma Capitol

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

Voters send two more Democrats to the Oklahoma Capitol: Democrats flipped two GOP-controlled districts on Tuesday, giving Oklahoma’s minority party a morale boost heading into a long season of special elections as they prepare for 2018. Voters on Tuesday decided on Democrats to represent them at the Oklahoma Capitol after their elected officials resigned in disgrace, leaving the legislative seats vacant and forcing the mid-year contests [NewsOK]. Democrat Karen Gaddis won a state House seat held by the GOP since early ’90s [Tulsa World].

DHS budget to cut nearly $30 million, including to services that help children and vulnerable adults: The Oklahoma Department of Human Services announced nearly $30 million in planned budget reductions on Tuesday. The reductions will be implemented over the course of the next fiscal year and will affect several programs serving vulnerable children and adults. Savings from the cuts include $9.2 million in billable hours through the ADvantage Medicaid Waiver program, $4 million from freezing new applications for child-care subsidies, $2.9 million from reducing Developmental Disabilities Service Medicaid in-home support waiver caps and $1.7 from reducing the Older American State Overmatch Act [Tulsa World]. Budget cut options for DHS this year ranged from the terrible to the unthinkable [OK Policy].

DHS Budget Cuts will have immediate effects in Stephens County: Ken Jones, Director of Supportive Services at ASCOG said wide-ranging effects of the cuts and their implications for Duncan and Stephens County are still unknown. “We haven’t received details on the cuts yet and how it is going to affect our area,” Jones said. “We just received a notice that the decision was made state-wide to reduce the funding for Older American Acts programs by $1.7 million, so it is really difficult to comment on it right now because I don’t have the exact numbers.” Jones said the cut will most likely mean a reduction in funding for AAA and Senior Nutrition sites and that other services are probably not going to be touched in this round of cuts [Duncan Banner].

Fitch downgrades Oklahoma GO bonds to ‘AA’ from ‘AA-plus’: Fitch Ratings downgraded Oklahoma’s issuer default rating and General Obligation bonds to AA from AA-plus on Tuesday, citing a decrease in “financial resilience” over the last several years as it struggles to deal with changes in the energy markets. Fitch also downgraded both Oklahoma Development Finance Authority bonds and Oklahoma Capital Improvement Authority bonds to AA-minus from AA. The ratings, still within a high investment grade category, carry a stable outlook [Reuters].

Treasurer sees Oklahoma’s economy continuing recovery: State Treasurer Ken Miller said Oklahoma’s economy continues to be in recovery during an end-of-fiscal-year report on state revenue. Total state revenue over the past 12 months is still lower than the previous year, he said, but the rate of decline has slowed considerably. Oklahoma brought in $1 billion during June, the highest total for that month since 2014 [NewsOK].

Dems race looks a lot like Republicans: Despite the different policy platforms, some analysts said that Oklahoma’s Democratic primary for governor is going to look similar to its Republican counterpart. Each features similar archetypes in state politics: the well-established candidate with a familiar name who will have no trouble raising money, and the metro-based political leader who has been successful in his field but will likely struggle with rural voters. Democrat Drew Edmondson, a former attorney general from Muskogee, has decades of statewide political experience [Journal Record].

Oklahoma already led the nation in cuts to K-12 education. Now we lead in cuts to higher ed too: For several years now, Oklahoma has led the nation in cuts to state aid funding of K-12 schools by reducing state aid per student 26.9 percent since 2008. That’s almost twice as much as the next worst state, Alabama. The results are clear. Many of our state’s best teachers are leaving for other states, nearly one in five of the state’s school districts are going to 4-day weeks, class sizes are growing, arts, athletics, and STEM programs are being cut, and more. These problems have gotten attention in state and national media — so much that Governor Fallin says she is having trouble convincing businesses to come to Oklahoma because of them [OK Policy].

Muskogee VA struggles continue, report shows: The Muskogee VA medical care system was taking an average of 2 minutes and 15 seconds to answer telephone calls during the early months of 2016 — prompting 8 percent of callers to abandon their calls before receiving assistance, according to a new report issued by the VA’s Office of Inspector General. The inspector general also reported that two patients died in October 2015 after undergoing surgical procedures, prompting officials to suspend all intermediate-level surgical procedures for a period of time [NewsOK].

Panel to hold criminal justice reform probe: A Chickasha lawmaker says he’s pleased House leaders plan to appoint a special committee to hold a public hearing on a controversial criminal justice measure that failed in the final days of session. House leaders recently announced they’re taking the seemingly unusual step of appointing the special committee to oversee two of state Rep. Scott Biggs’ interim studies later this year. One study will probe the idea of reclassifying select crimes as nonviolent. The other will look at how successful criminal justice reform efforts have been in other states [CNHI].

Oklahoma House interim studies cover broad array of topics: Criminal justice reform, a headliner issue during the 2017 legislative session, will receive plenty of attention during the interim as well. Perhaps what’s gleaned during interim studies will translate into better luck for reform in 2018. It certainly needs to. The list of 63 approved interim studies by House members, released last week by Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, includes at least six that involve criminal justice reform [Editorial Board / NewsOK].

Mom is in jail: What happens to her kids? Knowing what I’ve seen about the criminal justice system in Oklahoma and elsewhere, I thought about all of the places kids might drop out of the system and no one would notice: I started to worry that it might happen a lot more than we think about. Jail can throw the most stable of families into crisis mode; the people I usually see in jail are from families without a safety net at all. So we started to ask a few simple questions in Tulsa: Did the jail ask about children when booking people in? [The Frontier]

It took the city 30 minutes — and more than a year of preparation — to raise $115 million: No one pays much attention to the number crunchers, but it was their work, in a 10th-floor conference room, that raised $115.3 million in bond money for the Tulsa Vision projects. The Vision Tulsa sales tax has been in effect less than seven months and already the city of Tulsa has about $121 million in the bank waiting to be spent on economic development projects. That’s nearly a quarter of the $511 million the city plans to spend on Vision Tulsa economic development projects over the next 15 years [The Frontier].

Oklahoma City mayor pitches street proposals: Mayor Mick Cornett made the case Tuesday for sales tax and bond proposals aimed at rehabilitating crumbling streets during an update on city business for the Rotary Club of Oklahoma City. “People want better streets,” Cornett said, calling it the “one overwhelming issue we face each year.” Cornett spoke to about 250 people at the Rotary Club’s weekly luncheon meeting at the Petroleum Club [NewsOK].

Quote of the Day

“We know foster families are the backbone of our placement system and are extremely grateful to them for partnering with us to provide care for children who come into state custody. The last thing we want to do is take a step backward from progress with these payments, but our current revenue shortfall leaves us no easy choices.”

– DHS Director Ed Lake announcing cuts to DHS programs that serve vulnerable children and adults, including reimbursements to foster families (Source)

Number of the Day


Average family premium for employer-based health insurance in Oklahoma in 2015

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Flexibility That A.C.A. Lent to Work Force Is Threatened by G.O.P. Plan: In recent years, millions of middle- and working-class Americans have moved from job to job, some staying with one company for shorter stints or shifting careers midstream. The Affordable Care Act has enabled many of those workers to get transitional coverage that provides a bridge to the next phase of their lives — a stopgap to get health insurance if they leave a job, are laid off, start a business or retire early.If the Republican replacement plan approved by the House becomes law, changing jobs or careers could become much more difficult [New York Times].

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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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