The Weekly Wonk: An early look at next year’s budget picture | Oklahoma deserves state leadership | Action needed to support children, families

What’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk shares our most recent publications and other resources to help you stay informed about Oklahoma. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The Know. Click here to subscribe to In The Know.

This week’s edition of The Weekly Wonk was published with contributions from Communications Intern Lilly Strom.

This Week from OK Policy

Revenue estimates don’t make budgets. Leaders do: On Friday, the State Board of Equalization provided the revenue certification that will serve as the basis for Oklahoma’s budget year that starts July 1, 2021 (FY 2022). The news was better than expected, but doesn’t suggest the state’s long-term budget slide is over. It’s best to think of the FY 2022 revenue estimate as a one-year reprieve from the pattern of long term budget decline, which likely starts anew in FY 2023. Even with the estimated increase for FY 2022, spending will be 27 percent or $3 billion, below FY 2000 when we adjust for inflation and population growth. In other words, the Board’s estimate shows we are only going up a short, small hill on the ongoing rollercoaster that is Oklahoma’s state government. [Paul Shinn / OK Policy]

Oklahomans deserve state leadership: During the second weekend in December, Oklahoma crossed a grim milestone as the COVID-19 death toll reached more than 2,000. We are losing nurses, teachers, grandparents, children, friends, family members, and loved ones to preventable deaths. State leaders, however, can drastically change these outcomes and save hundreds or thousands of Oklahomans. We can still ease the burden on hospitals and save countless lives by de-politicizing things like masks and gathering restrictions, listening to experts, and providing targeted relief to those most impacted. [Emma Morris / OK Policy]

New KIDS COUNT® pandemic policy report shows immediate action needed for Oklahoma children and families: The coronavirus pandemic is having a devastating impact on children and families in Oklahoma, and its toll on communities of color is even more severe. In November, Oklahoma saw a new record spike with daily cases doubling to more than 3,000 in a matter of weeks. While many families are grappling with the illness itself, many more are facing the unexpected economic toll of the pandemic from lost wages, lack of child care, and school closures. [Rebecca Fine / OK Policy]

New report shows the importance of assistance programs to Oklahoma families: Helping families who need assistance helps all Oklahomans. Poverty affects us all because many people living in poverty have poorer health, are less able to work, and more likely to engage in criminal behavior. Poverty saps our most precious resource; economists call it “human capital,” but it’s really just all of us being able to do our best. Some research shows that higher-poverty areas, such as Oklahoma, have lower economic growth. Impacts of poverty can keep people from entering the workforce and reaching their full capacity when they can work. As noted below, poverty (and thus the need for assistance) is greatest among persons of color. Citigroup estimates the cost of Black inequality alone is 0.35 percent of gross domestic product. In Oklahoma, with a gross state product of $202 billion before the COVID-19 pandemic, we’d be adding $700 million to our economy, the equivalent of 18,000 good-paying ($40,000) jobs. Assistance programs aren’t a handout — they’re an investment in Oklahoma’s health, safety, and economic growth. [Paul Shinn / OK Policy]

Three key Senate committee chairs named (Capitol Update): Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat announced the appointment of Senate committee membership and chairs for the upcoming session. There were three key vacant committee chairmanships for committees with jurisdiction over policies that effect every Oklahoman. [Steve Lewis / Captiol Update]

Policy Matters: Avoiding the benefit ‘cliff effect’: Public assistance programs are intended to provide a measure of security for community members who most need a helping hand. If designed correctly, these state and federal programs should work together to encourage recipients to grow their income and eventually become self-sufficient. However, as we noted in a recent Oklahoma Policy Institute report developed in partnership with the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the fragile and interconnected relationships between these programs can unintentionally harm families and discourage work. [Ahniwake Rose / Policy Matters]

Weekly What’s That

Open Meetings Act

Oklahoma’s Open Meetings Act (25 O.S. Sections 301-314) requires all public bodies to file advance notice of regularly scheduled and special meetings with the Secretary of State, as well as advance notice of changes in date, time, or location of regularly scheduled meetings.

Under the Act, agendas for regular and special meetings must be posted in a publicly-accessible location for at least 24 hours prior to its meeting, and agendas must identify all items of business of the meeting.

”Public body” means all boards, bureaus, commissions, agencies, trusteeships, authorities, councils, committees, public trusts, task forces or study groups supported in whole or in part by public funds or entrusted with the expending of public funds, or administering public property, and includes all committees or subcommittees of any public body. Any gathering of a majority of members of a public body is subject to the Open Meetings Act.

Look up more key terms to understand Oklahoma politics and government here.

Quote of the Week

“Oklahomans rely on the work of public bodies and non-profit organizations. Right now, we cannot do that work safely because of the restrictions of the Open Meetings Act. We need state leaders to do their job so that we can do ours.”

-Oklahoma County Commissioner Carrie Blumert speaking about the need for a special legislative session to allow public bodies to meet virtually [Fox 25

Editorial of the Week

Governor’s newfound concerns ring hollow

Oklahomans continue to pay for their governor’s indecisiveness during a global pandemic. 

Gov. Kevin Stitt raced to make sure Oklahoma was one of the first states to reopen businesses this past May. That strategy might have worked in conjunction with mandatory mask requirements while out in public and maintaining some restrictions for businesses more conducive to community spread of the novel coronavirus. 

But the governor was lured into a partisan web — he joined those who eagerly politicized a public health crisis and demonized decency, common sense and science. That is one reason Stitt’s newfound concern for nurses and doctors who have exhausted themselves caring for the escalating number of COVID-19 patients — a rolling seven-day average of more than 3,207 new cases a day in Oklahoma — rings hollow.    

Oklahoma’s newly enlightened governor implemented this past week new restrictions on some large, indoor gatherings to 50% of a building’s capacity. Churches are exempt even though researchers have found them to be outbreak origins — a majority of U.S. Supreme Court justices believes protecting churchgoers’ health violates the right to freely exercise a religious practice.  

Stitt said the new restrictions are “really about hospital capacity,” which continues to shrink as the number of COVID-19 patients requiring critical care swells. And the time “to do more in our fight against COVID-19” is “now.”

According to data and reports disseminated by the White House Coronavirus Task Force, which the governor has received weekly since late June, the time “to do more” was about mid-June. That is when Oklahoma’s rolling seven-day average of new cases on a per capita basis began to catch up with the national average.

The state’s daily average for new cases, when adjusted for population differences, surpassed the national average by the end of July. And the number of Oklahomans with COVID-19 requiring hospitalization surpassed the national per capita average in August — data compiled by The COVID Tracking Project show the state’s hospitalizations increased exponentially since Sept. 11, when 129 people per million required hospital care, to 453 people per million on Dec. 2.

The state’s epidemiology report began reporting data showing the effectiveness of wearing a mask in late September, while health care workers likely were weary but probably not “exhausted.” The governor, however, ignored the science and the increasingly stern recommendations provided weekly by the White House Coronavirus Task Force. 

While we appreciate the governor’s ultimate acknowledgement of a public health crisis he let spiral out of control, at this point it appears more like lip service than action. We are hopeful he proves more successful implementing a vaccination program than he was safeguarding the state’s public health. 

[Muskogee Phoenix Editorial Board]

Numbers of the Day

  • 2,064 – Number of COVID-19 deaths in Oklahoma, as of Dec. 14, 2020
  • 82,000 – Number of children in Oklahoma who live in extreme poverty, which is below 50 percent of the federal poverty level.
  • 8,000 – Number of daily virus cases Oklahoma could experience if the state takes no additional action to restrain COVID-19 spread
  • 28% – Percentage of Oklahoma children whose parents lack secure employment
  • 1 in 4 – The ratio of COVID-19 infection for Oklahoma prisoners, which is 26.7 cases per every 100 prisoners. That rate is more than four times higher than for all Oklahomans at 6.1 cases per 100 residents.

See previous Numbers of the Day and sources here.

What We’re Reading

  • Hispanic People are Facing Widening Gaps in Health Coverage [KFF]
  • Kids, Families and COVID-19: Pandemic Pain Points and the Urgent Need to Respond [KIDS COUNT]
  • Dying in a Leadership Vacuum [New England Journal of Medicine
  • Nearly 8 million Americans have fallen into poverty since the summer [Washington Post]
  • As more women fill America’s jails, medical tragedies mount [Reuters]


David Hamby has more than 25 years of experience as an award-winning communicator, including overseeing communication programs for Oklahoma higher education institutions and other organizations. Before joining OK Policy, he was director of public relations for Rogers State University where he managed the school’s external communication programs and served as a member of the president’s leadership team. He served in a similar communications role for five years at the University of Tulsa. He also has worked in communications roles at Oklahoma State University and the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce in Arkansas. He joined OK Policy in October 2019.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.