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 from OK Policy
- Addressing misinformation about SQ 805: As Oklahomans prepare to vote on State Question 805 during the Nov. 3 general election, opponents have started attacking the justice reform measure in predictable ways, attempting to stir up fear through false and misleading claims. Opponents of SQ 805 are preying on emotions that have resulted in Oklahoma maintaining one of the nation’s highest incarceration rates, driven by long and frequent prison sentences for all types of offenses. Four years ago, SQ 780, a ballot initiative to reclassify many drug and property crimes as misdemeanors, received similar attacks. Since that reform measure passed, Oklahoma has achieved great success in diverting people away from prison, while crime rates remain near all-time lows, contrary to the doomsday predictions by some District Attorneys and law enforcement officials. [Ryan Gentzler / OK Policy] OK Policy has published a non-partisan fact sheet for SQ 805 available at okpolicy.org/okvotes.
Ensuring Medicaid expansion delivers on its full potential: With Oklahoma voters approving Medicaid expansion this summer, residents can expect to see enormous economic returns and improved health outcomes in the coming years. Based on the experiences from other states, Medicaid expansion can lead to significant increases in access to health care, thousands of new jobs, and millions of dollars in additional revenue. While voting to expand Medicaid was a monumental step forward, the subsequent decisions by our elected officials and policymakers are just as important to ensure that Oklahomans get the most impact from their investment. The state’s processes moving forward with expansion will impact hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans and it’s important they get it right. [Emma Morris / OK Policy]
- An early look at the FY 2022 budget (Capitol Update): There was an informative interview in last Friday’s Journal Record of Senate Appropriations Chair Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, about his thoughts for the FY 2022 budget to be passed when the Legislature reconvenes in February. Last March, the pandemic hit legislators with a projected $1.3 billion in cuts to be made for FY 2021, which will end June 30, 2021. The $1.3 billion was a number wisely agreed to by legislators last session for crafting the budget in order to avoid the possibility of a revenue failure this year, even though the Board of Equalization had already met in February and certified a higher budget target. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]
Policy Matters: Blood sport politics has weakened state, country: Governance is not a zero-sum game, and politics has never been an activity for the thin-skinned. But this garbage is getting out of hand. Absolute partisanship has left little room for constructive dialogue. In turn, this has weakened both civility and the legislation coming from our political bodies. [Ahniwake Rose / OK Policy]
Weekly What’s That
Oklahoma’s Constitution requires that the state’s annual budget be balanced.
The balanced budget requirement is accomplished by limiting appropriations for seven funds, of which the General Revenue Fund is by far the largest, to no more than 95 percent of certified revenue estimates for the upcoming year. This allows for a 5 percent cushion in case of a revenue shortfall. If General Revenue collections fall below 95 percent of the certified estimate, the Director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services declares a revenue failure and reduces funds going to agencies by however much is necessary to bring spending into balance with revenue collections. If General Revenue Fund revenue exceeds the 95 percent level, the 5 percent cushion flows into the Cash Flow Reserve Fund and can be appropriated in the future. If General Revenue collections exceeds 100 percent of the certified amount, the surplus flows into the Constitutional Reserve Fund, also known as the Rainy Day Fund.
Quote of the Week
“By putting this issue front and center, my hope is we can have similar discussions about education, about health, and about jobs and the economy.”
-Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, during Thursday’s interim study on racial relations and policing [Tulsa World]
Editorial of the Week
Audit reveals flaws with for-profit education
A scathing 120-page audit of Epic Charter Schools provides several reasons to remove the motive of profit from Oklahoma’s public school system.
State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd’s investigative audit of the virtual charter school uncovered a “remarkably complex” infrastructure used to divert tens of millions of dollars toward a for-profit business controlled by three men. That money otherwise would have been steered to students in classrooms at traditional brick-and-mortar schools.
State auditors found about 10% of every tax dollar, or $45.9 million, went directly into the accounts of the for-profit management company, Epic Youth Services. The company, Byrd reports, spent $203,000 to expand its operations in California, and pledged Epic assets as collateral to secure loans to run the out-of-state for-profit venture.
While no criminal charges have been filed as a result of these findings, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation said its probe remains “very active.” An OSBI representative told The Associated Press the findings included in Byrd’s audit will be used by agents as they “unravel the many layers of this complicated and intricate investigation.”
Numbers of the Day
- 11.1% – Percentage of Hispanic or Latino residents in Oklahoma, the state’s largest non-white population, according to Census categorizations.
- 177,000 – The number of eligible Latnix voters in Oklahoma in 2018, which is a 60% increase from 2010. Latinx voters represent about 6% of Oklahoma’s share of voters.
- 8x – COVID-19–associated hospitalization rates were eight times higher among Hispanic than among white children from March 13 to July 25, 2020.
- 30.2% – Percentage of Hispanic adults (aged 18-64) who are uninsured, more than twice the national average of 14.5%.
- 10.3% – Unemployment rate for Latinx workers in September 2020, compared with the 7.9% national average.
What We’re Reading
- Hispanic Heritage Month 2020: 8 Surprising Facts About Latinos In The US [Latin Times]
- Achieving a Cohesive Culture for Health Equity in Latino and All Communities: A Research Review [Salud America]
- As Pandemic Deaths Add Up, Racial Disparities Persist — And In Some Cases Worsen [NPR]
- A triple pandemic? The economic impacts of COVID-19 disproportionately affect Black and Hispanic households [Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University]
- Coronavirus Economic Downturn Has Hit Latinos Especially Hard [Pew Research Center]
- Living Below the Line: Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Economic Security among Older Americans, 2020 [Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging]
Note: In recognition of National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15), this week we shared policy notes and numbers of the day that speak to issues facing Latinx communities in America.