Weekly Wonk: FY 2024 budget misses opportunities | Protecting the state question process | Community voices make better policy

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

FY 2024 Budget: Lawmakers diverted taxpayer dollars to private schools, but missed opportunities to support everyday Oklahomans: The FY 2024 budget is $11.8 billion. Notably, it passed with far fewer tax cuts than was expected when the session began. The budget makes some investments in Oklahomans, including long-awaited agency increases and a promising new housing program. It also, however, includes several programs that prioritize corporations and the wealthy, rather than the inflation relief for low- and middle-income Oklahomans that lawmakers promised in the early months of the session. [Emma Morris / OK Policy] | [FY 2024 Budget Highlights PDF]

Initiative petition process is vital to Oklahoma’s democracy: Lawmakers should keep it accessible: Oklahoma’s lawmakers must keep our democracy strong and stop putting forward legislation designed to diminish the power of the initiative petition and state question process in Oklahoma. In 2020, Oklahomans passed State Question 802 to expand Medicaid access in Oklahoma, continuing a years-long pattern of approving people-centric ballot initiatives. In response, the Oklahoma Legislature has since heard numerous bills to make the state question process less effective. This has been part of a larger national push to make direct democracy (such as the state question process) less powerful, which is a concerning trend. [Cole Allen / OK Policy]

Senate District 32 special election draws six candidates (Capitol Update): The race to replace Sen. John Michael Montgomery, R-Lawton, who recently resigned to become CEO of the Lawton Fort Sill Chamber of Commerce, will be interesting and perhaps more competitive than might have been expected, given the short notice to people in the Lawton area. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Policy Matters: Community voices create better policy: Good laws and effective policies don’t happen in a vacuum. To make Oklahoma’s laws and policies work on behalf of everyone, we need more input from everyday residents – especially folks who have lived experiences with the situations that these laws and policies look to address. That’s one of the reasons that the organization I lead, the Oklahoma Policy Institute, is holding listening sessions statewide so everyday Oklahomans can share their thoughts and input on issues that impact their health, families, safety, and access to the democratic process. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]

Upcoming Opportunities

Together Oklahoma will be hosting Listening Sessions to provide the opportunity for you to express your ideas and views on policy matters in a collaborative way and give our TOK staff members the chance to hear directly from you. OK Policy research and policy teams will present data from your region and the state and hear directly how it resonates with your personal experiences.

  • August 14: Lawton
  • August 15: Okmulgee
  • August 17: Ardmore
  • August 22: Norman
  • July 29: Altus

Each session will be held in person and is free to attend. Refreshments will be provided and pre-registration is required. For more information or to register, visit togetherok.org/events

  • In additional to the listening sessions, we are asking Oklahomans to complete an online survey about the important issues facing our state. Survey responses will help shape legislative priorities for OK Policy and Together Oklahoma during the coming legislative session and beyond. [Complete Online Survey]

Weekly What’s That

Gross Production Taxes

Gross production taxes, or severance taxes, are value-based taxes levied at a basic rate of 7 percent upon the production of oil and gas in Oklahoma. Under legislation approved in the 2017 special session (HB 1010xx), oil and gas from newly-spudded wells are taxed at 5 percent for the first 36 months of production effective June 27, 2018. Previously, new production was taxed at 2 percent for 36 months. HB 3568, enacted in 2022, lowered the tax rate on projects that use secondary and tertiary recovery methods and other specified production. The tax rate on all production is also lower when oil and gas prices fall below a certain threshold. Whatever the tax rate, one percent of gross production tax revenues is divided equally between counties and school districts, with the remainder going to the state.

In FY 2022,  the state collected $1.152 billion in FY 2022 from the gross production tax on oil and gas, up substantially from $522.6 million million in FY 2021, a year when energy prices plummeted to record low levels during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. Gross production taxes accounted for 9.7 percent of total tax revenues in FY 2021, which made it the third largest revenue source, after the personal income tax and sales tax.

Gross production taxes tend to be the state’s most volatile tax sources, often fluctuating dramatically from year to year and often coming in far above or below certified estimates. Under a 2016 law, a portion of oil and gas revenues are allocated to the Revenue Stabilization Fund in years where collections are projected to exceed their five-year average in an attempt to make the state budget less subject to extreme fluctuations.

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

Quote of the Week

“The chaos caused by a sudden big government takeover as hinted at by Walters could only stall our children’s growth. This is not speculation. Several national studies of school governance models found no evidence that a state takeover improves academic achievement.”

-Rep. Suzanne Schreiber, writing in an op-ed about State Superintendent Ryan Walters’ threats to downgrade Tulsa Public Schools accreditation and have the state take over the school district oversight after the new school year starts. [Tulsa World]

Editorial of the Week

Editorial: Losing control of Tulsa schools to state bureaucrats bad for city and students

State Superintendent Ryan Walters’ threat of a hostile state takeover of Tulsa Public Schools is political posturing, but it has the potential to cause great harm to the metro area and more than 33,000 students.

Tulsans cannot sit on the sidelines. The danger of losing local control of our schools is real and long-lasting.

Walters is using a national right-wing playbook by taking power over schools they don’t like. Texas Gov. Rick Abbott took over Houston schools in March, and Florida Gov. Rick DeSantis assumed control of a college oversight board.

It’s obvious that Walters wants a piece of this national attention. He continuously ups the ante on rhetoric, a not-so-sly distraction from his own problems, which include audits of his mismanagement of $8 million in federal pandemic funds and growing resignations in his state agency.

He has stepped outside precedent to ignore his agency’s recommendation to approve TPS for accreditation. Instead, he is looking to pull accreditation or put the district on probation based on dubious legal reasoning and distorted facts.

Depending on the option, he could fire TPS Superintendent Deborah Gist and install his own choice, who would be responsible to him, not to the elected school board. He could dismantle the local board. This means Tulsans would have no recourse if they disagreed with choices that hand-picked superintendent made.

This is about as anti-American as it gets. Walters is ignoring the will of Tulsa voters for personal gain. It goes against our shared democratic principles.

Information Walters presented at a press conference last week was full of misinformation, easily dismissed by available public records. He also threatened to eject reporters who gave public advance notice of the event, which was held at the Tulsa County Republican Party headquarters. That isn’t the behavior of a transparent leader.

Walters has not answered questions about what would happen to magnet programs, North Tulsa Education Task Force efforts, open transfer polices, charter school sponsorships, workforce programs, curriculum, teacher pay and benefits, recruiting efforts, and partnerships with Tulsa Community College, CareerTech and emerging business apprenticeship programs.

No evidence indicates that state bureaucrats are better at running local schools than local superintendents and school boards are. Researchers at Brown University and the University of Virginia’s 2021 analysis of 35 state takeovers of schools found on average “no evidence that takeover generates academic benefits.”

Legislators ought to be taking notice. The State Education Board used to be a good check on the state superintendent. But under Gov. Mary Fallin and State Superintendent Janet Barresi, lawmakers ceded all board appointments to the executive branch.

Now the State Education Board has shown no independence, with all members voting the way Walters — and by extension Gov. Kevin Stitt — wants. Lawmakers need to take back their power.

Walters’ move falls in line with the recent trend of centralizing power at the state level at the expense of local governments in regulations of public health, energy, minimum wage, housing and guns.

[Editorial / Tulsa World]

Numbers of the Day

  • 65.2 – Life expectancy in years for American Indian/Alaska Natives, the lowest for any race/ethnicity in the U.S. The overall life expectancy in the U.S. is 76.1 years, which was about 17 percent higher than for the AI/AN population. [KFF]
  • 28% – Percent of American Indian/Alaska Native children in Oklahoma who have experienced two or more of the following adverse experiences: frequent socioeconomic hardship, parental divorce or separation, parental death, parental incarceration, family violence, neighborhood violence, living with someone who was mentally ill or suicidal, living with someone who had a substance abuse problem or racial bias. The overall state average for all races and ethnicities is 21%. [KIDS COUNT]
  • 25.37% – Turnout rate for the March 2023 election in which State Question 820 (recreational marijuana) was on the ballot. During the three previous state questions held on general election ballots in November, the turnout rate ranged between 56% and 69%. [Oklahoma Election Board via OK Policy
  • $11.8 billion – The Oklahoma state budget for Fiscal Year 2024 — which began July 1, 2023 — is $11.8 billion. When adjusted for inflation and population growth, the FY 2024 budget is 12 percent smaller than the FY 2000 budget of $13.3 billion and 3.3 percent larger than the current year’s budget (FY 2023) of $11.4 billion (excluding supplemental appropriations). [OK Policy]
  • $1.1 billion – The Oklahoma Broadband Office is overseeing more than $1.1 billion in federal funding to expand broadband throughout the state. Lawmakers last year gave the office $382 million to upgrade and expand broadband services under that round of federal coronavirus relief funding. Oklahoma this year received another $797 million in federal funds under the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment program. Use of these funds could be delayed after some companies and board members raised concerns about duplicating efforts in areas of Oklahoma already served by internet service providers. [Oklahoma Watch]

What We’re Reading


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.