The Weekly Wonk: OK Policy reviews legislative session marked by missed opportunities, finds reasons for optimism

the_weekly_wonk_logoWhat’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

OK Policy released our annual recap of the legislative session this week in a two-part blog post.  This session was marked by several missed opportunities – the structural budget deficit was not addressed, most of the Criminal Justice Reform Task Force bills were not passed, and a teacher pay raise was not enacted.  But there are reasons for hope as well.  The income tax cut trigger was repealed, the health care safety net was left largely intact, and Governor Fallin vetoed the expansion of predatory lending.

Policy Director Gene Perry’s Journal Record column reminded us that there really are reasons for hope in Oklahoma politics – we’ve solved big problems in the past and we can do it again with the right approach. Policy Analyst Ryan Gentzler explained that, though the criminal justice reforms enacted under State Question 780 will certainly save Oklahoma money next year, it’s difficult to predict exactly how much. In a guest post, Amy Smith (a graduate student in Disability Studies) encourages those who are living with disabilities, or caring for someone with a disability, to become advocates for their community by becoming involved with Partners in Policymaking. Steve Lewis’s Capitol Update encourages teachers to become more vocal advocates by looking back at the 1989 special legislative session called to address what Governor Bellmon called an “emergency in education funding.”

OK Policy in the News

Policy Analyst Carly Putnam spoke with media outlets this week about how the proposed federal budget could impact Oklahoma. In an interview with Public Radio Tulsa, Putnam argued that the proposed 25% cut to the food stamp program (SNAP) would very likely result in fewer needy families receiving benefits and a reduction in benefits for those families still on the program. The Trump budget achieves the 25% cut in federal spending on SNAP by shifting part of the cost of the program to states – as Putnam explained to CNHI, that would mean Oklahoma would have to find an additional $221 million in the state budget to fully fund SNAP.

Perry spoke with the Tulsa World about the potential effects of Oklahoma following in Kansas’s footsteps and rolling back our income tax cuts on the top bracket – if Oklahoma were to increase the income tax on the top bracket to 5.7% we could see $400 million in new revenues. OK Policy data was used by the Red Dirt Report for a story about summer food programs for children who receive free/reduced-price lunches during the school year – Oklahoma is trying to raise awareness about summer food programs to increase participation in the program.

Weekly What’s That

Special Session

A special session, also known as an extraordinary session, may be called to address issues that are unresolved during regular legislative sessions, which can run only from the first Monday in February through the last Friday in May of the year.  When the Governor calls a special session, it is restricted only to those matters the Governor specifies in calling the special session; however, the Governor may amend the call during special session. The Legislature can also call itself into special session by gaining the signatures of two-thirds of the members of both chambers. The Legislature may not prevent the calling of a special session by the governor. Read more here.

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

Quote of the Week

“Oklahoma’s ill-considered state income tax cuts have devastated the state’s ability to fund public schools, higher education, health, mental health and public safety. The promise of short-term economic growth never appeared, and the state’s long-term prospects are being cut short by these self-inflicted wounds.”

– Tulsa World Editorial Writers regarding Kansas’s decision last week to rollback many of the tax cuts of 2012 (Source)

Editorial of the Week

Wayne Green, Tulsa World

Oklahoma’s public investment in higher education continues to shrink. When the Legislature adjourned in May, appropriations to the state’s colleges and universities had been cut $30.7 million or 4.5 percent from the level they were promised by last year’s budget. That follows a year when they were cut by almost 16 percent. Which followed a year when they were cut by 2.5 percent. As my colleague Randy Krehbiel reported last week, state support to higher education has been cut by roughly one-fourth since 2015. The result is higher tuition, fewer sections and course cancellations at a time when the state’s official policy is that we desperately need more college graduates. There are two trends here, a long-term shifting of priorities and a more immediate political effort.

Numbers of the Day

  • $1.5 billion – What Oklahoma’s new required contribution to SNAP benefits over ten years would be under President Trump’s proposed budget
  • 58,665 – Felony cases filed in Oklahoma in FY 2016
  • 47% – Percentage of children living in small towns and rural areas in Oklahoma who are covered by Medicaid, 2014-2015
  • $501 million – Amount of one-time funds and non-recurring revenue in Oklahoma’s FY 18 budget
  • $116 – Oklahoma’s spending on prisons per state resident in 2015

See previous Numbers of the Day and sources here.

What We’re Reading

  • Trump Wants Families On Food Stamps To Get Jobs. The Majority Already Work [NPR]
  • The New Tool That Could Revolutionize How We Measure Justice [Measures for Justice]
  • The Painful Truth about Teeth [Washington Post]
  • How Some Kids Escape Poverty [CityLab]
  • How the AHCA would create ‘Three Americas’ for health care [Advisory Board]


Courtney Cullison worked for OK Policy from 2017 to 2020 as a policy analyst focused on issues of economic opportunity and financial security. Before coming to OK Policy, Courtney worked in higher education, holding faculty positions at the University of Texas at Tyler and at Connors State College in eastern Oklahoma. A native Oklahoman, she received an Honors B.A. in Political Science from Oklahoma State University, and an M.A. and Ph.D. with emphasis in congressional politics and public policy from the University of Oklahoma. While at OU, Courtney was a fellow at the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center. As a professor she taught classes in American politics, public policy, and research methods and conducted original research with a focus on the relationship between representatives and the constituents they serve.

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