Weekly Wonk: Oklahoma still reeling from decades of budget cuts | Respecting tribal sovereignty starts at the top | Youth justice

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

Interim Study 2023: Improving Youth Justice in Oklahoma (Video): With the overall occurrence of youth delinquency and detention at a historic low, Oklahoma has the opportunity to invest more resources in prevention and alternatives to incarceration in the youth legal system. OK Policy Youth Justice Policy Analyst Jill Mencke presents a history and overview of juvenile justice in Oklahoma, and gives recommendations for improvements to make the system more fair for young Oklahomans. [Jill Mencke / OK Policy]

Years of unrestored budget cuts have kept vital state agencies underfunded (Capitol Update): During the decade downturn in the state’s economy, state agencies were hollowed out. When the economy turned around, the governor insisted on agencies submitting flat budget requests to the legislature and “saving” the increased revenue in various accounts. Then he used the “savings” to demand tax cuts. It may be a good idea to discuss reorganizing state government, but legislators might choose instead to adequately fund the government we have. Doing more with less has limits. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Policy Matters: Respecting tribal sovereignty starts at the top: During Native American Heritage Month this November, the single largest recognition our state can provide to tribal nations starts at the top – our state’s chief executive should fully recognize tribes as sovereign nations and partners. And then start treating them that way. While most lawmakers recognize the value of strong tribal relations, the governor’s adversarial position with tribal nations has jeopardized our state economically and culturally. [Shiloh Kantz/Journal Record]

Weekly What’s That

Tribal Gaming Compacts

In 2004, Oklahoma voters approved SQ 712, which set up a model compact between the state and Native American tribes to regulate tribal gaming operations. Under the compact, tribes were authorized to operate specified games in return for making exclusivity payments to the state. The compacts were signed for a 15-year period. Although Governor Kevin Stitt claimed that the compacts expired at the end of the initial 15-year term in 2019, a federal judge in 2020  ruled that the compacts automatically renewed for another 15 years. In addition, compacts that the Governor  signed in 2020 with four tribes were struck down by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. As of August 2023, Governor Stitt was in ongoing legal battles against Oklahoma tribes and the state’s Attorney General over these compacts.

The tribal gaming compact provides for the state to receive a share of gaming revenues generated by the compacting tribes from Class III games. The state’s share of adjusted gross revenues from electronic games begins at 4 percent and rises to 6 percent once a tribe’s revenue exceeds $20 million. For table games, and for ball and dice games that were authorized as of 2018, the fee is 10 percent.

After an initial $250,000 is allocated to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services for gambling education and treatment, 88 percent of gaming revenues go to the 1017 Education Reform Fund, which can be appropriated only to the Department of Common Education, and 12 percent to the General Revenue Fund.

At the end of FY 2022, a total of 33 tribes were operating 133 facilities offering Class III games. Tribal revenue from Class III games and table games was $3.19 billion in FY 2022, of which tribes paid $191.5 million to the state, an increase of 18 percent from FY 2021 and an all-time high. Some 75 percent of gaming revenue was generated by just four tribes – the Chickasaw Nation ($71.9M), Choctaw Nation ($42.0M), Cherokee Nation ($17.3M), and Muskogee (Creek) Nation ($13.4M) – while 15 tribes generated less than$1 million in fees to the state.

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

Quote of the Week

“I believe that we’re going to get a lot more done if we simply work together. The state’s going to benefit. The tribes are going to benefit. One doesn’t need to try to get it over on the other one. It needs to be a respectful exchange.”

-Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby, speaking during an interim study on tribal-state relations and renegotiating compacts. [Oklahoma Voice]

Editorial of the Week

Enid News & Eagle: State should pay for teachers and schools, not national image

The Oklahoma State Education Department is seeking a contractor to manage national media appearances in what seems to be an effort to boost State Superintendent Ryan Walters’ national profile — and do so at taxpayer expense.

That’s a horrible idea.

Oklahoma Watch reported last week a company was being sought to provide print and digital opinion pieces to national media outlets, coordinate national events and appearances for executive staff, write speeches and handle communications. What does the Education Department want for its money? A minimum of three op-eds, two speeches and 10 media bookings per month, records show.

Wow! How is that going to benefit Oklahoma students, teachers and schools?

Walters, now in his first year as state schools superintendent, already is a frequent guest on conservative radio and television shows. Last week, Walters announced he was joining Donald Trump’s presidential re-election campaign team.

Clearly Walters has political ambitions. He’s a great communicator, and education is a topic of great concern for many Oklahomans and many Americans. But Oklahoma taxpayers should not have to pay for Walters’ image and visibility on the national stage. Private donors and political action committees can do that.

No, Oklahoma tax money for education needs to be used for education … of Oklahoma students. Oklahoma K-12 schools and teachers are not exactly at the top of the regional list when it comes to overall state funding. Far from it. The idea of boosting the image of state education executives at the expense of local schools, teachers and students is outrageous.

Ryan Walters is free to pursue his national political ambitions using private donations. But, he might first consider what more he could be doing to improve public education here in Oklahoma. There’s a lot of work to be done away from the cameras and microphones. That’s his real job.

[Enid News & Eagle]

Numbers of the Day

  • $15.6 billion – Total economic impact of Oklahoma tribes in 2019 [Oklahoma Native Impact Report]
  • 2x – Oklahomans with the lowest household incomes (the bottom 20%) pay twice as much of their income as a share of taxes than do Oklahomans among the top 1% of earners. Oklahomans in the bottom 20% of earnings pay 13.2% of their income as a share of state and local taxes, while the top 1% pays only 6.2% of their income for taxes. [ITEP]   
  • 36% – As of Sept 1, 2023, Oklahoma has disenrolled nearly 160,000 people from Medicaid (SoonerCare) coverage following the end of pandemic-related protections. Children represented more than 58,000 (or 36%) of these disenrollments. [KFF]
  • 1 in 4 – In Oklahoma, 25% — or 1 in 4 — live in households with a high housing burden where more than 30 percent of the monthly income was spent on rent, mortgage payments, taxes, insurance, and/or related expenses. In 2021, there were 242,000 Oklahoma children living in households with a high housing burden. [KIDS COUNT]

What We’re Reading

  • Tribal Nations & the United States: An Introduction: The guide “Tribal Nations and the United States: An Introduction” developed by the National Congress of American Indians seeks to provide a basic overview of the history and underlying principles of tribal governance. The guide also provides introductory information about tribal governments and American Indian and Alaska Native people today. The purpose of the guide is to ensure that policy decision makers at the local, state, and federal level understand their relationship to tribal governments as part of the American family of governments. Additionally, this guide provides the information necessary for members of the public at large to understand and engage effectively with contemporary Indian Nations. [National Congress of American Indians]
  • Power to the People: How Workers Can Fight Tax Inequity: One of the most glaring problems facing workers today is tax inequity. The preferential treatment of capital gains (income from wealth) over wage income in both federal and state tax codes is a prime example. The wealthy’s income has vastly risen over the past few decades, while workers have fared much worse by comparison. While tax policy alone will not resolve injustice in our economy, fixing the tax code can play a role in redefining how that economic relationship works. No one wants to live in a country where a social worker pays a higher share of their income in taxes than a CEO. [Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy]
  • The Medicaid Enrollment and Unwinding Tracker: The Medicaid Enrollment and Unwinding Tracker presents the most recent data on monthly Medicaid disenrollments, renewals, overall enrollment and other key indicators reported by states during the unwinding of the Medicaid continuous enrollment provision. The unwinding data are pulled from state websites, where available, and from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Across all states with available data, 71 percent of all people disenrolled had their coverage terminated for procedural reasons. That rate in Oklahoma was 75 percent. [KFF]
  • HUD Expands Promising Policy to Support Housing Choice: The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published a notice last week expanding a promising policy that has been found to enable families with housing vouchers to choose to live in a wider range of neighborhoods. Giving voucher holders greater choice about where they live can have far-reaching positive effects on families and especially on children, research shows. HUD’s action will also help ensure that the voucher program furthers fair housing goals, as federal law requires. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]


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.

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