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
Thanks to Oklahoma voters, the state is already reaping the benefits of Medicaid expansion: When voters approved State Question 802 in June 2020, they knew the benefits that Medicaid expansion would bring to Oklahoma. They understood that it would bring a $1.3 billion dollar federal investment, generate $15.6 billion in economic activity and $489 million in tax revenue, and create more than 27,000 new jobs. They recognized that healthier Oklahomans are better parents, workers, and community members. [Emma Morris / OK Policy]
Interim study examines legislative transparency (Capitol Update): Many legislative decisions, large and small, are made in discussions behind closed doors. The public, and even some fellow legislators, never hear about the decisions until it’s too late to make an effective challenge. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]
Policy Matters: Justice reform issues showcase bipartisanship: Lawmakers this summer participated in interim studies highlighting bipartisan support for solutions that help justice-involved Oklahomans and strengthen our economy. Representatives from across the political spectrum showed how the opportunity for automatic expungement and reducing courts’ reliance on fines and fees can strengthen our communities and help more Oklahomans lead productive lives. [Ahniwake Rose / Journal Record]
Weekly What’s That
Tax Expenditure Report
Under a provision of Oklahoma law passed in 1996, the Oklahoma Tax Commission is tasked with preparing a biannual report that provides the Commission’s “best estimate of the amount of state revenue that would have been collected but for the existence of each exclusion, deduction, credit, exemption, deferral, or other preferential tax treatment allowed by law for the previous fiscal year.” The report is organized by tax type and provides estimates of lost revenue based upon information from actual tax returns and secondary data sources. The most recent Tax Expenditure Report was released in October 2020; the next one is due October 2022.
Quote of the Week
“For more than 580,000 Oklahomans facing food insecurity, a daily meal isn’t a choice between different dishes, it’s a choice between food and essential needs like a prescription, car repairs and childcare.”
-Bailey Perkins, Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma State Advocacy and Public Policy Director [Public Radio Tulsa]
Editorial of the Week
Court fee system needs to be reworked
Oklahoma’s system of funding the district court system and some executive agencies is broken.
Currently, the state pays for these programs through fees required of defendants who appear in court. In addition to district courts, these fees also pay for such things as tourism programs, police officer training, new school bus cameras, littering rewards and wildlife support efforts.
That’s one reason a ticket for speeding 20 mph over the limit has risen nearly 150% since 1992, from $107 to $265.25.
Damion Shade, criminal justice policy analyst with Oklahoma Policy Institute, said the state has relied on a fee-for-service model to fund law enforcement entities, victim resources, trauma treatment care, mental health resources, crime reduction resources and just to keep the lights on in the courtrooms. He said judges, prosecutors and court staff are dependent on increasing user fees for their survival.
Unfortunately, those fees often are added onto the burden of people least able to pay them.
A rather startling fact from Shade shows that from 2018 to 2020, more than 40,000 failure-to-pay warrants were issued in Tulsa and Oklahoma counties alone. More than $630 million in court debt remains outstanding from 2012-2018.
The legislative funding strategy for courts has been in place for almost 30 years has led to increased risks of recidivism and non-compliance, inconsistent and unreliable funding for the state’s district court system and the misuse of court, district attorney and defense resources, said Tim Laughlin, executive director of Oklahoma Indigent Defense System.
Lawmakers discussed the issue recently during an interim study at the state Capitol.
We hope legislators will take up the issue in the next session in February. If we as a state are committed to criminal justice reform, this is one part of the issue that needs to be addressed.
We can’t continue to burden people who have made mistakes and are trying to make good by saddling them with such a heavy debt load.
Numbers of the Day
- 726,000 – Number of children nationally who have lost health care coverage between 2016 and 2019. [Georgetown University Health Policy Institute: Center for Children and Families]
- 3.5% – The current unemployment rate in Oklahoma, which is nearly back to the record lows of around 3% recorded pre-COVID [Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City]
- 1 in 400 – 1 in every 400 Oklahomans have died of COVID-19, which is higher than the national average of 1 in 500 [Tulsa World]
- 46.6% – Percentage of Oklahomans older than 12 who are fully vaccinated, compared to 54.7% nationally, as of the week of Sept. 12-18 [Oklahoma State Department of Health]
- 50.6 – 50.6%. Nowata and McIntosh counties have the lowest Hispanic population at 2.6%. [U.S. Census]
What We’re Reading
- Children in rural areas face increasing barriers to pediatric care, study finds [Stat]
- Where Are All the Workers? [The Oklahoma Economist / Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City]
- Building a Lasting Solution to the Nation’s Homeless Crisis [Governing]
- COVID-19 continues to be a leading cause of death in the U.S. in August 2021 [Peterson-KFF]
- Latinx Health Equity Report Card [Salud America!]
NOTE: National Hispanic Heritage Month is Sept. 15 through Oct. 15. Each week, OK Policy will share policy notes and numbers to recognize this commemoration.