In The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.
Despite objections from numerous Tulsans with disabilities, the Tulsa Transit authority approved fare increases and service cuts that would end late evening routes across Tulsa. A Save the Arts campaign is fighting city budget plans that could eliminate nearly all arts programs affiliated with the city of Tulsa. Gov. Fallin signed a bill that will allow the state to help Tinker Air Force Base with a $44 million purchase of land for a new aircraft maintenance facility. A proposal to issue up to $40 million in bonds to help build a new joint headquarters for state veterans and mental health agencies was shelved after protests from some veterans’ groups who didn’t want veterans to be so closely associated with mental health issues.
Gov. Fallin signed a bill that requires abortion clinics to have a physician with admitting privileges at a nearby hospital present when an abortion is performed. Oklahoma legislators’ attempt to derail new science education standards for Oklahoma failed because the House and Senate voted against the standards in different bills. A bill repealing Common Core standards in Oklahoma, which Governor Fallin has yet to sign, would give the Legislature more power to reject any education standards developed by the state Board of Education. Rose State College is offering a new Native American Studies program which includes a study abroad to Hawaii as comparative indigenous studies and internships with local tribes. Recent rains have helped Oklahoma farmers and ranchers to partially recover from the severe drought affecting the state.
The Number of the Day is the total amount of one-time reserve funds used to avoid even deeper cuts in Oklahoma’s FY 2015 budget. In today’s Policy Note, The Pitch reports on a new criminal investigation of an online payday lender that is owned by the Miami Nation of Oklahoma.
In The News
Gov. Mary Fallin Signs Controversial Tax Incentive for New Oil and Gas Wells
Gov. Mary Fallin on Wednesday signed a bill that makes permanent a generous tax incentive for new oil and gas drilling. The controversial measure, House Bill 2562, was forged as lawmakers and energy company executives debated the appropriate tax rate for the industry, which drives much of the state’s economy. Oil and gas groups lobbied hard for the bill, as did executives from three of the state’s largest oil and gas companies, who argued the incentive would help Oklahoma compete with other states for drilling. Several other high-profile energy executives, however, said taxes and incentives had little bearing on where or whether they drilled.
During the final days of the legislative session, when the Oklahoma House and Senate were being swarmed by dozens of oil and gas lobbyists, I spotted a former legislator I had not seen for several years. I asked what brought him to the Capitol. “As the owner of a business that services oil and gas rigs, I’ve been asked up here to tell legislators what would happen if we don’t extend the tax break on oil and gas production and all the rigs leave the state,” he said. “But they won’t leave the state,” I said. “I know,” he responded with an embarrassed little smile. Then he went back to work.
Will the state income tax cut be the latest victim to the Legislature’s unconstitutional ways?
Jerry Fent, Oklahoma’s public scold of unconstitutional legislation, has taken aim on the Legislature’s income tax cut. For years, Fent, an Oklahoma City attorney, has been successfully holding legislators to the letter of the law when it comes to the state Constitution. Fent won the landmark state cases that should have ended the unconstitutional practices of combining unrelated ideas into a single bill — logrolling. Despite Fent’s victories, the Legislature persisted in its logrolling ways as recently as last year, when Fent went to court, killing a multifaceted workers compensation reform law and a combination tax cut and state Capitol repair effort.
Providers fear Medicaid cuts could limit patients’ access to care
Patti Wheaton says she never wants the patients she treats to feel like “second-class citizens” because their health care is paid for with Medicaid funds. Wheaton, an advanced nurse practitioner, knows she could make more money at her Jenks Faith Family health clinic if she accepted private insurance. Instead, the clinic treats Medicaid and uninsured patients because Wheaton wants to ensure they have access to good health care. “People on SoonerCare and people receiving those benefits should be treated with respect and get the care that they need. I have a lot of single moms who are in school or working and their kids are on SoonerCare and they are trying to make a better life for themselves,” Wheaton said.
Oklahoma could hike fees on the poorest and sickest citizens
This year’s state budget will be tough for most state services, but one of the biggest losers is Oklahomans who are insured through Medicaid. The FY2015 budget appropriates flat funding to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA), which administers Oklahoma’s Medicaid program. However, flat funding from the state translates to an $85-$90 million shortfall, due to rising enrollment and declining federal matching funds. Without the funding it needs to continue providing the same level of services, OHCA is looking at several options to make up the gap.
Voter Registration Deadline Friday For Oklahoma’s Primary Election
Oklahoma residents who want to vote in the June 24 primary election have until Friday to register. Voter registration forms are available at each county election board, post offices, tag agencies and libraries, or can be downloaded from the Oklahoma State Election Board web site. Residents who wish to vote must either register in person or have their applications postmarked before Friday’s deadline. Oklahoma has a closed primary system, where Republicans and Democrats can only vote for candidates of their particular party.
Tulsa Transit board OKs fare increases, service cuts
Increases in fixed route and Lift fares were approved Wednesday by the Metropolitan Tulsa Transit Authority Board of Trustees. Effective July 1, the base fixed route bus fare would increase to $1.75 from $1.50. On the same day, the Lift Program base fare would increase to $3.50 from $3. The fare increases would require City Council approval. “The survey that we did — and there were over 400 responses to the survey — 84 percent of them said we are happy to pay a fare increase; just don’t cut our services,” said Debbie Ruggles, Tulsa Transit assistant general manager. The trustees were unable to escape Wednesday’s meeting without doing just that, however, voting unanimously to end fixed route and Lift service at 7:30 p.m. rather than 9 p.m. beginning soon after the 2015 fiscal year begins July 1.
As budget talks continue, the effort to save the arts in Tulsa builds. There have been demonstrations, email campaigns, and personal appeals at city council meetings by supporters of the arts since the news they’re in for drastic cuts in the city’s proposed budget. Ken Busby, Director of the Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa, argues quality of life is a driving factor in economic growth, and the arts contribute to quality of life and deserve to be maintained. Current plans could potentially eliminate nearly all arts programs affiliated with the city of Tulsa.
Oklahoma governor signs bill to help Tinker purchase property
Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill Wednesday that will modify Oklahoma’s Quality Jobs Program Act to help Tinker Air Force Base. House Bill 1416 will assist Tinker in the $44 million purchase of the 175-acre BNSF Railway yard so the property can be used to build an aircraft maintenance facility for the military’s new KC-46A refueling tanker. Average pay for the new jobs is expected to be about $62,000. Federal officials already have approved Tinker as the maintenance site for the civilian jobs. Another 2,000 civilian jobs could be coming to Tinker later. The new law revises the Quality Jobs Program Act so money from the act can go to a public trust.
Oklahoma lawmakers shelve joint headquarters plan after veterans protest
A late-session proposal to issue up to $40 million in bonds to help build a new joint headquarters for state veterans and mental health agencies was shelved by state lawmakers last week amid protests from some veterans’ groups. “We applaud the intent of this bill; however, the perception that will be created with the co-locating of the Department of Veterans Affairs with the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services is not an image that we want to see reflected in the eyes of the veteran’s community and the general public,” Pete Peterson, chairman of the Oklahoma Veterans Council, said in a letter to lawmakers dated May 21.
Gov. Mary Fallin on Wednesday signed a bill that requires abortion clinics to have a physician with admitting privileges at a nearby hospital present when an abortion is performed. The bill also requires the Oklahoma Board of Health to establish standards regarding equipment and supplies that might be needed in a medical emergency. The bill’s author, State Representative Randy Grau, said it would require abortion clinics to be equipped and staffed to deal with a medical emergency. A spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood said that the bill would severely restrict access to safe, legal abortion in the state and that it included other medically unnecessary requirements for abortion providers.
Time runs out on move to reject Oklahoma science education standards
Earlier this month, we reported that Oklahoma legislators threatened to derail the adoption of new science education standards that had been adopted by the state school board. In Oklahoma, rules adopted by the executive branch can be subjected to legislative review, and, in this case, the legislators reviewed the science standards harshly, focusing questions on climate change and other environmental issues. The full House later passed the bill, but it was originally ignored by the Senate, according to the National Center for Science Education. State Senator Anthony Sykes managed to get a version passed by the full Senate, however, saying that “global warming is the main concern.” The Senate version didn’t make it back to the House before the session ended.
A new degree at Rose State College will offer students the opportunity to study the Native American experience. Program Director Dr. S. Matthew DeSpain said the Native American Studies program is intended for both American Indians and non-Indians alike and will increase graduates’ marketability for jobs in the state. In the future the program will include a study abroad to Hawaii as comparative indigenous studies and also internships with local tribes and affiliated institutions. Officials said the program is part of a broader outreach by Rose State to Native Americans, which includes transfer agreements with the University of Oklahoma, degree options and an annual Powwow.
Recent rains have Oklahoma farmers rejoicing after dry spell; critical time for crops, cattle
In some areas of northeast Oklahoma, nearly 3.5 inches of rain fell over the last three days, according to the Oklahoma Mesonet, which has area farmers smiling. In Leonard, just outside of Bixby, cattle farmer John Christ says his farm benefited from three-fourths of an inch of rain. While it may not sound like much to the average person, John says the rain was a sight for sore eyes. “We wish for more but grateful for what we got,” John said. Year-to-date, according to the Oklahoma Climatological Survey, the northeast portion of the state saw 7.6 inches of rain. That’s nearly 8.4 inches below normal.
Inside the collapse of local payday giant LTS Management
Two weeks ago, Reuters reported that AMG Services, the Overland Park–based online payday-loan behemoth, had been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury. The company, according to that report, is being investigated for violations that include wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering. That’s no great shock. AMG Services has become a textbook exemplar of the notoriously deceptive online-lending industry. What’s newsworthy about this latest development is that it’s a probe of a criminal nature.