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.
Today you should know that the Oklahoma Health Care Authority board voted unanimously on Thursday to raise copayments for state Medicaid participants, as well as for a series of other changes to help cut costs due to the agency’s budget shortfall. We’ve argued against the copayment increases because research shows that increased copayments in Medicaid harm health without saving the state money. The Tulsa World’s editorial board praised a statement from Gov. Fallin that the Insure Oklahoma program would likely continue for another year, but pointed out that while Insure Oklahoma is an important program, thousands of Oklahomans remain without insurance coverage.
A state Board of Education meeting on Thursday revealed confusion and concern over curriculum for Oklahoma schools next year. Several actions relating to the repeal of Common Core and establishment of new standards were tabled because several Board members are part of a lawsuit asking the Oklahoma Supreme Court to overturn the legislature’s repeal of Common Core. The Board voted not to renew the state’s contract with testing vendor CTB/McGraw-Hill after two consecutive years of technical problems during testing.
On the OK Policy blog, we discussed how real-world examples in Kansas and California show the economic case for tax cuts is in shambles. Oklahoma state agencies uniformly received a 0.12 percent budget cut in order to shave $6.8 million off the state budget after the state Attorney General found lawmakers had illegally appropriated funds from the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship fund to balance the budget. OK Policy first broke the story about the threat to the scholarship fund. Oklahoma City attorney Jerry Fent, who has successfully sued the state in the past, filed a suit alleging that a new law changing the state’s oil and gas production tax rate is unconstitutional.
An independent transportation research group praised Oklahoma’s progress in repairing structurally deficient bridges. However, federal funding for the state Department of Transportation may be slashed by $625 million in October, potentially stalling that progress. Medical marijuana petitioners, who had previously alleged that they were harassed by police in multiple Oklahoma cities and towns while gathering signatures, say that the harassment has ceased. The Oklahoman explained how Oklahoma City’s controversial $3.5 million tax incentive for retail chain Cabela’s will work. City Councilman Ed Shadid previously argued that the retailer’s demands for incentives amounted to extortion.
Some 500 Oklahomans concerned about recent earthquake swarms gathered in Edmond last night to meet with researchers and regulators. The earthquakes are likely connected to oil and gas wastewater disposal. An Oklahoma judge has scheduled a hearing on a request to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the Ten Commandments monument at the state Capitol. KGOU discussed why Norman is the only Oklahoma town where residents determine their utility rates via a public vote.
Health Care Authority raises copays for SoonerCare participants
The Oklahoma Health Care Authority board voted unanimously Thursday to increase copayments for state Medicaid participants to the federal level, along with a series of other rules changes meant to compensate for a budget shortfall. The change will increase copays for most services to $4 and will be effective Tuesday, or immediately upon the governor’s signature. The Health Care Authority administers the state’s Medicaid program, called SoonerCare. David Blatt, executive director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, spoke against raising copays during the public comment period. Doing so would harm the physical health and financial well-being of SoonerCare participants, he said.
Fallin pushes one-year federal extension of Insure Oklahoma
We were pleased to hear Gov. Mary Fallin speak optimistically Tuesday about the future for the state’s successful Insure Oklahoma program. During an Election Day speech to the Tulsa Metro Chamber of Commerce, Fallin reported that she had recently spoken to new U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell and had used the opportunity to push for another one-year extension of the federal waiver that continues Insure Oklahoma. Oklahoma voters created Insure Oklahoma in 2005 as a means of underwriting health insurance for the working poor. The program is funded with federal Medicaid funding, state tobacco tax revenue and contributions from employers and individuals. The program has proven popular with small employers and has strong support from the business community, but “Obamacare” changes in federal policy threatened to cut off federal funding last December.
Growing Concerns Over Curriculum For Oklahoma Schools
Confusion and controversy ruled the discussion about new academic standards in Oklahoma at Thursday’s Board of Education meeting. Board members tabled several actions dealing with the repeal or Common Core and implementing new standards, because four of them are named in a lawsuit asking the Oklahoma Supreme Court to overturn the legislature’s repeal of the academic standards. Bill Shdeed is one of those board members. He is furious with the decision to repeal Common Core, saying instead the state should have modified the standards, rather than start from scratch. “It’s extremely complicated with about twenty people on six different items,” said Shdeed. “I think people that are against change in this state have won by reversing common core and made it so complicated that they want us to have a plan within two years, which I don’t think will happen.”
State board won’t renew contract with testing vendor
The state Board of Education on Thursday voted not to renew the contract of testing vendor CTB/McGraw-Hill after the company’s computer server problems shut down testing for Oklahoma students in two consecutive years. “It’s frustrating to keep shifting, but on the other hand we keep having bad performance,” said board member Bill Price. Last year, Oklahoma paid CTB $8.9 million for Oklahoma Core Curriculum Tests, plus $7.3 million for high-stakes, end-of-instruction exams that are used to determine whether high-schoolers receive a diploma. Kurt Bernhardt, the department’s executive director of research and development, said bid requests are being prepared to hire a new testing vendor.
When it comes to the role of taxes and public services in the economy, we too often engage in an ideological debate that changes no one’s mind. One side talks about the importance of investing in schools, roads, and public health and safety as a foundation for the economy. The other side argues that only the private sector creates new income (with the implication that money spent on teacher salaries, road maintenance, and health care is somehow taken out of the economy). It’s hard to make any headway in such a strongly ideological debate, but we don’t have to consider just our ideologies of how we imagine the world to work. We can look at how it actually is working across the country. In these real-world experiments, the claims of tax cut boosters do not come out looking good.
Oklahoma state agencies get 0.12 percent reduction in appropriations
Sixty-six state agencies that receive state appropriations will take a 0.12 percent budget cut as a result of a state panel’s action Thursday. The Board of Equalization recertified how much the state had to spend for fiscal year 2015. It had to cut nearly $6.8 million after lawmakers and Gov. Mary Fallin improperly diverted funds from a popular scholarship program to balance the budget. The scholarship program is funded through an “off-the-top” direct apportionment from personal income tax revenue before that revenue is deposited in the state’s general fund. A statute requires the Board of Equalization, which certifies the amount of money available for appropriation, to set aside the amount needed to fully fund the program before calculating the amount available for the appropriation. The transfer was deemed improper because it violated laws governing how the money in the fund is replenished. Most state agencies already received cuts in the fiscal year 2015 budget.
An Oklahoma City attorney who has successfully sued the state in the past filed a lawsuit Thursday with the state Supreme Court asking that it block as unconstitutional a new law setting the oil and natural gas production tax at 2 percent for the first 36 months of production. Jerry Fent alleges in his lawsuit that the Legislature violated provisions in the Oklahoma Constitution that require that revenue bills not be enacted during the last five days of the legislative session, that they must have a three-fourths vote in the House and Senate and that they not take effect until 90 days after the Legislature adjourns its session. A Supreme Court referee is to consider the lawsuit in a hearing on July 29 and issue a report to the full court.
Oklahoma Roads Improving As ODOT Could See $6 Million Cut
A national group that’s often been critical of our state’s transportation system is now crediting Oklahoma for reversing a decades-long trend of deteriorating roads and bridges. The bridge along the I-44 corridor between 145th and 193rd East Avenues is just one example. Three bridges along the stretch of highway were all rated structurally deficient, but they’ve been replaced and the interstate widened. In fact, a new report said the state has cut in half the number of structurally deficient bridges. While Oklahoma has come a long way in the past decade, the new report points out there is still a lot of work ahead of us, with plenty of potential road blocks. Those potential roadblocks would come if the federal government cuts some $600 million in money for Oklahoma roads.
Medical marijuana petitioners say confrontations with police have ceased
After going public about alleged incidents of police harassment in early June, a group petitioning for a medical marijuana question to be added to the November ballot announced on Thursday that they have not received a response from the City of Tulsa or Tulsa police but the confrontations have ceased. Oklahomans for Health alerted the Tulsa World to incidents involving at least four law enforcement agencies, two of which are in the Tulsa area, last week and provided cellphone videos of interactions between petition volunteers and police. Tulsa police are accused of harassing volunteers four times in five days. Agencies in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma City and Norman were allegedly involved in similar incidents.
Oklahoma City is proposing $3.5 million in incentives with the goal of keeping outdoors outfitter Cabela’s in the city, rather than letting it go to a suburb such as Moore. Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid said earlier this month that the proposed deal with Cabela’s for its Oklahoma City store amounts to “extortion.” Here’s how the incentives will work: Whatever city plays host to Cabela’s will capture a significant stream of sales tax revenue — and under Oklahoma law, cities must rely on sales taxes for day-to-day services such as police and fire protection. The Cabela’s store in Oklahoma City will collect 8.375 cents for every dollar spent on items subject to sales tax.
Central Oklahoma residents are demanding to know whether earthquake swarms that have shaken their homes and their nerves in recent months are caused by oil and gas drilling operations in the area. About 500 people attended a meeting with regulators and research geologists Thursday night in Edmond. Many urged the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry, to ban or severely restrict the wells that are used to dispose of wastewater from drilling and that some scientists say could be linked to the quakes. “We’re going to have people hurt and damaged,” said Angela Spotts of Stillwater, who has collected names for a petition calling for a ban on deep-well injections of wastewater.
An Oklahoma County judge has scheduled a hearing on a request to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the placement of a monument bearing the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the state Capitol. The hearing is scheduled Friday before District Judge Thomas Prince. The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit in August against the Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission. Republican Rep. Mike Ritze and his family paid nearly $10,000 to build and erect the 6-foot-tall granite monument authorized by the GOP-controlled Legislature in 2009 and signed into law by then-Democratic Gov. Brad Henry. Courts have ruled against many similar monuments, saying they could imply that the government is endorsing religion. But the commission says the U.S. Supreme Court has held that an identical monument is not an impermissible endorsement of religion.
Why Norman Is The Only Oklahoma Town Where Citizens Control the Price of Water
Norman is the only city in Oklahoma where utility rates are determined by a vote of the people — who aren’t always willing to charge themselves more for water. A proposal to change that came before the city council last week and was rebuffed, despite consensus that allowing voters to decide rates could be hurting the city. Letting customers vote on rate increases seems like a great way to fund expensive water system repairs and give citizens a voice. But some members of the Norman City Council, like Greg Heiple, say that city’s unique way of handling water ends up costing more. “I came up with some estimates, and these are my guesses. It has cost us in the last 40 years a quarter of a billion to a half billion dollars in cost of waiting on projects,” Heiple says.
“I made some of the toughest votes today that I’ve ever made in my life. I’m against every one of these rules but I can’t help it.”
-Former Sen. George Miller, a member of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority Board, speaking about their votes to slash provider rates, increase copayments, and reduce services for Medicaid. With flat state funding and lawmakers refusing to accept federal funds offered under the Affordable Care Act, Oklahoma Medicaid is facing a $225 million shortfall this year (Source: http://bit.ly/1vbZ4Fp).
Number of the Day
Percentage of Oklahoma K-12 public school revenue that comes from the federal government.
Millennials are about to have a big impact on the housing market. But what will it look like?
Dina ElBoghdady and I wrote this morning about how Millennials, the largest and most diverse generation in U.S. history, are poised to impact the housing market — if, that is, they’d all finally move out of their parents’ homes. There are a number of reasons to suspect that Millennials may behave differently in the coming years, as homebuyers and heads of their own households, than previous generations. To round up some of those factors, the following data and graphs come from a new report out today on the state of the nation’s housing by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. The report covers a wealth of trends — from who’s buying homes, to how we’re paying for them, to what it costs today to be a renter — but the prospects of Millennials are a recurring theme.