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.
Today you should know that the Oklahoma Senate has passed a plan to authorize a bond issue of up to $160 million to repair the state Capitol without a public vote (HJR 1033). The bill now goes back to the House. The House defeated an expanded school choice bill that would have authorized the expansion of publicly-funded charter schools into rural areas (SB 573), as well as a measure that would have changed Oklahoma’s judicial appointment process (SJR 21) by altering how attorneys are appointed to a commission that nominates members of the state Supreme Court and appellate courts. The Senate passed a bill putting additional restrictions on Oklahoma abortion clinics and stating that life begins at conception (SB 1848).
On the OK Policy blog, we discussed a bill imposing additional regulations on Navigators, who are trained to help people enroll in health insurance in online marketplace (HB 3286). The International Business Times spoke to OK Policy policy director Gene Perry about Oklahoma’s budget crisis in the middle of the state’s oil and gas boom. A column in the Pryor Daily Times noted the link between Oklahoma’s low tax burden and underfunded state services. The Oklahoman editorial board took issue with a recent poll commissioned by OK Policy on tax breaks for horizontal drilling. Further information on the poll can be found here.
Despite unanswered questions about the drugs that will be used to kill them, two Oklahoma inmates are scheduled to be executed next week. A state lawmaker has called for the impeachment of five Oklahoma Supreme Court justices. The Court had stayed the executions, then reversed their decision. Rep. Mike Christian claims the Court acted outside its scope.
The president of CTB/McGraw Hill apologized to the state Board of Education following widespread disruptions to Monday’s statewide testing. This is the second year of CTB’s contract with the state, and the second year tests havebeen disrupted by technical problems. Envoy, formerly American Airlines, is partnering with Tulsa Community College to offer students tuition assistance and a job out of college to make up for a shortage of pilots. The Oklahoma Natural Gas is requesting a rate hike of nearly $2 per month for residential customers.
The American Red Cross has donated $48,000 to Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity to install storm shelters in the houses it builds. The grant will cover the installation of twenty shelters in Homes built for storm-affected individuals and families through 2015. Grazinglands, an Oklahoma agricultural laboratory studying the impact of climate on crops, livestock, soil and water, has been designated one of seven regional hubs researching the impact of climate change. Next week, StateImpact will host a forum on climate change in Oklahoma.
The Number of the Day is the average college debt incurred by an Oklahoma student who graduated in 2012. In today’s Policy Note, Al Jazeera English discusses the costs and impact of being uninsured in America.
In The News
Senate Passes Bill For Oklahoma Capitol Repairs
The Oklahoma Senate has resurrected a plan to spend up to $160 million to repair the nearly 100-year-old state Capitol. The Senate voted 33-9 Thursday for a House-passed resolution that would authorize repairs to the Capitol. The bill called for vote of the people on whether to issue $120 million in bonds to pay for repairs, but the Senate amended it to authorize a bond issue of up to $160 million without a public vote. The bill now goes back to the House.
The state House of Representatives defeated a bill Thursday that would have authorized the expansion of publicly funded charter schools into rural areas. The action took place during a late-night session in which House members also voted down a controversial bill that would have affected the selection of appellate judges. The expanded school choice bill, which House author Lee Denney said was requested by Gov. Mary Fallin, would have set up a procedure for brick-and-mortar charter schools to be established in rural Oklahoma counties. Currently, such charter schools are limited to Oklahoma and Tulsa Counties, said Denney, R-Cushing.
House Defeats Measure That Would Change Judicial Appointment Process
The Oklahoma House has overwhelmingly defeated a measure that would change how attorneys are appointed to a commission that nominates members of the state Supreme Court and appellate courts. House members voted 65-31 Thursday to kill the Senate-passed bill after opponents said it was an attempt to politicize the judicial selection process. Currently, six members of the 15-member commission are attorneys elected by members of the Oklahoma Bar Association. The bill would have made three of those positions appointed by the speaker of the House and the other three appointed by the president pro tem of the Senate.
Oklahoma House tackles personhood in amending, advancing Senate abortion clinic bill
Personhood finally got its day on the House floor. Nearly two years after the legislative session ended in near-riot because House leadership wouldn’t let the issue come to a vote in the House, proponents of the idea that the law should recognize fertilized egg cells as people found a way to get it to the floor. Added as an amendment to Senate Bill 1848, which adds restrictions to the operations of abortion clinics, the personhood language and the bill as a whole passed easily, but only after long and at times bitter discussion and debate.
Additional Navigator regulations are unwarranted, unnecessary
The central tenet of the 2010 Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) is to bring access to quality, affordable health care to as many Americans as possible, primarily by enrolling them in private health insurance or Medicaid. Central to the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance enrollment effort was the creation of Navigators – trained community workers who help guide applicants through the online exchange to purchase a health plan. In the first year of enrollment, the Navigator program appears to be working well – but new state regulations may make it harder for Navigators to do their jobs.
Oklahoma, With An Oil And Gas Boom, Is Facing A Budget Crisis
Oklahoma is doing better than most states post-recession: It has a growing economy — in 2012 Oklahoma’s GDP grew by 2.1 percent, just below the nation’s 2.5 percent growth — and the state collects hundreds of millions in taxes yearly from its thriving oil and gas industry. Despite all that, the state has been cutting critical services because costly subsidies and tax breaks for the energy industry are eating into its revenue. Oklahoma is now facing a budget crisis that could force legislators to make further cuts to education, public safety and health care. Part of the problem causing the government cash crunch, The Associated Press reported, is that lawmakers have expanded so many tax breaks for oil and gas producers over the last decade that there is hardly enough left to fund basic state services. The state’s budget problem could further increase after its House of Representatives voted Wednesday 54-40 to approve an income tax cut, despite a projected $170 million shortfall next fiscal year.
April 15th was the deadline for filing taxes. I’m certain it’s no one’s favorite time of year, but here’s something that may help give a little perspective—at least as far as state taxes go. When you look at total taxes paid as a percentage of personal income, Oklahomans’ paid the 48th lowest taxes in the nation out of all 50 states. Based on 2011 figures, Oklahomans paid a about 8.4 cents in taxes out of each dollar of income. Only Alabama, Tennessee, and South Dakota citizens paid less. And that’s before the tax cut that took effect in January, 2012.
Contradicting claims about Oklahoma drilling tax fuel debate
Oklahomans strongly support raising taxes on oil and gas producers. Or maybe they strongly oppose raising taxes on oil and gas. It depends on which poll you believe. State lawmakers better hope they choose the right one before casting a vote, or they could pay a high price at the ballot box. Currently, Oklahoma levies a 1 percent gross production tax on horizontal wells for the first four years of operation. That rate was enacted as a temporary incentive, and is scheduled to expire in 2015. Other wells face a 7 percent tax. This year, a strong push has been made to raise the tax on horizontal drilling before the incentive’s scheduled expiration.
Oklahoma: Execution Set for Inmates in Drug Appeal
Two condemned inmates at the center of the state’s now-resolved legal confusion will be put to death on Tuesday, Oklahoma’s first double execution since 1937. Gov. Mary Fallin announced her decision on Thursday, a day after the Oklahoma Supreme Court removed one of the final obstacles in the way of the executions of Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner. “The defendants had their day in court,” Governor Fallin said in a statement. “The court has made a decision.”
State Rep. Christian won’t drop effort to impeach five Oklahoma Supreme Court justices
A lawmaker said Thursday that he will pursue the impeachment of five Oklahoma Supreme Court justices, despite the dissolution of execution stays issued late Wednesday. Rep. Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City, filed articles of impeachment Wednesday saying the state Supreme Court acted outside of its scope when five of the nine members voted to issue stays for death row inmates Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner. Christian said staying an execution date is the exclusive domain of the Court of Criminal Appeals.
CTB/McGraw-Hill executives apologize for testing problems
The president of testing vendor CTB/McGraw-Hill apologized Thursday to the state Board of Education for Monday’s widespread disruptions in online student tests. “We know how important tests are in the state, so even one child disrupted is not what we intended to happen,” Ellen Haley told board members during their monthly meeting. This is the second consecutive year that state online testing in Oklahoma has been disrupted due to technical issues by CTB, which is in the second year of its contract with Oklahoma.
Envoy Partners With TCC With Pilot Shortage Looming
In a time when few of us have job security, let alone a five-year-plan, Envoy, formerly American Eagle Airlines is offering Tulsa Community College students a job out of college and $10,000 in tuition reimbursement. With this pipeline program, Envoy is trying to make up for a shortage of pilots. Thousands of pilots are hitting the mandatory pilot retirement age of 65. One study predicts 18,000 pilots will retire through 2022. Now, flight students are totally fine with this new opportunity to pick up their pilot jobs. “Say, this is your path and we can guarantee that there is a job waiting for you at the end of this path,” said Envoy pilot and TCC Graduate, Robert Bowlin.
ONG requests nearly $2 hike to average monthly bill
Residential customers of Oklahoma Natural Gas would see an increase of almost $2 per month on their service charge under a rate increase filed at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. ONG wants a total rate increase of $16 million, which would offset higher business costs and infrastructure investments the utility said it made since 2012. If regulators approve, the typical residential customer’s monthly service charge would increase to $15.05 from $13.21, ONG said in regulatory filings. The service charge for higher-volume residential users would increase to $30.60 from $28.76 per month.
Red Cross gives $48,000 for storm shelters in Oklahoma homes
The American Red Cross of Oklahoma is giving $48,000 to Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity to install storm shelters in the homes it builds. The grant announced Thursday is for installation of 20 storm shelters in newly built homes in communities affected by spring storms in 2013. The grant covers Habitat homes built for storm affected individuals and families from Jan. 1, 2014, through Dec. 31, 2015.
What an Oklahoma Grazing Land Can Teach Us About Global Climate Change
Oklahoma is known for its wild weather. And now, the state’s variable climate is helping scientists understand how climate change could affect farms everywhere. The federal government recently picked an agricultural laboratory in El Reno to be one of seven regional hubs to study climate change. It turns out, climate change research has been happening in Oklahoma for decades. “If you work on agricultural production in the Great Plains, I think you’re going to have to have a strong climate focus at some point in time,” says Jean Steiner, the lab’s director, adding that Oklahoma is the perfect place to do research on the relationship between climate and crops and livestock.
On Wednesday, April 30, StateImpact Oklahoma presents an important conversation on how the changing climate will affect Oklahoma. Guests will include Clay Pope, the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, and David Engle, the Executive Director of Oklahoma State University’s Water Resources Center. The conversation will be directed by StateImpact Oklahoma reporters Joe Wertz and Logan Layden and will include questions from the audience.
“It’s true that Oklahoma in some respects has done well and has come back from the recession. We have low unemployment and we’ve had a growing economy. But we’ve also, at the same time, had the largest cuts to schools in the country and you see the effects from … repeated tax cuts and growing tax breaks. We have short-term prosperity due to this oil and gas boom. But by cutting all of these important services that are important for business and for the economy, as much as they are for the average citizens, then we’re hurting our economy in the long run.”
- OK Policy policy director Gene Perry, speaking about the source of Oklahoma’s budget crisis in the midst of an oil and gas boom (source: bit.ly/1ik0lCY).
Number of the Day
The average debt of an Okahoman university student who graduated in 2012. Oklahoma ranks 34th nationally.
On average, Americans spend more than twice as much on health care costs per person each year than do people in 34 other countries, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That’s $8,233 spent on health care costs per individual in the United States, versus $3,268 elsewhere. The U.S. nonetheless remains the only wealthy country that fails to provide universal health insurance. And only in the U.S. is there a serious debate about the value of insurance coverage for protecting health. Eight million Americans nationwide have signed up for insurance on the exchanges through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Millions more not entitled to subsidies have enrolled directly with insurance companies, and several million Americans have gained coverage through Medicaid in Democratic-led states. A Gallup poll out this week shows an additional 12 million Americans are newly insured in 2014 — and yet 48 million are still not covered.