State Budget Summit to feature national policy expert and state leader panels on Oklahomas most important issues

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As the 2018 Oklahoma legislative session nears, the state continues to struggle with chronic budget shortfalls and growing discontent among Oklahomans about lack of funding for core services. On January 25 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Policy Institute’s 5th Annual State Budget Summit will bring together hundreds of Oklahomans looking to gain a clearer sense of these challenges and how they can be solved.

Last year was one of the most eventful in history for state budget issues, but the end result was disappointing to almost everyone,” said OK Policy Institute Executive Director David Blatt. “Still, it’s clear that momentum for real budget solutions is building. This year’s Budget Summit should be a fascinating exploration of where we are on the budget and what we can expect from this year’s Legislature.”

The keynote speaker for the event is Vanessa Williamson, a fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution and the author of the 2017 book Read My Lips: Why Americans Are Proud to Pay Taxes. Williamson is also the author, with Harvard professor Theda Skocpol, of The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism, which was named one of the ten best political books of the year in The New Yorker.

The State Budget Summit will also include a budget overview by Blatt, followed by a panel of state leaders and economists who will discuss Oklahoma’s current budget outlook and how to put state finances back on a stable and sustainable path. Panelists will include Senator Kim David, Step Up Oklahoma Coalition member Glenn Coffee, Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr., University of Oklahoma economist Dr. Cynthia Rogers, and Representative Emily Virgin.

Finally, the Budget Summit will close with a panel discussion on “Imagining a justice system that works for people with mental illness.” In this panel, experts will discuss the intersection of mental health and criminal justice, innovative local responses to these challenges, and what can be done to shift how we address issues of mental health. Panelists include Melissa Baldwin from the Mental Health Association Oklahoma, Josh Cantwell, Clinical Director of Special Programs at Grand Lake Mental Health Center, Francie Ekwerekwu with The Education and Employment Ministry, and Senator AJ Griffin, Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Human Services.

“Untreated mental illness is a major reason that people are filling our prisons and jails,” said Ryan Gentzler, criminal justice policy analyst for OK Policy. “The hard fact is that Oklahoma’s costly incarceration crisis will not be addressed until we find a better way to respond to mental illness.”

The Budget Summit will be held at the Downtown/Medical Center Embassy Suites, 741 N. Phillips Ave., Oklahoma City. Tickets can be purchased at okpolicy.org/sbs18 for $90, which includes a full lunch and breakfast. Members of the media, legislators, and other elected officials may attend the State Budget Summit free of charge by contacting the OK Policy office (918-794-3944; skantz@okpolicy.org).

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