State Capitol

The 2018 Session of the Oklahoma State Legislature recently adjourned, and what a session it was. For the first time since State Question 640 passed in 1992, the Legislature was able to raise revenues by green-lighting an increase in the Gross Production Tax rate as well as increases in fuel and cigarette taxes (with all of these increases passing the 75% threshold, as required by the State Constitution).

On this installment of StudioTulsa, with the Oklahoma State Legislature set to begin its new session on Monday of next week, we check in with David Blatt, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute. This non-profit public-policy think tank recently posted a detailed list of legislative priorities for the new year at its website. Blatt reviews several of these goals with us today: from Budget and Taxes to Economic Opportunity and Security, and from Education and Criminal Justice to Health Care.

How will this state's very serious budget problems get solved? And when? What, in the end, is it going to take? On this edition of StudioTulsa, we learn about Step Up Oklahoma, which is, per its website, a "nonpartisan group of business, civic, and community leaders [who have come] together to work with lawmakers to...stabilize state revenue, reform government to increase efficiency and cut abuse, and raise teacher pay by $5,000 a year." Our guest is OKC businessman and attorney, Glenn Coffee, who is a vocal member of the Step Up Oklahoma outfit.

For every six Oklahomans, one is hungry, according to the latest data. And as the U.S. Congress looks to potentially address a $1.5 trillion projected deficit, many domestic programs face an uncertain if not bleak future -- including food-assistance and hunger-relief programs -- both here in the Sooner State and nationwide. On this edition of ST, we are discussing these matters with Effie Craven, who is the State Advocacy and Public Policy Director for both of the Oklahoma Food Banks (i.e., the Regional Food Bank in OKC as well as the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma in Tulsa).

Last week's Oklahoma Supreme Court decision invalidating the State Legislature's cigarette cessation fee means that there's now a $214 million budget deficit in this year's budget. This gives Oklahoma lawmakers two options: go back into special session to fix the state budget, or else three state agencies -- the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the Department of Human Services, and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services -- will have to rewrite their budgets to account for a roughly $70 million cut to each agency. So, what will state lawmakers do?

What's to be done regarding the troubling condition of Oklahoma's budget? Lawmakers in OKC have only about a month left to address this serious budget shortfall in the 2017 session of the Oklahoma Legislature, and fixing what Gov. Fallin has recently called "the state's structural budget deficit" seems less and less likely. Therefore, about two dozen nonprofit and professional organizations from across the state have formed the so-called Save Our State Coalition. Our guest is David Blatt, executive director of the OK Policy Institute, which is a member of this coalition.

Earlier this week, on Tuesday the 21st, the State Board of Equalization met in Oklahoma City to approve revised revenue estimates for FY 2017 and FY 2018. The revised estimates for FY 2017 are for revenues to be "under" by some $296 million, or 5.7 percent, and thus a revenue failure has been declared. This is the third time since 2000 that there have been revenue failures for the state budget in two consecutive years; it also happened in 2002-03 and 2009-10. How did the State of Oklahoma (once again) get here? And does the budget outlook for next year look any better?

The "penny sales tax" for education didn't pass, but voters here in the Sooner State did back criminal justice reform; the "Right to Farm" State Question was rejected, yet Republicans won big all over Oklahoma on Election Day, as, indeed, they did nationwide. On this edition of StudioTulsa, we are joined by David Blatt of the OK Policy Institute, an non-partisan, non-profit think tank.

In a budget year with a predicted $1.3 billion shortfall, today is a major day in the Oklahoma Legislature; it's the last day (ostensibly) during which the state legislature can consider revenue bills. So far, very few bills have passed that have narrowed the budget gap...and time, of course, is seriously running out at this point. So, what is going through the minds of state lawmakers today? We put this question to Steve Lewis, who joins us by phone from the State Capitol Building.

On this installment of ST, we speak with Wayne Greene, the editorial pages editor at the Tulsa World. As noted at the World's website, Greene is a "fourth-generation Oklahoman in his third decade with the [newspaper]. As a reporter he covered several bank failures, one prison riot, three executions, and every aspect of state government during four years at the World's state capitol bureau. He became the World's city editor on April 1, 1995, and served in that post for nearly 13 years.

Yesterday at the State Capitol, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin offered her recommendations to the State Legislature on how to fill next year's estimated $1.3 billion budget deficit. Her "Budget 2.0" provides for exempting Common Education, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, and Mental Health Services from cuts -- while also exempting cuts in other areas, including higher education -- and offers significant revenue enhancements to the budget as well.

On Thursday of last week, the State Legislature arrived at a deadline for moving legislation forward -- and thus many bills advanced in the Oklahoma Legislature from one chamber into the other, while many other bills were, in effect, killed. On this edition of ST, we discuss several of the bills now moving forward while also offering a review of several of the troubling issues facing state lawmakers more generally (such as the state budget gap, of course). Our guest is Gene Perry, the Policy Director at the non-profit, non-partisan Oklahoma Policy Institute.

Today marks the beginning of the 2016 legislative session for the State of Oklahoma, and rightly enough, the issue gathering the most attention is the nearly $1 billion gap in the state's budget -- an astounding figure, to be sure. But on today's StudioTulsa, we turn our attention in another important, equally unsettling direction. And it's not a matter of one single troubling issue, actually, but rather a multitude of infractions.

As 2016 gets underway, the most vexing question confronting Oklahoma legislators, policymakers, and various state agency heads will the Sooner State solve the glaring budget hole that Oklahomans will face this year -- and next year. State Finance Director Preston Doerflinger has declared a "revenue failure" for this year, resulting in a 3% cut to all state budgets funded by General Revenue -- and the preliminary projection of revenue for next year sees a shortfall of $900 million out of an approximately $7 billion state budget.

On May 23rd, the Oklahoma State Legislature approved HB 3399, a bill which would, if it became law, withdraw this state from the Common Core State Standards initiative. This bill is now on Gov. Mary Fallin's desk, awaiting her decision; the Governor has until June 7th to sign the bill into law, or veto it, or do nothing (in which case the bill will not take effect).

Today on ST, a special interview from our archives as we listen back to a 1993 discussion with Charles Banks Wilson. The widely beloved artist died last week at 94. Wilson was born in Arkansas and grew up in Miami, Oklahoma; over the course of his long and prolific career, he worked as a painter, printmaker, art teacher, lecturer, historian, and magazine and book illustrator --- and his works are in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Library of Congress, the Corcoran Gallery, the Oklahoma State Capitol, the Smithsonian, and other notable institutions.

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Lawmakers are back to work in Oklahoma City today after a brief Easter break. Rush Springs Democrat Joe Dorman hopes the legislature decides quickly what to do about the crumbling state capitol building. He says it’s a part of the history of our state that needs to be repaired. He especially wants the south doors reopened and the yellow barricade markers in front of the capitol steps removed.

While the debate in Washington, amid these dreaded days of "sequestration," is about whether to increase revenues or cut spending --- or somehow achieve a compromise that does both --- here in Oklahoma, the state legislature is (once again) looking to reduce tax revenues. This comes despite the fact that our state currently has a number of extremely pressing needs vis a vis education, DHS, corrections, and infrastructure --- as well as, of course, the long-term and likewise urgent problem of pension liabilities.

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The new, 72-member-strong Oklahoma House Republican caucus is meeting to elect its new leaders.

The caucus will meet for a closed-door meeting at 10 a.m. Thursday with all of the members-elect who were either elected to office or were unopposed this election cycle.

House Speaker-designate T.W. Shannon is expected to officially become the House Speaker-elect, although there won't be a vote since he wasn't opposed. Shannon is replacing term-limited House Speaker Kris Steele of Shawnee.

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Oklahoma lawmakers are bracing for the worst. If the automatic federal budget cuts take place, Oklahoma will lose millions of dollars in federal matching funds. Rush Springs Democrat Joe Dorman says it will cripple many programs.

Joe Dorman: "We saw $140-million that could be cut out of health funds. We saw over $50-million to educational programs we could lose. It is $120,000 per region, for the 10-regions for senior nutrition sites alone."

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A Sand Springs woman's gripping tale of becoming a child prostitute at age 11 captivated a legislative panel exploring ways to deal with what police say is a growing problem of human trafficking in Oklahoma.

Jeannetta McCrary told lawmakers how she went from a straight-A cheerleader to a life of sexual exploitation and prostitution as a victim of child trafficking in the 1980s.

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma agencies are saving money by switching to debit cards instead of paper checks for things like unemployment benefits and tax refunds, but at least one lawmaker is concerned the cards are posing problems for some citizens and leading to huge windfalls for a private contractor.

State Rep. Scott Inman of Del City outlined his concerns Tuesday during a meeting of the House Government Modernization Committee.

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Two state lawmakers are asking Republican Governor Mary Fallin to block tax dollars from being used to fund non-profit groups.

State Representatives Paul Wesselhoft of Moore and Sally Kern of Oklahoma City say more than $12 million appropriated to four state agencies this year are intended for non-profits. Examples of the spending include the IPRA National Finals Rodeo, which has received $50,000 over a two-year period, the Rural Enterprise Institute, which has received $2.25 million over three years, and the OK Expo, which got $2 million this year.

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A state lawmaker who was awarded more than $61,000 in workers' compensation due to a collision as he drove to the state Capitol is appealing for more money.

And the state House and its insurance carrier are also appealing — asking that the $61,560 awarded to Republican Representative Mike Christian in July be thrown out.

The Oklahoman reports that Christian's appeal asks the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Court "to adequately compensate" Christian for injuries suffered in the 2009 collision.

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Senate is launching a study into reports of problems at the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs' and its seven veterans' centers.

The study will begin Tuesday at the State Capitol. The first meeting will focus on administration issues including the structure and responsibilities of the agency and the War Veterans Commission. Lawmakers also will be looking into the role of the War Veterans Commission and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs in relation to oversight of the agency.

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Millions of dollars in tax credits and incentives handed out by the state each year to businesses and industries will once again by scrutinized by a special House committee.

House Speaker Kris Steele on Wednesday announced the formation of the bipartisan House Tax Credit and Economic Incentive Oversight Committee. The panel will conduct several hearings in the coming months to analyze some of the dozens of tax credit and incentive programs the state offers.

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele has approved a list of 59 topics that will be studied by lawmakers before the next legislative session begins in February.

Steele announced the studies on Friday, saying he pared the final list from initial requests for studies of 89 separate topics.

Interim studies give lawmakers an opportunity to receive testimony and examine issues in depth to decide whether to draft legislation on a particular topic.

Among the topics to be studied are education, government modernization, veterans' issues and public finance.

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma finance officials project a deposit of nearly $350 million into the state's Rainy Day Fund after the fiscal year ends June 30, bringing the total balance of the fund to about $600 million.

Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger reported Tuesday that total collections to the state's general revenue fund through May exceeded last year's collections by nearly 10 percent.

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Outgoing House Speaker Kris Steele had his hands full trying to keep control of a nearly 70-member strong Republican caucus in the Oklahoma House.

First the House balked at an income tax cut agreement, and then a deal on the state budget nearly fell apart in the waning days of the session.

Now the job of shepherding this diverse caucus falls to House Speaker-Designate T.W. Shannon, a 34-year-old Republican from Lawton who is in line to become the first African-American speaker in Oklahoma's history.

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — About 250 demonstrators marched on Oklahoma's state Capitol to protest legislation restricting reproductive rights. organized "United Against the War on Women" marches and rallies across the nation Saturday in response to bills that it perceives as attacking reproductive and voting rights.

Demonstrators said measures such as the personhood act take away a woman's control over her own body. Senate Bill 1433 would declare that life begins at conception. Protesters said they want lawmakers to focus on education and health care issues.