Winners and Losers in the Oklahoma Legislative Session - NewsOn6.com - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - KOTV.com |

News

Winners and Losers in the Oklahoma Legislative Session

Posted: Updated:
OKLAHOMA CITY -

By Trevor Brown, Oklahoma Watch

Few true winners emerged from a contentious legislative session that saw lawmakers slashing spending, cutting tax credits and struggling to find new revenue amid a record $1.3 billion budget shortfall.

But in the end, after the Legislature approved a $6.8 billion budget Friday, it was clear that some groups came out ahead more than others.

LOSERS

Higher Education

Oklahoma’s 25 colleges and universities will receive some of the deepest hits in the new budget, which takes effect July 1.

The State Regents for Higher Education will see a cut of $153.4 million, or nearly 16 percent, compared to their original funding for this year.

Preston Doerflinger, secretary of finance, administration and information technology, said higher education was among groups that have a “superior financial position” allowing them to absorb cuts better than other core-service agencies.

But the reduction will challenge higher education leaders, who now have to examine whether layoffs, tuition increases and curtailing or ending academic programs are required.

The Working Poor

Thousands of Oklahoma households will lose a key benefit as part of the Legislature’s move to eliminate or cap tax credits.

Lawmakers removed the refundable portion of the state’s earned income tax credit, saving the state about $29 million next year. Critics said the cut unnecessarily burdens about 200,000 low-income families who will lose an average $150 a year.

Next Year’s Legislature

Despite the revenue-raising and cost-cutting moves, lawmakers were only able to close the $1.3 billion shortfall through many one-time funding measures. This includes taking out $200 million in transportation bonds and tapping $144 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

Legislative leaders acknowledged that the state’s structural budget deficit will remain and likely prompt more tough budget decisions next year.

Democrats

The minority party again lost fights to pass proposals to expand the state’s Medicaid program, which would bring in hundreds of millions of federal dollars, and to roll back the most recent cut in the top income tax rate.

The 30-member House Democratic caucus tried to force a vote on the Medicaid plan by holding up passage of a proposed $1.50-per-pack cigarette tax hike. That effort fell flat. Both the cigarette tax and Medicaid expansion failed.

MIXED RESULTS

Common Education

While almost every state agency saw significant cuts, common education took a relatively small hit percentage-wise. Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister described this as “a best-case scenario” for Oklahoma’s schoolchildren.

Others disagreed.

Hundreds of educators and supporters rallied at the Capitol shortly after the budget was released, calling for a funding boost and teacher pay raises.

“The raises are part of it,” said Debbie Hoemann, a special education teacher from Harrah Public Schools who attended the rally. “But we just want to be properly funded so we have adequate programs, so class sizes can be small, so we have supplies and so children can learn.”

Health Care

In late March, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority issued a dire warning that it was preparing to cut Medicaid provider rates by 25 percent because of the budget squeeze.

This would have dealt a blow to hospitals, physicians, pharmacies and nursing homes, possibly leading to closures.

Ultimately, the budget bill gave the Health Care Authority a 2 percent funding bump compared to its original 2016 funding. CEO Nico Gomez said the amount “may be close enough for OHCA to avoid any additional provider rate cuts by first looking at deeper administrative cuts and current savings.”

Still, in health advocates' view, there were huge setbacks. Medicaid expansion and a Medicaid rebalancing plan, either of which would have brought in hundreds of millions of federal dollars, failed to win approval.

Criminal Justice

Oklahoma has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country. But a package of bills signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin seeks to reduce the number of felons in the state’s prison system.

This includes reducing minimum mandatory punishments for drug offenders, expanding the use of drug courts and community sentences and giving prosecutors more discretion to file misdemeanor instead of felony charges for certain crimes.

Another bill sent to the governor would give judges the ability to waive court fines, costs and fees in criminal cases. However, other legislative actions will double court fees in traffic, misdemeanor, felony and juvenile cases.

WINNERS

Wind Industry

Lawmakers passed bills that limit tax credits for the oil, gas and coal industries. The biggest was a measure to save about $120 million next year by capping the tax credit for at-risk oil and gas wells at $12.5 million per year.

In contrast, the wind industry survived attempts to cut its sizable incentives. One proposal would have saved the state more than $300 million over a decade by phasing out the wind energy tax credit at the end of 2017 instead of the end of 2020.

Several top lawmakers said they plan to reexamine the wind energy incentives in the coming year.

Retailers

A number of retailers stand to come out ahead – or at least avoid possible losses.

Lawmakers rejected a proposal to increase the state’s cigarette tax by $1.50 per pack. Tobacco lobbyists, convenience stores and wholesalers argued the tax would drive people out of the state in search of cheaper prices. The Legislature also agreed to allow voters to decide on alcohol sales changes, which would remove

many restrictions on the sale of wine and high-point beer and expand offerings at grocery and other stores.

For brick-and-mortar retailers, there was a mixed result. A push to require online retailers to collect sales tax resulted in a weaker bill that was signed by the governor. That bill asks out-of-state companies to charge sales tax to an Oklahoma buyer. It also requires online sellers to send yearly notices to customers to remind them of the requirement to pay sales tax to the state.

Anti-Tax Advocates

Republican leaders proudly announced at the close of the session that they had bridged the budget gap without any tax increase.

This came after proposals to raise taxes on cigarettes, alcohol and gasoline were defeated in the session’s closing weeks. Efforts to broaden or increase the state’s sales tax also failed to gain legislative support.

That could change in November if voters decide the Legislature hasn’t done enough to support education and approve a penny sales-tax hike that would boost teacher pay and help support higher education.

Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that produces in-depth and investigative content on a range of public-policy issues facing the state. For more Oklahoma Watch content, go to oklahomawatch.org.

  • NewsMore>>

  • Sand Springs Police Approve New Policing Plan With Community Input

    Sand Springs Police Approve New Policing Plan With Community Input

    The Sand Springs Police Department is updating the way it serves the public, with a new plan that includes more training for officers, and more community policing programs.

    More >>

    The Sand Springs Police Department is updating the way it serves the public, with a new plan that includes more training for officers, and more community policing programs.

    More >>
  • Tulsa Responders Take Caution In Midst Of Synthetic Opioid's Rise

    Tulsa Responders Take Caution In Midst Of Synthetic Opioid's Rise

    Tulsa Responders Take Caution In Midst Of Synthetic Opioid's RiseTulsa Responders Take Caution In Midst Of Synthetic Opioid's Rise

    It's an elephant tranquilizer, 10 thousand times more powerful than morphine, and first responders say it's not a matter of "if" the drug will make its way onto Tulsa streets, but when. "It's not legal in the United States, so those folks who are using it have no idea what it is they are messing with," said Anthony First, Tulsa Police officer. Carfentanil. It's a synthetic opioid most commonly used to cut heroin. It can be solid, liquid, powder, or gas, which m...

    More >>

    It's an elephant tranquilizer, 10 thousand times more powerful than morphine, and first responders say it's not a matter of "if" the drug will make its way onto Tulsa streets, but when. "It's not legal in the United States, so those folks who are using it have no idea what it is they are messing with," said Anthony First, Tulsa Police officer. Carfentanil. It's a synthetic opioid most commonly used to cut heroin. It can be solid, liquid, powder, or gas, which m...

    More >>

Special Features

Live Traffic

Get the latest road conditions on Green Country roadways.

iPhone App

Get breaking news, weather, sports & video directly on your iPhone.

CBS Shows

Watch your favorite CBS shows for free online.

Links

Looking for a website or event you heard mentioned on News On 6? Find it here!

TV Schedule

Need to know what's on TV? Check out our television schedule.

Live Radar

WARN Interactive

Special Coverage

  • Bridge Tracker

    How safe are Oklahoma's bridges? Use Bridge Tracker to find out now.

  • Fallen Heroes

    News On 6 honors our fallen Oklahoma heroes. View our interactive timeline.

  • Murrah Bombing Timeline

    Learn more about the events leading up to and following the bombing.

  • Storm Zone

    Watch tornadoes tear across Oklahoma and learn how to stay safe!

Powered by Frankly
News On 6
303 N. Boston Ave.
Tulsa, OK 74103
Newson6.com is proud to provide Oklahomans with timely and relevant news and information, sharing the stories, pictures and loves of Oklahomans across our great state.
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2017 KOTV. All Rights Reserved. For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy, and Terms of Service, and Ad Choices.