Oklahoma budget crisis

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Oklahoma’s seemingly endless budget woes continue.

As KFOR reports, the state is facing down a potential $167 million budget shortfall for the 2019 fiscal year. However, that number is a marked improvement over the $900 million budget gap for the current fiscal year, or the $1.3 billion the year prior.

Gov. Mary Fallin seemed optimistic.

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The Oklahoma Legislature’s plan to fix the state budget failed spectacularly this week, sending lawmakers scrambling to defend themselves from widespread criticism.

The Step Up Oklahoma plan had seemed to many like it held promise.

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Oklahoma’s Chief Executive Mary Fallin gave her State of the State address last week, in which the Governor detailed her plans to fix the state’s ongoing budget crisis.

As KFOR reports, the speech made headlines as much for Fallin’s words as for the interruption at the end of the address by protestors, who hung a sign from the gallery that read “State of Despair” and shouted the word “liar” at the Governor.

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News of Oklahoma’s struggling public education system has now reached London, where the legendary news magazine The Economist published an analysis this week of the state’s pervasive and seemingly insurmountable school funding issues.

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Last year in Oklahoma, the number of school districts that had gone to four-day school weeks nearly doubled.

As KFOR reports, 20 percent of public schools in Oklahoma are now only open four days a week, due to a crippling budget crisis in the state. Some officials in the state have said they think four-day weeks are a good idea, because of all the money it frees up in the budget.

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Oklahoma’s school districts got an early Christmas present this week, as it was announced that districts statewide would receive a $2 million grant.

As KOKH reports, the donation is being provided by the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board. The grant will go toward educating Oklahoma students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, better known as the STEM subjects.

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An Oklahoma regulatory board announced last week that it would cut the salaries of the state’s legislators, in an effort to ease the state’s ongoing budget woes.

As KFOR reports, the state’s Legislative Compensation Board plans to cut state lawmaker salaries by almost 9 percent. The announcement comes as the Legislature continues to be gridlocked in the eighth week of a special session.

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Last week, the Oklahoma House of Representatives fell five votes shy of passing a tax bill that would have shut down the Special Legislative session and prevented the need for steep budget cuts.

As KGOU reports, the plan was supported by advocates from the health care, education, and public policy sectors. But the widespread support of nurses and teachers wasn’t enough. The tax plan would have eased the state’s budget woes by raising taxes on gasoline, tobacco products, beer, and oil and gas wells.

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A group of small oil and gas producers in Oklahoma has grown frustrated with the lack of progress in the Sooner State. In their view, the state Legislature has been negligent by failing to raise taxes for necessary state business like teacher pay raises. In response the group, known as Restore Oklahoma Now Inc., has announced its plan to try to bring the matter to voters.

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Oklahoma has become the poster child for a wider national trend of states experiencing budget problems, as reported on Governing.com.

The news site notes that Oklahoma proves that one-party states are not immune to major budgetary problems. As it stands now, Oklahoma Republicans are gridlocked about how to deal with a $215 million budget shortfall left by the collapse of a cigarette fee earlier this year. The $1.50-a-pack fee, a one-time fix which was supposed to plug the gap, was rejected by the state Supreme Court.

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A new report shows that big tax breaks may be causing significant harm to Oklahoma’s economy, reports KFOR. The study by a consulting group in Philadelphia reveals that one specific tax deduction alone has caused the state to lose close to half a billion dollars.

Oklahoma’s capital gains tax deduction has slashed tax revenue by hundreds of millions of dollars, while only creating an estimated $9 million in additional tax revenue.

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Oklahoma’s economic plans were thrown into a tailspin last month, after the state Supreme Court ruled a proposed tobacco fee unconstitutional. The fee was slated to bring in over $215 million to the state coffers, and go a long way toward plugging Oklahoma’s $900 million budget shortfall.

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Oklahoma’s woes are now so dire that the state is making news in the United Kingdom. Last week, the British newspaper The Guardian published an article about Oklahoma, asking the question “Can anyone fix this failing state?”

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Oklahoma’s efforts to plug its massive budget gap were dealt a serious blow this week by the state Supreme Court.

As Oklahoma Watch reports, earlier this year, the state Legislature passed a $1.50 per-pack cigarette fee that was supposed to bolster the state’s finances.

But last week, the state Supreme Court ruled that the fee was unconstitutional.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Back in 2012 when voters swept a wave of Tea-Party Republicans into power, Oklahoma lawmakers looked admiringly to their neighbor to the north. Gov. Sam Brownback and his fellow Kansans had begun drastically cutting taxes in expectation that the move would result in a windfall of state revenue.

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Amid the budget talks during Oklahoma’s recently concluded legislative session, one of the major sticking points revolved around how much to raise the production tax on oil and gas companies.

As Oklahoma Watch notes, while Oklahoma is theoretically a two-party system, it often seems as though there’s a third party in the room during important economic discussions. That third party is the oil industry.

OklahomaWatch

For months, Oklahoma was overtaken by fears that drastic cuts were coming to state agencies, in order to plug the state’s massive budget gap.

But this week, as OklahomaWatch reports, lawmakers finally came to an agreement on a budget that raises enough to avoid those staggering cuts. Here are some of the winners and losers in the deal.

NewsOK.com

Late Tuesday night, as the clock struck midnight, Oklahoma lawmakers introduced two budget bills that had been eagerly awaited for weeks.

As The Oklahoman reports, one of the bills includes funding for teacher pay raises, and the other doesn’t. The bills were introduced at 11:14 p.m., and the House budget committee had 46 minutes to approve them before midnight, to meet a procedural deadline. Legislators now have a few days to review the bills.

Jim Beckel / The Oklahoman

Attempts in the Oklahoma Legislature to fix the state’s massive budget shortfall fell apart this weekend, reports The Oklahoman.

Both chambers had hoped to reach a last minute deal to avoid a special session. But by the end of Saturday it was clear that Oklahoma lawmakers were not going to find enough common ground to avoid working overtime.

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The Oklahoma Senate has passed a budget bill that lawmakers say will bring in $510 million dollars’ worth of revenue, reports News 9.

The measure would rescind tax breaks for the wind and oil industries, contributing to the projected income. Some of the money would also be generated by new fuel and cigarette taxes.

KFOR

Oklahoma’s budget crisis brought more potential bad news this week, as it was announced that budget cuts could cause many state parks to close across the state.

As KFOR reports, the state tourism industry is hunkering down as Oklahoma announced yet another round of deep cuts to state funding.

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State agencies in Oklahoma are buckling up for a bumpy ride ahead as lawmakers prepare to slash the budget, in order to get the Sooner State’s $900 million budget deficit under control.

As KFOR reports, the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety has announced that it’s been asked to find a way to cut 15 percent of its budget. In a statement, the DPS said such a drastic cut will place citizens, local law enforcement and state troopers at risk.

KGOU

Oklahoma lawmakers continue to struggle with how to lessen the state's onerous budget shortfall.

As KOSU reports, Oklahoma's budget gap is inching back up toward the billion-dollar mark. Governor Mary Fallin has suggested a dramatic change to the state sales tax to eliminate certain exemptions, in hopes of turning the ship around. She says her long-term goal is to change the tax system to better fit the modern world.

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Amazon will soon begin charging a sales tax in the Sooner State, reports The Oklahoman.

The online retailing behemoth will start collecting the tax beginning on March first. But, unfortunately, those extra collected funds will not go toward easing the burden of Oklahoma’s massive budget shortfall.

That’s because the extra Amazon revenue was already built into Oklahoma’s budget estimates.

KFOR

An Oklahoma lawmaker is hoping to bring the Earned Income Tax Credit back to the Sooner State.

Until last year, the credit was a welcome relief for many low-income Oklahomans, by preventing them from paying more than their share of income tax. But, as KFOR reports, the Earned Income Tax Credit was abolished last year as part of an effort to plug the state’s $1.3 billion budget gap.

Oklahoma State Auditor & Inspector website

Oklahoma’s state auditor has called on legislators to repeal a law that would lower the state income tax.

As KOCO reports, State Auditor Gary Jones said that even though lowering taxes is politically popular, lawmakers should stop paying attention to politics and do what’s best for the State of Oklahoma.

Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma’s budget gap next year could amount to well over half a billion dollars.

To plug the hole, lawmakers in Oklahoma City are discussing selling some of the state’s power plants.

As StateImpact Oklahoma reports, the Sooner State has considered the idea of selling the Grand River Dam Authority to make up for the budget shortfall. The plan would involve selling some of Oklahoma’s hydroelectric dams, as well as a coal-fired plant.

Mike Simons / Tulsa World

The debate continues unabated in Oklahoma over State Question 779, which would give the state’s teachers a $5,000 pay raise. To help settle the argument, The Tulsa World investigated what such a raise would mean for Oklahoma’s educators.

KFOR

Sometimes it can be hard to know how your elected officials are voting on important issues. Now, a new tool has been created to clear up the confusion in Oklahoma.

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Over the past year, Oklahoma saw one of biggest unemployment increases of any state, reports The Oklahoman.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Oklahoma had the second-highest unemployment rate increase for the 12 months ending in August. The state’s unemployment rate rose 0.8 percent. The statewide average now sits at 5.1 percent.

While unemployment has been growing in Oklahoma over the last year, the pace of the job loss has been slowing since March. Many of the job losses came in the energy sector.

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