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02 May
0

RELEASE: Bill to Raise Fees on Vending Machines Trounced Tuesday in State House, 20-76

Bill to Raise Fees on Vending Machines Trounced Tuesday in State House, 20-76

OKLAHOMA CITY (2 May 2017) – The Oklahoma House of Representatives soundly defeated a measure Tuesday that would have increased decal fees on all coin-operated machines by 50%.

For example, on coin-operated music/amusement devices the fee would have been raised from $75 to $112.50; on vending machines that require a coin or other thing of value (such as a bill of some denomination), the fee would have been increased from $75 to $100. For a coin-operated bulk vending device that dispenses one or more products through six or more distribution mechanisms, the decal fee would have been increased from $15 to $22.50.

House Bill 2359 would have generated an extra $1.28 million for the state treasury, the Oklahoma Tax Commission calculated.

Among the legislators debating against the proposal was Democrat Rep. Forrest Bennett, a first-term lawmaker whose district includes midtown, downtown, and southside Oklahoma City.

He told his colleagues that he received an email from a constituent who is in one of Oklahoma’s seven veterans’ centers, asking him to refrain from raising the fees on vending machines.

Although the state’s vending machine fees aren’t imposed directly on the users, they typically get “passed on” to the consumer, Bennett noted. So his constituent “is asking us to not raise the cost of the Twinkies and the pretzels and the other things in the vending machines.”

Bennett rides the bus to the Capitol on most days when the Legislature is in session, and said that many of the people with whom he shares public transportation often rely on food dispensed from vending machines in the downtown transit center to “get some sustenance” for their bodies. “I watch them count their pennies to buy their bus passes and then see what’s left” so they can get something to eat from the vending machines.

HB 2359 is “going to hurt the people I see on a day-to-day basis,” Bennett asserted.

Also debating against the measure was Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, who wrote recently about “the disastrous 2010 revenue grab” when the Legislature, faced with a huge budget deficit, “attempted to shake down” the vending machine industry by increasing the vending machine tax.

The governor and legislators wrote a budget anticipating that fees from vending machine would more than double: from $3.9 million to more than $8 million annually.

Instead, by 2011 the tax generated just $2.1 million, so the Legislature halved the vending machine fee. But it was too late. “To this day, this fee generates less revenue than it did in 2009 before the increase,” Murphey wrote.

HB 2359 barely passed the House Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget, 12-11, and was trounced on the House floor Tuesday, 20-76. http://webserver1.lsb.state.ok.us/cf/2017-18%20SUPPORT%20DOCUMENTS/votes/House/HB2359_VOTES.HTM

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MIKE W. RAY
Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives
(405) 962-7819 office
(405) 245-4411 mobile

02 May
0

Veterans Affairs Outsourcing Lab Work By Rep. Renegar

State Dept. of Veterans Affairs Outsourcing Lab Work, Scrapping EKGs and Cutting Doctors at Veterans’ Centers

By State Rep. Brian Renegar

OKLAHOMA CITY (2 May 2017) – As we document the reduced level of care that the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs is providing to state veterans, we need to keep in mind what they have done and what is in the works.

First, the ODVA removed the EKG machines from state veterans’ centers, claiming those centers don’t have cardiologists on staff. When the medical community debunked that theory, the ODVA decided that they would put the EKG machines back if the Legislature gave them back the $10 million we cut from their budget. The EKG machines are already paid for, so what logical explanation could the ODVA possibly give for the $10 million repayment statement?

The ODVA has cut the number of doctors at the state’s seven veterans’ centers.

Next, the ODVA is limiting the use of blood chemistry machines which are used to gauge what fluids to give a veteran. Those lab machines are already paid for, so we are going from essentially a free test to paying for a private lab test – and from 30 minutes to 24 hours for results.

The impact from outsourcing lab work:

  • Delays in lab results will delay the diagnosis, which will delay veterans’ treatments.
  • Delays in treatment will increase emergency room transfers.
  • Increasing ER transfers will increase hospital admissions.
  • ER and hospital costs will impact on the ODVA, veterans and their family.
  • Increasing hospital admission by just 5% is more than the whole lab operational cost for the whole year for the vet centers.

The ODVA plan is to close all labs at veterans’ centers, so the agency is using Diagnostic Laboratory of Oklahoma (DLO) to perform its lab work. The problem is that by using a private lab, the turnaround for veterans’ centers is about 24 hours.

But is that the only issue with using DLO? Most laboratories give a doctors rate that is far lower than the patient rate. This is one legislator who is going to check on the rate that veterans’ families are charged versus what DLO actually charges. I will do this by making open-records requests. We also need to check closely on the business arrangement between the ODVA and DLO.

Does anyone see the need here for an audit by our State Auditor?

All of these problems have come from the fact that the Department of Veterans Affairs bought a software program that is designed for nursing homes, not a veterans center. This mistake is not affecting the administration at ODVA, it is affecting our military veterans.

(Representative Renegar is a Democrat from McAlester.)

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MIKE W. RAY
Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives
(405) 962-7819 office
(405) 245-4411 mobile

02 May
0

RELEASE: House Republicans Vote to Freeze Standard State Tax Deduction

House Republicans Vote to Freeze Standard State Tax Deduction

OKLAHOMA CITY – Republican legislators sided yet again Tuesday with the wealthy over working-class Oklahomans.

House Bill 2348 would decouple the state’s standard tax deduction from the federal standard tax deduction. The bill would freeze in state statute the standard deduction — $6,350 for single filers, $12,700 for married filers, and $9,350 for head of household – for calculating adjusted gross income.

The legislation narrowly passed the House of Representatives on Tuesday, 51-44, and was transmitted to the Senate for consideration.

Rep. Lewis Moore, R-Edmond, said fiscal analysts calculate that the bill would produce $4.4 million for the state treasury in Fiscal Year 2018 and $11 million annually thereafter.

A Republican legislator, Rep. Jason Murphey of Guthrie, noted that just last month President Trump proposed doubling the standard federal deduction. If HB 2348 is enacted and Trump’s proposal is adopted, Oklahomans who don’t itemize will lose a substantial tax benefit, opponents of the bill argued.

Rep. Forrest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City, condemned HB 2348 as an attempt to balance the state budget “on the backs of the working poor.”

GOP leaders and legislators have claimed repeatedly that “cutting taxes will improve our economy” and “put more money in people’s pockets,” said Rep. David Perryman, D-Chickasha. But because of GOP reductions in gross production taxes and income tax cuts, HB 2348 would “take more money from the pockets of working Oklahomans” to help plug a gaping hole in the state budget.

The State of Oklahoma faces a budget deficit of $878 million, and still has to repay, by June 30, $240.7 million that state Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger “borrowed” from the state’s “rainy day” fund.

HB 2348 is yet another example of Republican measures that “shift the tax burden from the wealthy to the poor,” Perryman said.

Capping the standard tax deduction would adversely affect “people who can least afford it,” because they don’t itemize their deductions, House Minority Leader Scott Inman said.

As state revenues have shrunk from multiple tax concessions for energy producers, corporations and wealthy citizens, and simultaneously the Republican majority proposes to increase motor fuel taxes by 6¢ per gallon, “Our working families have paid the price,” said Inman, D-Del City.

Inman asked Moore whether HB 2348 should require approval from three-fourths of the House membership, in accordance with State Question 640, since the bill would raise revenue.

That constitutional amendment, which Oklahoma voters adopted in 1992, decrees that any “revenue bill” originating in the state House of Representatives “may become law without being submitted to a vote of the people if the bill “receives the approval of three-fourths of the membership of the House of Representatives [76 votes] and three-fourths of the membership of the Senate [36 votes] and is submitted to the Governor for appropriate action.”

“This is not a new tax,” Moore said. “It just changes the tax.”

HB 2348, a 69-page measure, was opposed by 24 Democrats and 20 Republicans. All 51 votes in support of the measure were cast by Republicans. http://webserver1.lsb.state.ok.us/cf/2017-18%20SUPPORT%20DOCUMENTS/votes/House/HB2348_VOTES.HTM

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MIKE W. RAY
Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives
(405) 962-7819 office
(405) 245-4411 mobile

01 May
0

State’s Governor Myopic, Partisan, and Hypocritical

State’s Governor Myopic, Partisan, and Hypocritical

OKLAHOMA CITY (1 May 2017) — Oklahoma’s Republican Gov. Mary Fallin issued a statement today in which she criticized House Democrats for voting against House Bill 2365 in the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget.

HB 2365 would raise the state tax on cigarettes, now $1.03/pack, by $1.50 per pack of 20, and would dedicate the proceeds to health care.

 But HB 2365 ALSO would raise the tax on gasoline and diesel by 6 cents per gallon: to 22 cents/gallon of gasoline and 19 cents/gallon of diesel.

 The governor condemned Minority Leader Scott Inman and Democrat Reps. Ben Loring, Eric Proctor, Shane Stone and Jason Dunnington for voting “no” on HB 2365.

 Conveniently, though, Fallin failed to mention that three House Republicans — Reps. Kevin Calvey, Jason Murphey and John Bennett — also voted “no” on that bill.

 She also omitted the fact that a typical middle-class family with two vehicles would pay about $120 more per year in gas taxes if HB 2365 is enacted.

 In addition, raising motor fuels taxes in an economic swoon such as we are experiencing would inevitably deepen the doldrums, because the price of just about everything will increase.

 Mary Fallin has adamantly opposed expansion of Medicaid, which would bring in tens of millions of dollars of federal aid and would provide health insurance for thousands of Oklahomans who are uninsured.

 The governor also has been less than receptive to proposals to boost the gross production tax on oil and gas from 2% to 5% — the rate at which the “average” Oklahoman pays state income taxes — despite the fact that this is the third consecutive year our state has coped with a staggering budget shortfall.

My mother used to tell me, jokingly, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

 The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines conduct of that nature as hypocrisy: “the behavior of people who do things that they tell other people not to do…” Sound familiar, under the current circumstances?

01 May
0

RELEASE: Hispanic Cultural Day Celebrated at State Capitol

Hispanic Cultural Day Celebrated at State Capitol

OKLAHOMA CITY (1 May 2017) – The fourth floor rotunda of the State Capitol was ringed Monday with approximately three dozen exhibits set up in conjunction with the celebration of Hispanic Cultural Day 2017.

“This event is something we felt was important, given the contributions of the Hispanic community across the state, particularly at a time when we’ve been caught up in debates about immigration,” said state Rep. Monroe Nichols, coordinator of the celebration. “This is a rich history in Oklahoma and an important part of our state,” the Tulsa Democrat said.

Long before the Oklahoma Land Run 128 years ago – on 22 April 1889 – Mexican territorial claims to modern-day Oklahoma were established by 16th and 17th century explorers such as Francisco Vásquez de Coronado and Juan de Oñate, and weren’t surrendered until 1848 when the United States-Mexican War ended. Oklahoma’s cowboy culture, vocabulary, riding and ranching practices were influenced by Mexican vaqueros throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.

Nichols was aided in development of the celebration by state Reps. Shane Stone, Forrest Bennett and Mickey Dollens, all of Oklahoma City; Sen. J.J. Dossett of Owasso; and legislative assistant Jacklyn Brink-Rosen.

Among the exhibitors were the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Oklahoma City, the Oklahoma City Hispanic Chamber, El Nacional, Telemundo Oklahoma, the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), and many others.

Along with the food, music and other activities at the Capitol associated with Hispanic Cultural Day, the Oklahoma House of Representatives unanimously endorsed House Resolution 1016, which was introduced by Stone. The document commemorated the day as Hispanic Cultural Day in Oklahoma “in recognition of the heritage and culture of Hispanics and the immense contributions of Hispanics” to Oklahoma.

The “maintenance of ethnic identity and promotion of cultural pride” is important to Hispanic Oklahomans, the resolution relates. “[P]eople who trace their ancestry to the Spanish-speaking nations of Central and South America are a rapidly growing segment” of Oklahoma’s population, which now numbers approximately 400,000 Hispanics. State officials established Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 as “Hispanic Month” in Oklahoma in 1991. Also, more than 10,000 businesses in Oklahoma are owned by Hispanics, and the buying power of Hispanics has climbed to an estimated $7.8 billion, the resolution states.

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MIKE W. RAY
Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives
(405) 962-7819 office
(405) 245-4411 mobile