Blog

27 Mar
0

RELEASE: Trump Immigration Actions Do Not Keep Us Safe

Tom Perez:

DNC Chair Tom Perez released the following statement on Trump’s dangerous immigration actions that undermine law enforcement:

“Local law enforcement know their communities best and the Trump administration is trying to undermine their role by threatening to take away critical funds that make our communities safe and keep criminals off the streets.  This administration not only is trying to bully law enforcement and make them ICE agents, but they’re trying to bully immigrant families. This is not who we are as a country.  We are a country that must protect families from being torn apart, go after criminals to keep our communities safe, and support our local law enforcement. Today’s actions do none of that.”

23 Mar
0

RELEASE: House Democrats Propose a Recurring Revenue Plan

House Democrats Unveil ‘Restoring Oklahoma Budget Plan’

OKLAHOMA CITY (23 March 2017) – House Democrats unveiled their “Restoring Oklahoma Plan” of nearly $1.4 billion revenue proposals that would plug the state’s $878 million budget hole, finance a significant teacher pay raise and balance the state budget – without raising taxes on middle-class families – Minority Leader Scott Inman announced Thursday.

For the last seven weeks House Democrats have been waiting for Republicans who control the reins of state government to propose a solution to the state’s recurring budget gap, Inman said during a State Capitol news conference at which he was flanked by several members of the House Democratic Caucus.

Public education, public safety, transportation and health care – all are “in crisis,” the Del City Democrat said. “Our citizens are suffering … and they’re waiting for their leaders in this building to lead.”

At the beginning of this year’s legislative session in early February, Republican Governor Fallin proposed $840 million in new sales taxes on 164 services that would “balance the budget on the backs of middle-class families,” Inman charged. Fallin’s proposal has received no support from either the House of Representatives or the Senate, nor from Republicans or Democrats in either chamber, he noted.

Republican Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb resigned from the Governor’s Cabinet because he disagreed with her posture on the tax issue, but has offered no recommendations for plugging the huge budget hole. “All he’s done is tell us what he doesn’t like,” Inman said.

The Speaker of the House and his Republican colleagues have proposed “less than $200 million worth of revenue,” Inman continued: a cigarette tax increase, changing the way state lottery revenue is calculated, and raising taxes on owners of electric vehicles.

Therefore, the 26-member House Democratic Caucus unveiled their “Restoring Oklahoma Plan” that would “balance the budget, fund a teacher pay raise, support rural hospitals, support public transportation and support public safety.”

Yesterday, the Oklahoma House Democratic Caucus unveiled the Restoring Oklahoma Plan, and right now it's the ONLY budget proposed. You can learn more about it from Leader Scott Inman today during "Leader Inman Live" at 10:45 a.m.

Posted by Oklahoma House PAC on Friday, March 24, 2017

Measures proposed by the Democratic Caucus include:

  • Boosting the gross production tax on oil and natural gas from 2% to 5%, which would generate approximately $312 million.

“While we understand, and we agree, that oil and gas are important to our state’s economy, investment in our children and our infrastructure are mutually beneficial,” said Rep. Chuck Hoskin, D-Vinita.

“Families that earn more than $8,000 a year are taxed at the 5% rate under Oklahoma’s income-tax schedule,” Inman said recently. “We see no reason why oil and gas companies can’t pay taxes at that same rate.”

  • Reversing the state income tax cuts on high earners would generate $204 million. The Democrats propose to reinstate the 6% bracket on single filers making $100,000 and joint filers earning $200,000, and adopting a 7% bracket for single filers making at least $200,000 and joint filers who earn $400,000 or more.

“A single mom who works at Wal-Mart or Home Depot pays the same percentage in income tax as the CEO of Devon Energy,” said Rep. Eric Proctor, D-Tulsa.

  • Eliminating the capital gains exemption would produce an estimated $157 million. The State of Oklahoma allows an income exemption for profits on the sale of real estate, investments and stocks. Studies have shown this exemption provides limited to no benefit to the state.
  • Converting itemized deductions to a credit would produce an estimated $112 million.
  • Ending the tax credit for production of coal that is “nearing the end of its usefulness” would produce $4 million, said Rep. Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City.
  • Eliminating a vendor discount on sales taxes: $26 million.
  • Capping the new jobs tax credit at $25 million annually would save taxpayers an estimated $27 million. The State of Oklahoma paid more than $57 million on that tax credit in 2016.
  • Requiring combined corporate reporting: $100 million. Oklahoma does not require businesses that have a nexus in this state to report all of their profits on state income tax forms. This effectively enables large, multistate corporations to harbor profits made in Oklahoma in other states that have lower corporate income tax rates.
  • Eliminating the Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Credit: $1 million. (The cap has grown to $5 million in future years.) The state should not allow the credit to be claimed in any year where any fund for public education experiences a shortfall or failure, or when the amount of state appropriations is insufficient to meet the needs of a majority of public school students, Democrats contend.
  • Removing sales tax exemptions on specific industries: $290 million. These would include, for example, the sales tax exemption for use of electricity and water by the oil and gas industry. It also would include certain entertainment productions, such as motion picture productions. These exemptions are offset by tax credits that are available to those industries.

House Democrats oppose increasing taxes on services, but compromised on several services that Governor Fallin suggested in her budget proposal (see attached list). “We did this in an effort to find common ground and reach across the aisle without hurting middle-class families,” Inman explained

  • “Sunsetting” the wind industry tax credit at the end of this year.
  • Raising the cigarette tax by $1.50 per pack: $160 million initially. In another effort to “reach across the aisle,” House Democrats agreed to support the cigarette tax increase proposed by Speaker of the House McCall “so long as it’s part of a broad-based revenue and budget package,” Inman said.

“We will support increasing the cigarette tax as a response to take care of our citizens’ health, thereby freeing up healthcare resources by instilling healthier habits,” said Rep. Cyndi Munson, D-Oklahoma City. The increased revenue “must go to fund Medicaid provider rates, uncompensated care, or another critical health care, as it is not a reliable source of funding,” she said.

Republican State Treasurer Ken Miller has said the Republican-controlled Legislature erred in reducing the state income tax without replacing it with another source of revenue, and State Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger has conceded that Oklahoma needs to restore a reliable revenue stream, Inman noted.

“What we Democrats have proposed are sensible solutions to counter Republican tax measures that have siphoned nearly $4 billion from the state treasury through tax cuts, tax credits and tax rebates,” Inman said.

On the same day that House Republicans held budget meetings outlining what 14.5% budget cuts would mean to core services “and failed to offer any revenue solutions to protect Oklahoma citizens from those drastic cuts,” House Democrats “instead focused on finding revenues to invest in core services in order to restore Oklahoma’s prosperity,” Inman said. The GOP’s Oklahoma “looks like 14.5% budget cuts,” he asserted. “Our citizens cannot afford those. We have to restore Oklahoma’s future, and we can do that through revenues, not budget cuts.”

-30-

23 Mar
0

RELEASE: House Dem Caucus Legislation Update

Legislation About Dyslexia, 4-Day School Weeks Passes House; AIDS/HIV Education Update Spurned; No-Mandates-Without-Funding Measure Shelved

OKLAHOMA CITY (23 March 2017) – Legislation that would require teaching candidates to receive training in the detection of dyslexia, and the education of students who are poor readers, passed the state House of Representatives.

Dyslexia, a reading disorder, can be managed through early identification, said state Rep. Ed Cannaday, a retired school teacher/administrator. “We have effective interventions, but first, educators must be able to identify the condition.” To address this issue, the Porum Democrat filed House Bill 1789.

That measure would require educators in kindergarten through third grade who teach early childhood education, elementary education and/or special education to receive quality training in “research-based …strategies for instruction, assessment and intervention for literacy development” for all students, including “advanced readers, typically developing readers and struggling readers who are coping with a range of challenges,” including English learners and students afflicted with “handicapping conditions and learning disabilities such as dyslexia.

Dyslexia is characterized by trouble with reading despite normal intelligence. Different people are affected to varying degrees. Problems may include difficulties in spelling words, reading quickly, writing words, “sounding out” words in the head, pronouncing words when reading aloud, and understanding what one reads.

Two-thirds of Oklahoma fourth graders read below proficiency levels in 2015, he said; blame was attributed at least in part to suspected dyslexia.

“Oklahoma’s institutions of higher education are not adequately preparing our teachers to identify this serious disability,” Cannaday said. Consequently, HB 1789 declares, “It is the intent of the Legislature to ensure that teachers graduating from institutions within the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education have the knowledge and skills to effectively teach reading to all children.”

The bill sailed through the state House, 84-9, and was transmitted to the Senate for consideration.

A companion measure, House Bill 2008 by Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, would create the Dyslexia and Education Task Force. Over the next year and a half the 19-member panel would create a handbook that would “provide guidance for schools, students and parents in identification, intervention and support” of students afflicted with dyslexia.

That bill was approved unanimously by the House, 96-0, and was delivered to the Senate.

4-Day School Week Report Required

Every school district that adopts a four-day school week would be required by House Bill 1684 to submit a specific plan to the State Board of Education.

The report would “detail the goals sought to be achieved” by enacting a shorter school week, the “intended educational and fiscal benefits,” and the “anticipated impacts our outcomes the plan will have” in the school district, “including a discussion of any potential disadvantages that have been identified…”

Opponents argued that the measure was tantamount to an unfunded mandate.

Opponents also emphasized that school districts have scaled back to four-day school weeks to trim expenses because their state funding has declined dramatically in recent years. At last count, 218 sites in 97 school districts have enacted four-day school weeks.

Because of the latest in a series of state revenue failures, state school funding for the current fiscal year is more than $100 million lower than it was last year. In fact, the Legislature’s appropriation for public education for the current Fiscal Year 2017 is less than the appropriation was in FY 2009, fiscal ledgers show. During that same eight-year period, student enrollment grew by almost 49,000, to 693,710, according to records of the State Department of Education.

Oklahoma’s per-pupil funding for public schools fell 26.9% between FY 2008 and FY 2017 – the deepest cuts in the nation.

HB 1684 failed on a 45-43 bipartisan vote March 14, but squeaked by, 53-38, on reconsideration Tuesday night and was delivered to the Senate.

AIDS/HIV Education in Schools

Legislation that would have required updated curricula and medically accurate materials for AIDS and HIV education in public schools was proposed in House Bill 1538.

The original curriculum used in Oklahoma’s public schools was introduced in 1987, but since then scientists and researchers have made great strides in discovering the causes of the disease and developing medicines to treat it, said Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, principal author of the bill.

Nevertheless, the House rejected the legislation Wednesday, 41-47. Supporters of the measure numbered 23 Democrats and 18 Republicans, including Majority Leader Jon Echols, Appropriations and Budget Committee Chair Leslie Osborn, former school teacher/administrator/coach Dennis Casey, and former school teacher Rhonda Baker. All of the “no” votes were cast by Republicans.

No Mandates Without Money to Implement

House Bill 1115 would have barred the Legislature from enacting any measure that creates a new mandate, or amends an existing mandate, “in a way that increases costs” on public school districts unless the Legislature first appropriates sufficient funds to underwrite the mandate “or another source of funding is … provided to pay the cost” of the edict.

However, the bill failed to “make the cut”. HB 1115 passed the Appropriations and Budget Committee but was not brought up for a vote by the full House before the deadline for voting on bills and joint resolutions in their house of origin expired today. The proposal remains alive but dormant.

-30-

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1777423012538856&id=100008135227880

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

23 Mar
0

RELEASE: House Splits on Health Care Authority Measure

House Splits on Measure to Require Health Care Authority To Verify Eligibility and Identity of Every Medicaid Applicant

OKLAHOMA CITY (22 March 2017) – Legislation that would require the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to verify the eligibility of every person who applies for Medicaid health-care benefits, and require every applicant to complete an identity authentication process, cleared the House of Representatives Wednesday night.

House Bill 1270 by Rep. Elise Hall, R-Oklahoma City, passed on a 63-25 vote. Every vote in support of the measure was cast by a Republican. Four Republicans joined 21 Democrats in opposition to the bill.

HB 1270 would direct the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) to verify the eligibility of every applicant for Medicaid. An amendment proposed by Rep. Collin Walke, D-Oklahoma City, deleted any reference to SNAP (the food-stamp program) and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), leaving the bill focused exclusively on Medicaid.

Hall said her intent is to ensure that “people who truly need public assistance get it.” The State of Oklahoma has “limited resources,” she said during a House committee meeting earlier this month.

The federal government estimates that nationwide, 10% of all Medicaid payments are fraudulent, Hall said.

Rep. David Perryman said records indicate most of the fraud in Medicaid occurs among medical providers, not patients. The cheating in Medicaid occurs primarily among providers who submit fraudulent invoices to the government, the Chickasha Democrat maintained.

Allegations of fraud among Medicaid providers is the province of the Attorney General’s office, said Hall. She said the state is being defrauded via “eligibility errors.” Her focus, she said, is fraud committed by individuals “receiving the benefits.” She wants their “liquid assets – bank accounts and cash” – to be monitored annually, at a minimum, but preferably quarterly.

An estimate of the potential cost of auditing all Medicaid beneficiaries once a year or every three months was unavailable Wednesday night.

According to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, almost 826,000 Oklahomans (two-thirds of them children and one-third of them adults) were enrolled in SoonerCare (this state’s Medicaid program) in February.

Considering the size of Medicaid, “Of course there’s some fraud,” said Rep. Forrest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City. “But don’t cancel the whole program. There’s fraud in corporate welfare, but we don’t cut their programs.”

Oklahoma has “a low error rate” in its SoonerCare program, said Rep. Regina Goodwin, D-Tulsa.

In fact, the OHCA’s audited error rate – in its eligibility approvals as well as its claims payments – is less than one-half of 1%, ledgers reflect.

Oklahoma’s Medicaid program is funded with approximately $5 billion; of that amount, about $1.7 billion is state tax dollars and the remainder is federal aid. The OHCA’s share of that figure is $1 billion, and the $700 million balance is allocated to the Department of Human Services, etc.

Hall contended her legislation could save Oklahoma as much as $80 million per year.

House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, was skeptical of that estimate, asserting that it simply came from “out of the sky.”

The average Medicaid benefit for a recipient in Oklahoma is $6,370 per year, Inman said. To achieve a tax savings of up to $80 million from Medicaid audits would require nothing short of “a financial windfall,” he said. “Over 50,000 poor people would have to somehow luck into winning the lottery, or their Aunt Irene died and left them a fortune.”

“Has there been evidence of inappropriate receipt of benefits?” Rep. Meloyde Blancett, D-Tulsa, asked Hall during the House Rules Committee meeting March 1.

Not in Oklahoma, but in other states, Hall said. News stories indicate several lottery winners in Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan and New York improperly received public welfare benefits.

For example, a New York resident who began receiving $1,000 each week in 1998 after winning a scratch-off lottery game was charged with fraud in 2012 after collecting more than $4,000 in welfare benefits. And a Michigan woman received $5,475 in food and medical benefits after winning $1 million in the lottery.

HB 1270 would instruct the OHCA to review information about program recipients that might affect their continued eligibility for public benefits. “Often times the state is checking these only once a year,” Hall claimed.

However, the Oklahoma Lottery Commission says it routinely checks the names of lottery winners against DHS child support enforcement records; against Oklahoma Tax Commission rolls, to determine whether a winner has any tax payments in arrears; and with the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, to determine whether a lottery winner is collecting unemployment benefits.

Hall said she just wants to “make sure there’s no fraud and abuse in our benefit programs.” Her legislation would demonstrate that “we’re wisely using tax dollars,” she said.

She said her measure is modeled on legislation from other states. Perryman said HB 1270 is “cookie-cutter legislation” patterned after a proposal developed by the Foundation for Government Accountability, where former state Rep. Tom Newell, R-Seminole, is now a senior fellow.

During the committee meeting, Perryman described HB 1270 as “a solution looking for a problem.”

-30-

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1777208359226988&id=100008135227880

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

22 Mar
0

RELEASE: Senate Democrats Statement on Shortey Resignation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Democratic Leader John Sparks
Capitol: (405) 521-5553

Oklahoma Senate Democrats comment on resignation of Ralph Shortey

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Senate Democratic caucus issued a statement Wednesday through their leader, Sen. John Sparks, D-Norman, commenting on the resignation of Ralph Shortey.

“We are aware that Ralph Shortey has resigned his seat in the Oklahoma Senate. We are glad he has submitted his resignation effective immediately and that he made this decision in a fairly prompt and straightforward manner.

The people of Senate District 44 deserve a senator they can rely on and respect. They deserve to replace him with a senator who will be focused on the needs and concerns of southwest Oklahoma City as quickly as possible.

Therefore, we are calling on the governor to promptly set a special election at the earliest possible date to fill Ralph Shortey’s now vacant seat.

Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with all those affected by this situation.”

# # #