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30 Jan
0

RELEASE: Legislation to Restore Tax Credit Would Benefit

Legislation to Restore Tax Credit Would Benefit
Approximately 220,000 Families Statewide

OKLAHOMA CITY (30 January 2017) – A measure has been filed to restore a provision that the Legislature deleted from the earned income tax credit last year to help plug a $1.3 billion state budget deficit.

House Bill 1474 was introduced by Rep. George E. Young, Sr., to counter the adverse effects of Senate Bill 1604 enacted last year.

The Oklahoma EITC previously was “refundable,” which meant that families received the full value of the tax credit even if it exceeded their income-tax liability. “Refundability is critical to the success of the EITC because it allows the credit to reward work and support families even if workers have small state income-tax bills,” the Oklahoma Policy Institute reported.

SB 1604 eliminated the refundability feature, effective with the 2016 tax year, and thereby will increase state income tax collections by an estimated $29 million.

SB 1604 reduced or eliminated the benefit for nearly two-thirds of the 334,000 Oklahoma families who claim the tax credit, and thus slashed its value for working families by almost three-quarters. More than 5,400 of those families live in Representative Young’s legislative district.

Oklahoma’s earned income tax credit is equal to 5% of the federal EITC. The maximum tax credit for a family with two children has been $277; for a family with three children, $312. The credit is designed to encourage work by supplementing earned income from lower-wage jobs.

The state’s EITC was created in 2000 during the administration of Republican Gov. Frank Keating, and had enjoyed bipartisan support as a means of keeping working families out of poverty.

However, because of SB 1604, a single mother with two children and working full-time at $10 an hour will experience a tax increase of $231, and a married couple with three children and earning $20,800 a year will realize a tax hike of $313, the Oklahoma Policy Institute calculated. The average loss will be $91 per family, according to an analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

Young said SB 1604 had a detrimental effect in multiple ways on his House District 99, which stretches from northeastern to northwestern Oklahoma City.

District 99 receives the largest state EITC benefit payments: $737,600 in 2013 (the latest year for which data is available).

The district has the greatest number of families receiving the EITC: 5,487 in 2013.

81% of the EITC recipients in House District 99 are “families raising children,” Young said.

The financial loss to the district attributed to enactment of SB 1604 is more than half a million dollars; the benefit in 2013 was $545,182, ledgers reflect, “the largest EITC amount of any legislative district in this state,” Young said.

“Why this burden should be placed on the people of my district – where the very benefit of this credit has been doing the most good – is beyond any sensible reasoning.”

The Earned Income Tax Credit can be claimed only by people who have earned income – that is, employment income from a job. They pay income taxes through payroll deduction. The credit helps low-wage workers avoid paying a disproportionate percentage of their income in taxes and is the single most effective “program” to lift people out of poverty, Young said.

Athough EITC recipients don’t owe additional taxes at the end of the year, payroll taxes are withheld from their paychecks throughout the year, he added.

The EITC was created with bipartisan support from Republicans and Democrats alike “to encourage working families struggling in low-income jobs,” Young said. Its purpose, in part, was to help working families climb out of poverty, he said.

EITC recipients pay their “fair share,” Young emphasized. They pay income taxes and sales taxes, and many pay property taxes, too. The people who qualify for the earned income tax credit pay a higher percentage of their annual income in taxes than do the wealthy, he said.

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

27 Jan
0

RELEASE: House Democratic Leader Discusses Education Issues

House Democratic Leader Discusses Education Issues,
Taxes, Politics, Health Care, Criminal Justice Reform
During First ‘Newsmakers’ Program of 2017

OKLAHOMA CITY (27 January 2017) – When it convenes to begin work on Feb. 6, the state Legislature will be confronted with yet another massive budget shortfall.

The combination of persistent revenue shortages and constant budget cuts dominated the first “Newsmakers” program of 2017, which was moderated by Arnold Hamilton and featured state Rep. Scott Inman. Hamilton is the owner/publisher of the Oklahoma Observer, and Inman, D-Del City, is the Minority Leader in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. The event was held Thursday evening at Full Circle Bookstore.

This year’s legislative session will be “all about money,” Hamilton predicted, and asked Inman, “Success or failure of this session depends on what?”

The last six to eight years “have been some really challenging times” in Oklahoma, Inman replied. During his first term in the Legislature (2007-08), he said “We had a billion-dollar surplus.” In contrast, 2017 will be the third consecutive year the state has experienced a severe budget shortage: at least $868 million this year (and perhaps as much as $960 million or more), $1.3 billion last year, and $611 million in 2015.

“The single greatest issue is whether we can pay our bills,” Inman said. Oklahoma “for the last six to eight years has not paid its bills.”

The Republican-controlled Legislature has chipped away at agency budgets in recent years.

As an illustration, the state Department of Veterans Affairs has been cut by about 23%, Inman said. Core services of state government have been “decimated,” he said. More than half of all appropriated state agencies – 39 of 73 – have experienced budget cuts of 20% or more since FY 2009.
Education Budgets Slashed

Even though virtually everyone agrees that a well-educated workforce is essential to sustain a prosperous economy, public schools in Oklahoma have been cut by 23.6%, more than any other state in the nation. Last year the Legislature reduced Higher Education’s budget by almost 17%, and Career and Technology Education was cut by 12.5%.

The budget of the State Department of Education has been reduced in four of the last nine years. The agency’s $2.426 billion appropriation for FY 2017 is $105 million less than the $2.531 billion the agency was appropriated nine years ago, in 2009, House Fiscal Division ledgers reflect.

Meanwhile, enrollment in public schools has grown by 48,000 students over the last eight years: from 644,754 in school year 2008-09 to 692,670 in school year 2015-16, an average increase of 6,000 students per year during that period. Conversely, per-pupil expenditures have declined 8.6% since 2010 relative to increasing enrollment, records show.

When Hamilton asked whether a teacher pay raise is conceivable this year, Inman answered, “I think there’s a chance for a $1,000 pay raise, but the devil is in the details.” With a budget hole approaching $1 billion, the likelihood of a significant pay raise is “pretty slim.”
School Administration Expenditures Limited by Law

Hamilton mentioned the contradiction between the Republican mantra of “local control” and GOP efforts to limit salaries of school superintendents across the state and to force smaller school districts to consolidate.

Compulsory consolidation of school districts is a political ‘third rail’, Inman observed. He also pointed out that school districts are limited by law on the amount they can devote to administration, including principals as well as the superintendent. Districts with fewer than 500 students are capped at 8% of the total school budget; schools with 501 to 1,500 students are limited to 7%; and administrative expenses in districts with 1,500+ students are capped at 5%.

“What’s offensive is trying to take that decision away from the local school board,” Inman asserted.

When asked about the status of school vouchers and school choice proposals, Inman said, “I think we still have the votes to defeat that, but each year we get closer” to its passage.
Even GOP Now Concedes ‘We Have a Revenue Problem’

Gov. Mary Fallin and her Republican colleagues insisted for years that Oklahoma had “a spending problem,” Inman pointed out. Last year, though, she and her top executives conceded that “we have a revenue problem.”

“We have a structural budget deficit problem,” Republican State Treasurer Ken Miller said Thursday during the fourth annual budget summit sponsored by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. And David Blatt, executive director of the institute, projected that by 2030 the state budget deficit will soar to $2 billion “based on current policies.”

The GOP’s solutions last year for plugging the $1.3 billion budget gap, Inman recalled, included forcing all Oklahoma motor vehicle owner to buy a new license plate, which will produce $18.5 million, and cutting the earned income tax credit claimed by low-income working citizens, which will save the state treasury $29 million and will cost low-income working mothers an average of approximately $230 per year. “That was sinful, immoral,” Inman declared.

Meanwhile, the Republicans adamantly refused to delay or repeal the latest state income-tax cut, which carved $150 million more annually from the state treasury. Repeated cuts to the income tax – from 7% down to 5% – have sheared $1 billion out of the state treasury.

The Republicans also have spurned efforts to index the gross production tax to the market price of oil, which would increase the levy as crude oil prices rise and lower the tax when the price of oil declines.
Financing Government Via Fees and Debts, Not Taxes

Instead, the GOP continues to balance the state budget “on the backs of poor folks and retirees,” from one-time sources of revenue such as agency fines and fees, and with “a credit card,” Inman charged.

Last year, for example, Republican legislators approved $200 million worth of bonds for transportation improvements, which freed up cash that was used for other needs but created a long-term debt. More of the same is anticipated this year, Inman said ruefully.

In a related matter, Inman was asked about the impact of State Question 640, which voters statewide endorsed in a March 1992 special election. The constitutional amendment requires any state tax increase to be approved by either a statewide vote of the people, or by approval of three-fourths of both the House of Representatives (76 of the 101 members) and the Senate (36 of the 48 members).

No major tax increase has been enacted in Oklahoma in the nearly 25 years since SQ 640 was adopted, and Inman told the questioner that there’s “not enough sentiment” to repeal the stricture.
Health Care in Oklahoma is Precarious

Turning to the subject of health care, Inman was queried about the possibility that a cigarette tax increase will be resurrected this year.

House Democrats supported the proposed $1.50 per pack increase last year so long as it was directly tied to expansion of the state Medicaid program that serves low-income citizens.

Health care is critical in this state. Since 2011, nine Oklahoma hospitals have filed for bankruptcy, two have closed down, and two provide physician/diagnostic services only but no in-patient care nor emergency room services, according to Rick Snyder of the Oklahoma Hospital Association.

Just when it appeared that an agreement was about to be reached last year on the cigarette tax, former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn and the right-wing Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs expressed their opposition. Subsequently, Republican legislators shifted tactics and proposed boosting the tobacco tax but depositing the extra money in the state’s General Revenue Fund. As a result, House Democrats locked up against the proposed tax hike and it died.

Inman said he told Fallin, who refused to expand Oklahoma’s Medicaid program, “We’re here not because cigarettes are too cheap but because too many Oklahomans are uninsured.”

Criminal Justice Reforms Approved
O
n another matter, Inman said that although Fallin almost certainly will claim criminal justice reform as a signature achievement during her tenure in the Governor’s Office, it was House Democrats, not Republicans, who “pushed it across the finish line.”

Although the Legislature passed, and voters statewide endorsed, a package of reform measures last year, the changes are not retroactive, which explains why Oklahoma’s prisons are “chock full” today, Inman explained. He told the audience that Republican Gov. Frank Keating was the driving force behind enactment of legislation that requires certain criminals to serve 85% of their prison sentences before they can be considered eligible for parole. As a direct result, Oklahoma became “tough on crime” rather than “smart on crime,” Inman said.

Term Limits Here to Stay,
2018 Gubernatorial Election Eyed

In response to another question, Inman said there’s little chance that 12-year legislative term limits will be repealed any time soon, if ever. Term limits, which Oklahoma voters imposed by constitutional amendment in 1990, have cost the Legislature “institutional memory” and have increased the power of lobbyists and staff members. In addition, because they’re term-limited, legislators are not held accountable for the laws they propose and pass, Inman said. “It’s a horrible system.”

When asked about the national political scene and whether he intends to run for Governor in 2018, Inman said that Donald Trump “may be the greatest thing that’s happened to the Oklahoma Democratic Party in a long time.”

He noted that Republican Frank Keating was elected governor two years after Bill Clinton was elected president; Democrat Brad Henry was elected governor two years after George W. Bush became president; and Republican Mary Fallin was elected two years after Barack Obama was first elected president.

“I spent the better part of the last year traveling around the state,” talking to voters and political figures, Inman said. He said he’s “giving it strong consideration” and expects to make a decision “within a few months.”
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MIKE W. RAY
Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives
(405) 962-7819 office
(405) 245-4411 mobile

27 Jan
0

RELEASE Charter Schools Have Regulatory and Financial Edge Over ‘Traditional’ Public Schools

Charter Schools Have Regulatory and Financial
Edge Over ‘Traditional’ Public Schools
By Rep. David Perryman

Although many early pilgrimages to North America were based on a desire for freedom from governmentally imposed religious dictates, when the colonists pushed back against the British Crown 150 years later their primary complaint was taxation without representation.

Consequently, the bedrocks upon which our government is founded are that (1) neither the government nor the will of the majority will dictate anyone’s religious beliefs and (2) citizens will always control taxation and expenditures through the power of the ballot box.

Our representative democracy preserves our right to “vote out” elected officials who fail to be accountable with public tax dollars. When voters fail in their duty, the fault lies with no one but themselves.

Alarmingly, the proliferation of charter schools in Oklahoma is evidence of voters failing in their duty. For years, rural legislators tenaciously protected the local control of education in the communities they represented. Unfortunately, political cash has recently tilted the balance of power from those who protect the authority of voters and the boards of education they elect to those who allow public tax dollars to be siphoned into the pockets of corporate charter school sponsors.

In 2015, Senate Bill 782 created a procedure to allow the State Department of Education to approve a charter school to be located in any community in the state even if the locally elected school board objected. The legislation passed primarily along party lines with only five Republican legislators voting with the Democrats in opposition to this bill that undermined local control.

Since then, two charter schools have been approved in rural areas of Oklahoma. The first was in Carlton Landing, a secluded, self-contained and planned picturesque community of upscale homes on the shores of Lake Eufaula. The second was approved by the State Board of Education last week over the objection of the Seminole Public School Board.

Not only are charter schools exempt from many of the rules with which traditional public schools must comply, study after study shows that charter schools perform lower or no better than traditional public schools. However, the real rub is the financial drain that charter schools put on already underfunded traditional community schools.

During an era when many are calling for further school consolidation, charter school laws actually create costly additional districts. For instance, in FY 2016, traditional public schools received an average per pupil share of $1,560.87 in state aid while the average charter school received $3,034.60 per pupil in state aid – almost twice as much.

Appropriations to charter schools border on preposterous. For instance in December of each year, state aid payments are adjusted based on enrollment and revenues. In December 2015, students in charter schools comprised only 2.8% of total enrollment – yet when $25.7 million was released to help desperately hurting Oklahoma schools, 69% ($17.7 million) went to charter schools.

Even more frustrating is that of that $17.7 million, nearly one-fourth, or more than $4.1 million, went to a single “virtual” charter school that at the time of the payment remained under a three-year investigation by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.

The right of a local community to control its manner and method of education seemed relatively fundamental. Unfortunately, strategically placed political contributions have had the tendency to cause even rural legislators to forget about what is good for their communities. Now we only have to wait for voters to remember that they have the power to change their legislator for one who will truly help public education.

Questions or comments? Call 405-557-7401 or write to David.Perryman@OKHouse.gov.

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

21 Jan
0

DNC Statement on the Women’s March on Washington

For Immediate Release
January 21, 2017

Contact: DNC Press – 202-863-8148

DNC Statement on the Women’s March on Washington

“Democrats are proud to stand with the vast crowds of women and men protesting peacefully at the Women’s March on Washington and in cities across the country and around the world today. This event has been a breathtaking demonstration of a profound and immutable fact – that there will always be more that unites us than divides us.

“We saw it in the vote count. We see it in the polls. But from yesterday to today we saw it with our own eyes in our own streets: more Americans standing with hope than with fear, with love than with hatred.”

“After the inauguration of the least popular president in modern history – a man who has openly said awful things about women – today’s brilliant show of love, mutual respect and staunch resolve to fight together for a brighter tomorrow has given our nation new hope. We will not turn back the clock on women’s health, women’s rights or civil rights. And we will continue marching forward, arm in arm, to ensure that the young girls of this nation will have the same opportunities as their brothers.

“Let there be no doubt: our nation has lurched off course. But today we saw the movement that will chart a course back to our shared American destiny.”

20 Jan
0

STATEMENT The Osage Nation Reacquires Lost Land

For Immediate Release
January 20, 2017

Media Contact:
Angela Allmond, Communications Director
405-427-3366
Oklahoma Democratic Party

The Osage Nation Reacquires Lost Land

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Democratic Party is pleased to learn that the Osage Nation has regained back 43,000 acres of sacred land. The Osage Nation reacquired the lost land from media mogul Ted Tuner for a reported $74 million.

Chief Standing Bear is focused on preserving the tribe’s history stating “I hear the voices of our ancestors right here,” and preserving a portion of the land for bison, hunting and fishing in the future.

Having owned nearly 1.5 million acres in the late 1800’s, the Osage Nation lands dwindled to 5 percent by 2014. The land will eventually be returned to reservation status, but the tribe can begin operating the land in any manner they wish once the federal process is complete.

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The mission of the Oklahoma Democratic Party is to represent working people in Oklahoma and the best way to accomplish that is to elect Democrats to all areas of government. Oklahoma Democrats are progressive and sensible. We are optimistic about the future, and we are determined to see Oklahoma’s traditional values upheld. More information about the Oklahoma Democratic Party can be found at www.okdemocrats.org or by calling (405) 427-3366.