Matt Trotter

Reporter

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN. 

He has a master's degree from Arizona State University, where he spent a semester on the first reporting staff of Cronkite News Service's Washington, D.C., bureau. As a grad student, he won awards for multimedia journalism and in-depth TV reporting.

Matt is from Southern California, so he's slowly following Route 66 across the United States. He would have made it Chicago by now, but he's not a fan of long drives.

Ways to Connect

Oklahoma Watch

A bill expected to net millions in revenue next year by expanding the definition of “noncompliant taxpayer” goes to the governor.

House Bill 2343 says the definition now applies when filings are missed on any tax but income for two out of 24 months. Currently, the definition only applies to missed sales tax filings and payments.

Sen. Roger Thompson said the change doesn't mean the Oklahoma Tax Commission will suddenly have broad powers to go after anyone in the state.

A new A–F school grading system appears set to become law in Oklahoma.

To comply with new federal education law, House Bill 1693 says schools will get several A–F grades on individual indicators along with one overall letter grade. The bill sets Oklahoma's indicators as statewide assessments, high school graduation rates, statewide academic measures for elementary and middle schools, English language proficiency for English learners, and one yet to be determined.

KWGS News

City of Tulsa water and sewer rates are set to increase again this year, and stormwater rates will likely go up, too, after no increase last year.

The city water and sewer department said those rates need to go up 5 and 9 percent to keep up with the cost of maintaining the systems.

Because of less spending and more revenue this fiscal year, the department had more money to put into its capital fund. Department rate modeler Eric Lee said that helps defer rate increases.

KWGS News File Photo

City of Tulsa and Tulsa Public Schools officials got together Wednesday to discuss education funding they describe as “beyond crisis.”

Loose ideas for local funding came up, including a package for voters to decide on and special taxing districts to benefit education. TPS Superintendent Deborah Gist said there are still a lot of legal unknowns when it comes to funding outside the state aid formula.

OETA

The Oklahoma legislature's Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget passed five measures at its first meeting Monday afternoon.

Altogether, they represent an estimated $27.9 million increase in state revenue, or 3 percent of the $878 million budget hole.

A proposal to scale back Oklahoma’s film tax incentive was among the measures. House Bill 2344 caps annual payments of the rebate at $4 million rather than $5 million. Oklahoma Secretary of Commerce and Tourism Deby Snodgrass said the incentive review commission wanted to eliminate the rebate.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

Oklahoma House Democrats had a unified message on the floor Tuesday.

Whether it was a measure about student loans or airport inspections, nearly every Republican running a bill during the morning session was asked the same questions: Does this bill have any recurring revenue? Does this bill have any impact on this year's budget?

There was the occasional testy exchange, such as when Rep. Cory Williams asked Rep. Elise Hall about her specialty license plate bill.

pixabay.com

State representatives passed a bill Monday changing some requirements for royalty payments oil and gas companies must make to landowners.

Among the changes is removing a provision those payments earn compound interest if energy companies hold onto the money longer than they’re supposed to.

"That is nothing but a gift to the oil companies," said Rep. David Perryman. "Why should we give the oil company the benefit of using your constitutents’ and my constituents’ money? Why do we have to be their banker?"

Brumbaugh Family

The Oklahoma House paid tribute Monday to Rep. David Brumbaugh, who died suddenly this weekend at 56.

House business waited half an hour as Brumbaugh’s colleagues honored the three-term state legislator. Members sang "Amazing Grace," and a few spoke about Brumbaugh. The Rev. Derrek Belase’s invocation focused on him.

"Rep. Brumbaugh’s deeds will live on well beyond his life, and most of them will not be found in House journals dating back to 2010, as important as those are, but in the way that he lived, led and loved," Belase said.

A proposal for a $6,000 teacher pay raise over three years moved forward in the Oklahoma Senate this week.

That includes a $1,000 raise next year. How likely is it that will happen?

"Right now, not very. I think — still think — we end up with a framework to move forward, but we've got a lot of ground to make up in just the normal budget before we start spending more money," said Senate President Pro Tem Mike Schulz.

Schulz said lawmakers are passing the measure to keep a vehicle for teacher raises alive, but the language is likely to change.

File photo

Oklahoma House and Senate leaders have said this session will be all about the budget. Speaker Charles McCall says the real work is about to begin.

"Multiple vehicles have been introduced. We will start rolling language into those next week and moving those through committee to the floor of the House," McCall said. "I'm very excited about the timing of this. As I've said in the past, we are ahead of schedule."

Bills requiring only a simple majority will come first, and those requiring a three-fourths supermajority will be taken up later.

Oklahoma lawmakers continue work on a bill to allow out-of-state companies to sell health insurance in the state.

Senate Bill 478 will go to conference committee if it passes the house, as it was changed to apply only to individual coverage. Critics maintain out-of-state insurers will skimp on Oklahoma-mandated coverage. Rep. Lewis Moore addressed concerns the bill would be bad for families who just recently saw autism coverage become required by state law.

A House committee advances a science education bill panned by critics as unnecessary and an opening for misinformation.

Rep. David Brumbaugh says the intent of Senate Bill 393 is to promote critical thinking by exposing students to a broader range of scientific data than what textbooks offer.

"Aristotle, even this far back, talked about that, that, you know, the mind that can entertain, uh, different thoughts without, you know, changing their mind but looking — reason obeys itself, OK?" Brumbaugh said.

File photo

The Oklahoma House adopts a resolution recognizing pornography as a public health crisis.

Bartlesville Rep. Travis Dunlap ran the resolution, which was drafted by anti-human trafficking nonprofit Unlock Freedom and is similar to measures in other state legislatures.

The resolution, however, mentions a pornography-human trafficking connection just once, instead focusing on harms to porn viewers and society, including "a detrimental effect on the family unit as it is linked to lessening the desire of young men to marry, dissatisfaction in marriage and infidelity."

KWGS News

A judge ruled Wednesday on the admissibility of several pieces of controversial evidence in the manslaughter trial of Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby.

Radio chatter between Tulsa police officers in a helicopter over the scene of Terence Crutcher’s fatal shooting on Sept. 16, 2016, will be allowed.

File Photo

Oklahoma is one of just three states with free universal pre-K, and enrollment is now open.

"We really want folks to get enrolled before the summer so that districts have time to plan for the space in the classroom, because we know what an impact pre-K is making for our kids in our community," said ImpactTulsa's Autumn Worten.

One in three Tulsa-area four-year-olds — that's 3,000 kids — aren’t going to pre-K. Worten said the benefits can’t be overstated.

Margaret Hudson Program

A program for pregnant teens that’s struggling with grant funding losses gets a big gift.

Saint Francis volunteers, led by Rebecca Darrow, have donated $100,000 to the Margaret Hudson Program, which needs more than $400,000 to finish this fiscal year.

"We still have a little ways to go, but it definitely has helped us in the process of raising the funds that we need," said Margaret Hudson Program Executive Director Betina Tillman.

The program is down more than $700,000 in funding between losses of state and United Way grants, prompting cutbacks in on-site child care

File Photo

The Oklahoma House appropriations and budget subcommittee on education passed several funding measures Monday, but none dealt with teacher pay raises.

One was a plan to potentially overhaul state funding for public schools. Senate Bill 261 calls for the formation of a task force to present recommendations for improving the state aid formula by the end of this year.

Rep. Dennis Casey said any time you change the formula, there will be winners and losers.

Tweaks may be coming to the state scholarship program known as Oklahoma’s Promise.

Among the provisions of Senate Bill is a stipulation the scholarships can’t be spent on remedial courses that don’t earn college credits.

"Put that remedial support within the context of a credit-earning course so that student is making progress but is getting those supplemental academic supports that they need," said Bryce Fair, who oversees grants and scholarships for the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

Heading to ONEOK Field, Guthrie Green or another Brady Arts District stop this weekend? Be aware things will look a little different.

Protected bike lanes have been painted on Detroit Avenue and Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard between the Brady Arts District and OSU Tulsa. You’ll park left of the bike lane rather than along the curb. That might seem weird, but on-street parking spaces form the barrier between cyclists and cars.

City Traffic Engineer Lisa Simpson said there’s also eye-catching green paint in certain areas drivers should pay attention to.

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services paints a bleak picture of fiscal year 2018.

The DHS operational budget this year is $733 million. The agency recently got a $34 million supplemental appropriation to finish this fiscal year after only receiving 10 months of funding at the start.

If DHS gets a flat appropriation of $680.8 million — fiscal year 2017's initial appropriation plus the supplemental funding — the agency will be at least $53 million short.

With seven weeks to go until the 56th Oklahoma legislature adjourns for the year, the state is yet to see a budget from lawmakers.

They’ve also missed the statutory deadline to pass an education budget for the 13th year in a row.

Senate President Pro Tem Mike Schulz said there’s no need to panic.

"Budget work goes on year-round. Our appropriators are never not looking at the budget and working," Schulz said. "I think we're right on time where we need to be in this session to get a product out by the end of May and a balanced budget passed."

Lisha Newman / Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation

A proposal to put more of the Illinois River under scenic river protections gets stuck in the legislature.

A House committee voted against Senate Bill 75, which would move the boundary from Barron Fork Creek to the Horseshoe Bend public boat ramp at Lake Tenkiller. Resident George Foster said noisy airboats running at all hours are a major nuisance no one has authority to deal with.

File photo

A TransCanada executive said the Diamond and Keystone XL pipelines are pieces of an estimated $550 billion in new pipelines needed to meet energy demands over the next 25 years.

Senior Vice President Corey Goulet with TransCanada's natural gas pipelines major projects division said the new administration is already making the federal part of the process easier.

Hunger Free Oklahoma

A statewide hunger assessment has found Oklahoma leaves $404.5 million in federal assistance on the table each year.

The additional funding would go a long way in helping more than 650,000 Oklahomans who wonder where their next meal will come from. According to the USDA, 15.5 percent of Oklahoma households experience food insecurity. That’s a higher rate than the national average.

A slate of bills changing state liquor laws moved forward Wednesday in the Oklahoma House.

Senate Bill 211 addresses something many people complain about.

"This would allow Sunday sales, but it would go to a county vote," said Rep. Glen Mulready. "It requires 15 percent of registered voters on a petition, or it can be done by the county commissioners."

Senate Bill 411 deals with hours alcohol can be sold.

The big players are not on board with small oil and gas companies’ request to increase Oklahoma’s gross production taxes.

The Oklahoma Energy Producers Alliance said restoring the tax to 7 percent would bring in up to $250 million a year. Members visited the state capitol Wednesday to drum up support for the increase.

Speaking at the Pipeline + Energy Expo, Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association President Chad Warmington said the rate is fine where it is.

Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs

Moving the state veterans home in Talihina is far from a done deal.

Senate Bill 544 directs the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs to build a new facility. Rep. Tommy Hardin said the legislature must sign off on that idea now; otherwise, hiring enough staff will remain a problem and occupancy will continue to fall, costing the state federal resources.

"We would like to move it to a place where we could provide the adequate staffing to make sure that we retain those 175 beds for the veterans of Oklahoma," Hardin said.

An Oklahoma House committee delayed action Tuesday on a measure to allow out-of-state insurers to offer health plans here.

The insurance committee laid over Senate Bill 478 until next week in order to review substantial amendments members didn't receive before Tuesday's meeting.

Oklahoma Watch

Given the state’s budget problems, a lot of attention is being paid to Oklahoma’s various tax incentives, and lawmakers are considering a measure to restrict them.

House Bill 1187 would limit how long new incentives would be offered.

"The very thrust behind it is in the future, any tax incentive we have, we need to have a sunset date with it whenever that we put it in," said Sen. Roger Thompson.

A Senate finance committee amended the bill before passing it Tuesday to say any new incentive must sunset within four years of its effective date.

KWGS News File Photo

It appears days are numbered for the trigger that would reduce Oklahoma’s top income tax rate from 5 to 4.85 percent.

Senate Bill 170, the measure repealing that trigger, is a House vote away from the governor's desk after passing committee.

House sponsor Rep. Earl Sears said repealing the trigger isn’t the end of tax cut discussions, though.

"Don't have a problem with reducing income tax, but with the times and the issues that we're dealing with right now, I truly believe that we need to repeal this and visit income tax reduction another day," Sears said.

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