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

The Oklahoma Arts Council wants a little more state money next year for certain programs.

The arts council request for fiscal year 2018 asks for "targeted investments" — funding increases for grants to teacher professional development, community arts programs and an arts in the military program started last year.

Arts council Executive Director Amber Sharples said the military program helps veterans.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

The Tulsa Regional Chamber announced Friday its annual list of priorities for lawmakers.

The OneVoice agenda covers state and federal issues to support an educated and healthy workforce, a prosperous economy, and infrastructure critical to business. Nearly 70 partner organizations helped build and endorsed the chamber's 10th annual agenda.

"When we join together to speak with one voice, the power and validity of our agenda increases," said Tulsa Regional Chamber Chairman Phil Albert.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

With a nearly $900 million budget shortfall to make up, Oklahoma lawmakers are set to again consider raising the cigarette tax in their quest for new revenue.

Last year, with a $1.3 billion hole, a $1.50 per pack tax hike fell by the wayside,  a casualty of political hardball.

Besides being a way to discourage smoking, a cigarette tax increase was a popular funding mechanism in 2016. There were bills using per-pack increases to pay for teacher raises, common education and health insurance.

Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission

Tulsa's city council has taken up the zoning change needed before work starts on a north Tulsa business park funded in the Vision renewal.

The 112-acre site is at 36th Street North and Peoria Avenue. Residents have concerns over truck traffic on Mohawk Boulevard the development may bring.

There are concessions to mitigate that in the final plan. INCOG's Susan Miller said an ODOT bridge replacement on 36th Street North will also allow trucks to use to use that road again, reducing traffic on Mohawk.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

City, education and economic leaders want to improve Tulsa’s FAFSA completion rate after only about half of Tulsa’s high school class of 2015 finished one.

According to ImpactTulsa, that equates to roughly $15 million in federal financial aid left on the table. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is required for grants and most scholarships.

"And studies show that if high school students actually fill out FAFSA, they're 30 percent more likely to go ahead and enroll in postsecondary education," said ImpactTulsa Executive Director Kathy Seibold.

The Lakota Group

A preliminary land use plan for the upcoming Peoria Avenue bus rapid transit route says the city may want to change how a lot of the land is zoned.

The plan was developed during a survey period that included six public workshops, three walking tours and two days of focus groups.

Much of the land along the route is zoned for commercial use. Duncan Associates' Kirk Bishop said that allows flexibility for future economic development the rapid transit route should encourage.

KWGS News File Photo

The City of Tulsa is weighing its options as EMSA faces a lawsuit in Texas federal court.

City councilors, Mayor G.T. Bynum and city attorneys met in executive session for almost two hours Thursday to discuss whether any steps need to be taken to protect the city. No action was taken.

City attorneys said more research is needed, but options could include the city taking independent legal action or  getting involved in the existing lawsuit.

Equality Center-Facebook

Tulsa's major LGBTQ advocate praised a recent change by the Boy Scouts that will let transgender boys participate.

The Boy Scouts used to defer to a potential scout’s birth certificate for his gender, but the organization will now accept the gender marked on applications.

Oklahomans for Equality Director Toby Jenkins said there have always been transgender children, but they didn’t have good mental health and advocacy resources until recently.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

Faith and community leaders joined together Tuesday to condemn the president’s recent ban on immigrants and refugees from seven predominately Muslim nations.

Many praised local officials — Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan, Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado, TU President Gerry Clancy, OU President Dan Boren, OSU President Burns Hargis and Sen. James Lankford —  for their responses to the ban.

Aliye Shimi with Tulsa Metropolitan Ministries said it's no different from previous bans on immigrants from Ireland, China and Japan.

The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics will continue work this year to support rural law enforcement agencies.

Director John Scully said the bureau is focusing less on the Tulsa and Oklahoma City metro areas because their law enforcement agencies have the resources for most drug investigations.

File photo

The head of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation has an idea for reviewing jail and prison deaths in the state.

Director Stan Florence suggested Monday lawmakers form an independent board to look at inmate deaths. OSBI currently reviews such deaths for criminal acts when asked.

File Photo

A representative of the Cherokee Nation has suggested Oklahoma lawmakers pursue an economically progressive agenda to achieve prosperity in the state.

"A good starting point — and it's not the solution — but a good starting point would be for the state legislature and other state leaders to start talking about raising the minimum wage," said Cherokee Nation Businesses Executive Vice President Chuck Garrett.

The tribe’s minimum wage is $9.50 an hour and all 6,500 Cherokee Nation Businesses employees make more.

Congress approved tax-deferred savings accounts in 2014 to defray disability-related expenses, but Oklahoma has no program for it yet.

Achieving A Better Life Experience — or ABLE — accounts are similar to 529 college savings plans. States must start their own programs, as the ABLE Act only authorized the accounts.

State Treasurer Ken Miller said Oklahoma hasn’t set up its program because it’s expensive.

State of Oklahoma

Oklahoma’s House budget and appropriations chair said this session is going to be about fixing the state’s finances.

Tuttle Republican Rep. Leslie Osborn said it’s clear Oklahoma has a revenue problem.

"You're not going to see near as many — they might be filed, but won't see them heard in committee — we're going to move on and not be worrying about social issue bills all day. We're going to worry about funding services," Osborn said.

npr

Block grants as federal funding are catching on for the purported flexibility they offer states, but there are downsides.

While an Affordable Care Act repeal could cost more than 300,000 Oklahomans their heath insurance, Republicans' plans for Medicaid could have drastic consequences as well. They're proposing block grants or patient caps for Medicaid to cut federal spending $1 trillion over 10 years

Matt Trotter / KWGS

You've heard this before, but it's just as true today — Oklahoma is locked into a structural budget deficit. 

"Or, even simpler, we're broke," said Oklahoma Policy Institute Executive Director David Blatt at the group's fourth annual budget summit in Oklahoma City. "The structural budget deficit was already almost $700 million in 2015. Based on current policies, that will climb to $2 billion by 2030, about 15 percent of revenues."

OCC

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission said it needs more money in next year’s budget.

"I will not apologize that we are requesting additional funding, because we have been given additional responsibilities year after year after year," Commissioner Dana Murphy told state senators Wednesday.

Despite ongoing problems with earthquakes caused by the injection of fracking wastewater, Murphy said seismicity is down 31 percent since 2014.

Macy's

Oklahoma’s primary economic development entity wants state lawmakers to approve broader use of a public financing method.

Tax increment financing — or TIF — districts allow a city or county to capture property tax revenue from a defined area. They’re a popular way to finance improvements businesses might want before setting up shop somewhere but won’t pay for themselves.

Oklahoma Department of Commerce Director Deby Snodgrass told lawmakers the population threshold in current law is too high.

Oklahoma Lottery

The Oklahoma Lottery is again asking lawmakers for its education funding requirement to be decreased.

Since the Oklahoma Lottery began, 35 percent of its annual gross revenues have gone to an education trust fund. Executive Director Rollo Redburn said North Carolina’s lottery also started with a 35 percent requirement.

"Their legislature removed it the first year they were in operation, and their sales — I mean, they've just been astronomical," Redburn said. "They've done a great job on providing funds for their education beneficiary by removing that profit requirement."

Matt Trotter / KWGS

"Hamilton" fans get their chance to see the show in Tulsa in roughly two and a half years.

The Broadway smash's national tour stop in summer 2019 was announced along with Celebrity Attractions' 2017–18 season. CEO Ed Payton said Tulsa’s commitment to Broadway musicals was established in 1996 during a sold-out, six-week run of Phantom of the Opera.

"Unlike the six weeks, we are going to have a much smaller run of the show, because everywhere it goes, they want it for a very long time," Payton said. "And so it is going to be a very limited engagement, unfortunately."

File photo

A state senate panel is going over the books of Oklahoma’s nonappropriated agencies this week.

The Oklahoma Medical Board is among the agencies with budgets made up of fees they charge — licenses in the medical board’s case. Director Lyle Kelsey said that’s been enough so far.

"We try to operate it as a business would. We try to spend less than we make so that we do have some in reserves," Kelsey said. "We carry enough for lawsuits and legal actions and prosecutions, hiring of doctors to be expert witnesses and so on."

Margaret Hudson Program

The nonprofit helping pregnant teens finish high school is trying to deal with a loss of more than $700,000 in funding since last year.

Margaret Hudson Program Director Betina Tillman said the biggest impact will be to child care and health services, including students’ ability to visit with nurses.

President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans’ goal of repealing the Affordable Care Act could cost Oklahoma big.

Doing away with premium tax credits and Medicaid expansion would mean a $140 billion drop in federal health care spending in 2019. Sara Collins with the Commonwealth Fund said Oklahoma’s share of that loss is $4.2 billion.

"This would have the effect of reducing state economic output by about $13 billion over five years," Collins said.

Thousands of jobs could also be lost.

Oklahoma Watch

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has expanded eligibility for its Rural Development loans to another 100 square miles of Osage and Tulsa Counties.

"We have no down payment requirements on any of our single-family programs. They are fixed rate. Terms are 33 years on our direct program and 30 years on the guarantee," said Oklahoma Single Family Housing Program Director Tommy Earls.

Oklahoma lawmakers were told not to propose teacher pay raises without a plan to fund them.

State Senator David Holt wants to raise teacher pay $10-thousand dollars over four years, and he’s filed a dozen bills with funding ideas.

"Things I've proposed include the expansion of the applicability of the sales tax, include looking at nonappropriated agencies and what they pay to the state," Holt said. "It includes tax credits. It includes apportioning new revenue growth to teacher pay."

Matt Trotter / KWGS

The Tulsa Regional Chamber welcomed its new chairman Thursday at its annual meeting.

Claremore-based Pelco Structural President Phil Albert is the chamber’s first chair from a business outside Tulsa city limits. In his remarks, Albert called for greater public-private collaboration to solve the area’s big problems.

He pointed out what governments, businesses, philanthropists and communities have accomplished working together: the Port of Catoosa, the Gathering Place and a plan to improve Tulsa’s community health.

City of Tulsa

City officials set the timeline for more than $500 million worth of economic development projects in the Vision sales tax package voters approved last April.

"In the first five years, we believe that 80 percent of the projects can be completed and funded," said Mayor G.T. Bynum.

The renewed sales tax became effective Jan. 1. The city expects its first check including it from the Oklahoma Tax Commission in April.

File Photo

Smoking is bad for your health, but it’s also bad for your wallet.

An analysis of smoking costs in the U.S. by WalletHub puts the annual cost per smoker in Oklahoma at $25,627 dollars. That figure includes the cost of cigarettes, health care costs, and income lost from missing work for smoking-related illness.

There are some costs to smoking you may not have heard of.

C-SPAN

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt faced tough questions Wednesday from Senate Democrats in his confirmation hearing as potential head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

During his opening statement, Pruitt said the climate is changing — a departure from President-elect Donald Trump's claims climate change is "a hoax." Pruitt later sparred with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders over the cause of climate change.

Oklahoma Conservation Commission

Oklahoma will get $2.8 million from the federal government this year to reclaim abandoned coal mines, but the program may not last much longer.

Grants from the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement are funded by a fee on coal producers. The Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Fund is currently authorized by Congress only until 2021.

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