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

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.

File Photo

Oklahoma school districts are preparing for another round of budget cuts for the upcoming year.

In a survey representing about two-thirds of the state’s public school enrollment, nearly all districts said they’re considering cuts to arts, athletics, advanced coursework, summer programs or educational field trips. Oklahoma State School Boards Association Shawn Hime said that’s counterproductive.

Courtesy Tulsa County

With the initial estimate for a new family justice center running about double the budget for it, Tulsa County is taking a mulligan.

County commissioners are soliciting a hard bid for the project.

"Which means that whatever bid we get in terms of lowest and best bid on the date, we select that builder and going forward, and the price cannot escalate beyond that day," said County Commissioner Ron Peters.

In September, Manhattan Construction was hired to oversee the project, which included developing a guaranteed maximum cost based on the county’s specifications.

File photo

An industry request to ease federal regulations on community banks gains traction among Oklahoma lawmakers.

"Whether it be in our schools; not-for-profits; businesses that ... may not be able to get a loan anywhere else; those startup businesses; the mom-and-pops that are out there trying to start their career, start their livelihood; it's community banks that are the ones that are willing to take the risk on your neighbors and my neighbors," said Rep. Scott Martin.

pixabay.com

A Senate measure to make kids in licensed daycare healthier advances in the Oklahoma House.

Senate Bill 806 says federal nutrition standards must apply to infants and institutes a minimum of 60 minutes daily physical activity for all kids.

Rep. Carol Bush said that will help with an obvious problem.

"Oklahoma has a childhood obesity rate of 36 percent, and most of those children grow up to be obese adults. So, we're trying to be preemptive in addressing those issues," Bush said.

File photo

Oklahoma lawmakers will not have an education budget drafted, much less passed, by tomorrow’s statutory deadline.

The April 1 deadline — put on the books in 2003 and met only once, in 2004 — is meant to give school districts adequate time to prepare financially for the upcoming year.

"We are in discussions with the education groups, trying to give them a good guess, a good look forward of what they can expect budget-wise," said Senate President Pro Tem Mike Schulz.

Oklahoma Department of Corrections

Oklahoma’s maximum security prison known as “Big Mac” might be downgraded to medium security.

Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh told the House Public Safety Committee the state penitentiary at McAlester’s decrepit physical plant and technology aren't up to snuff.

"We're running out of time when we're going to have a serious incident at McAlester," Allbaugh said.

Trump Campaign

The Tulsa Housing Authority stands to lose up to $5.5 million for fiscal year 2018 if President Donald Trump's proposed Housing and Urban Development cut goes through.

Housing authority interim President and CEO Matthew Letzig said their loss of HUD funds would be exacerbate an existing problem.

PSO

Projects coming in under budget have freed up $1 million to speed up work on Tulsa’s highway lights.

"With that additional funding, we'll be able to hire an additional crew from a contractor that's currently working on the job to basically reduce our time from summer of 2018 to, by the end of 2017, having all the lights fixed on everything but the Broken Arrow Expressway," said Streets and Stormwater Director Terry Ball.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

The Oklahoma House overwhelmingly approved $34 million in supplemental funding this fiscal year for the Department of Human Services, but not without harsh words.

Minority Leader Scott Inman said Republicans’ tax breaks for oil companies and the rich led them to pass an unbalanced budget that shortchanged DHS. Inman said parents of disabled children who rely on DHS care subsidies are coming to the capitol and begging lawmakers for funding.

Dollar Thrifty’s former Tulsa home has new tenants and a new name.

The three-building complex at 5100 to 5300 east 31st Street is becoming part headquarters for five local social service nonprofits, part affordable and senior housing.

Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation Executive Director Bill Major said it’s now Legacy Plaza, partly for the legacy of Anne and Henry Zarrow.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

Tulsa city councilors begin the process of crafting next fiscal year's budget.

While revenues are expected to be almost $6 million short of this year's projections, the amount they're trying to come up with is closer to $13 million. Mayor's Deputy Chief of Staff Jack Blair said that will help achieve some long-delayed goals.

State lawmakers have taken up a few measures on behalf of agencies in need of more funding before the current fiscal year ends.

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services an additional $34 million in funding this fiscal year to avoid further cuts to disability and aging services. Due to budget constraints, lawmakers last year funded DHS for 10 months, deciding to appropriate the last two months of the fiscal year later.

The Oklahoma House approved a plan Tuesday to eliminate price monitoring through the state Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.

Rep. Jeff Coody successfully amended Senate Bill 493 to repeal Oklahoma’s weights and measures misrepresentation law. He said it’s obsolete for big retailers with automated systems

"With the advent of the big-box retailers — Lowe's, Home Depot, Walmart and you name it — everything is so electronic and so automated that those companies really don't even — they're not subject to this program," Coody said.

City of Broken Arrow

The City of Broken Arrow is finalizing plans to build an "Innovation District."

The city hopes to build a campus advanced manufacturing and technology companies share with schools. Some funding will come from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

"They actually came to Broken Arrow and worked with us and OCAST, which is the Oklahoma Center for Advancement of Science and Technology, to create this concept, and so we've really got something that's very unique and there's nothing like it in the area," said Mayor Craig Thurmond.

File photo

Oklahoma has earned recognition for efforts to reduce its prison population.

Gov. Mary Fallin is featured in a new campaign that highlights states leading the way. U.S. Justice Action Network Executive Director Holly Harris said Fallin is the first governor to mention high female incarceration rates during a state of the state address.

Rep. Forrest Bennett

Oklahoma Senate leaders gave their thoughts on House Democrats’ slate of proposals to bring in $1.4 billion.

Democratic Leader John Sparks said a $1.50 cigarette tax hike is popular enough to pass, but lawmakers need to get serious about reversing income tax cuts.

Oklahoma took a step this week toward joining an initiative supporters call a "reset button" on laws and regulations holding back economic growth.

House Bill 2132 says Oklahoma agrees to the Prosperity States Compact. It allows communities to band together and form "prosperity districts," where many state and local regulations are automatically repealed and governing boards replace any local forms of government.

Pages