Oklahoma State Budget

"An inadequate budget has state continuing to sink to the bottom." "Legislature cuts budgets for all, except the Legislature." Such have been two recent headlines for editorials appearing in the Tulsa World. On this edition of ST, we look back at the recently completed -- and widely criticized -- Oklahoma Legislative Session, a contentious affair that saw lawmakers cutting spending as well as tax credits, and struggling to find new revenue amid an unprecedented $1.3 billion budget shortfall.

In a budget year with a predicted $1.3 billion shortfall, today is a major day in the Oklahoma Legislature; it's the last day (ostensibly) during which the state legislature can consider revenue bills. So far, very few bills have passed that have narrowed the budget gap...and time, of course, is seriously running out at this point. So, what is going through the minds of state lawmakers today? We put this question to Steve Lewis, who joins us by phone from the State Capitol Building.

There are six waterways in eastern Oklahoma that are considered so environmentally and economically significant they're given special consideration and protection from the state. These so-called Scenic Rivers were profiled in a special half-hour radio doc created by StateImpact reporters Joe Wertz and Logan Layden in 2014. This doc was originally aired as a four-part radio series, and we are pleased to re-broadcast it today on StudioTulsa.

On this installment of ST, we speak with Wayne Greene, the editorial pages editor at the Tulsa World. As noted at the World's website, Greene is a "fourth-generation Oklahoman in his third decade with the [newspaper]. As a reporter he covered several bank failures, one prison riot, three executions, and every aspect of state government during four years at the World's state capitol bureau. He became the World's city editor on April 1, 1995, and served in that post for nearly 13 years.

Yesterday at the State Capitol, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin offered her recommendations to the State Legislature on how to fill next year's estimated $1.3 billion budget deficit. Her "Budget 2.0" provides for exempting Common Education, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, and Mental Health Services from cuts -- while also exempting cuts in other areas, including higher education -- and offers significant revenue enhancements to the budget as well.

Last night, at an event here in Tulsa, Preservation Oklahoma and the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture jointly announced the 2016 list of the state's Most Endangered Places. The list includes the Oklahoma State Capitol Building as well as two locations in Tulsa: the Oklahoma Iron Works Building (just northeast of downtown) and the mid-century Abundant Life Building (near 18th and Boulder). However, the ten sites on this year's list are not the only historic-preservation sites endangered in our state.

On Thursday of last week, the State Legislature arrived at a deadline for moving legislation forward -- and thus many bills advanced in the Oklahoma Legislature from one chamber into the other, while many other bills were, in effect, killed. On this edition of ST, we discuss several of the bills now moving forward while also offering a review of several of the troubling issues facing state lawmakers more generally (such as the state budget gap, of course). Our guest is Gene Perry, the Policy Director at the non-profit, non-partisan Oklahoma Policy Institute.

Last week on our program, we spoke with two members of the Tulsa City Council about the Vision program, which was recently approved by the Tulsa City Council in unanimous vote and is likewise supported by Mayor Bartlett.

You might call it "adding insult to injury," as the old saying goes. Yesterday's announcement that the State of Oklahoma has authorized an additional 4% cut to state expenditures will hurt all agencies statewide, but perhaps especially school districts, since their school year is now almost 3/4 complete. This cut comes at a time of extreme uncertainty for public school leadership all across Oklahoma regarding the shape of next year's appropriation, given the $1.3 billion shortfall in the state budget.

As 2016 gets underway, the most vexing question confronting Oklahoma legislators, policymakers, and various state agency heads is...how will the Sooner State solve the glaring budget hole that Oklahomans will face this year -- and next year. State Finance Director Preston Doerflinger has declared a "revenue failure" for this year, resulting in a 3% cut to all state budgets funded by General Revenue -- and the preliminary projection of revenue for next year sees a shortfall of $900 million out of an approximately $7 billion state budget.

State of Oklahoma

It’s official, the state is headed toward budget failure. The $900 million dollar shortfall is blamed mostly on dropping oil prices, but the head of an Oklahoma think tank says bad policy has contributed to the crisis.

Oklahoma Policy Institute Director David Blatt says ‘we can’t make it through by doubling down on deep cuts and one-time fixes. The responsible path is to put new revenue on the table and reassess tax cuts and tax breaks granted by the legislature.’

As our state's newly inaugurated legislative session continues, there's been no shortage of bills that've attracted attention from the national media -- for less than favorable reasons -- including bills that would ban "hoodies" or AP History classes, or those that would allow Oklahoma businesses to discriminate against their gay customers or else end civil marriages altogether. What we have not seen -- not yet, anyway -- is a responsible discussion of how to fill a $611 million shortfall in next year's budget.

At the end of 2014, a surprising announcement appeared in the Tulsa World. A subsequent news item expanding on this announcement had the following headline: "Morton Clinics Won't Accept New Uninsured Patients, Citing State Cuts to Funding." Morton Comprehensive Health Services -- with clinics in Tulsa, Nowata, and Bartlesville -- is one of Northeastern Oklahoma's leading providers of health care for uninsured patients.

The Oklahoma Legislature will convene for this year's session on Monday, February 3rd, at noon. Which issues, both greater and lesser, will our state's lawmakers be focused on throughout 2014? We explore that multi-faceted question on this edition of StudioTulsa; our guest is David Blatt, executive director of the OK Policy Institute, which is "a non-partisan independent policy think-tank" you can learn more about here.

On today's program, we speak with Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Keith Ballard, who --- like every other school system administrator across Oklahoma --- is working hard to deal with the new reality of reduced state expenditures for education. Indeed, such aid is now lower than it was four years ago. Less and less money for schools, teachers, classrooms, and textbooks means more and more to be alarmed about, according to Dr.