http://www.cherokeephoenix.orgTeachers demonstrate inside the Oklahoma Capitol on Wednesday, the third day of an ongoing walkout. TREVOR BROWN/OKLAHOMA WATCH
Teachers demonstrate inside the Oklahoma Capitol on Wednesday, the third day of an ongoing walkout. TREVOR BROWN/OKLAHOMA WATCH

High-earners’ tax break could be key to ending teacher walkout

Oklahoma Watch
04/05/2018 10:00 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY – A controversial proposal to end a tax break that benefits fewer than 18,000 Oklahomans – the vast majority of whom make upwards of $200,000 – is at the center of the debate over how lawmakers can find more money for education and potentially end the teacher walkout.

Teachers, education advocates and House Democrats have launched a renewed push since the teacher work stoppage began on Monday for the Legislature to pass a bill that would eliminate the state’s capital gains deduction.

The deduction allows property, such as stock or ownership interest in Oklahoma-based businesses, to be deducted from state income tax. A state revenue analysis of the bill found that removing the incentive would bring in about $30 million for the upcoming fiscal year and $120 million a year moving forward.

Whether the money for the proposal would be enough to appease educators and end their work stoppage is unclear.

But the Oklahoma Education Association included the proposal as part of its funding proposal and the Oklahoma City chapter of the American Federation of Teachers has made its passage a priority.

Even before the teacher walkout, the proposal proved to be controversial. The business community said removing it would stymie economic growth; others, including a state-commissioned consulting group, disagreed, called it a waste of money that benefits a small number of people.

But the hunt for money to go toward public education – something legislative leaders and Gov. Mary Fallin said they would continue in the wake of passage of the revenue package that paid for the teacher pay raise bill last week – has amplified the debate on the tax deduction.

“The capital gains (bill) is really big,” said Alberto Morejon, the organizer of a 75,000-member Facebook group that is helping coordinate the teacher walkout. “This $120 to $125 million that we can get … but they won’t even vote on it, they won’t even consider it.”

The Republican-authored bill, SB 1086, has been sitting in the House since the Senate approved it on a bipartisan 30-10 vote on March 15.

House Democrats have tried procedural maneuvers to force a floor vote on the proposal during each of the first two days of the teacher walkout. But on almost fully party-line votes, those motions have been rejected by the Republican-led chamber.

“This exemption disproportionally benefits wealthy individuals at the expense of Oklahoma’s education system and other core services,” the Democratic House caucus said in a statement after the failure to put it to a floor vote Monday. “All 28 House Democrats remain ready to repeal this unnecessary burden on Oklahomans.”

House GOP leaders have been tight-lipped on why they haven’t set a floor vote or if they plan to do so. But some of their colleagues in the Senate have been more vocal.

Sen. Dave Rader, R-Tulsa, who is the lead sponsor of the bill, even took to Facebook urging his followers to contact their representatives and encourage them to pass it.

“I ran this bill on my own accord and not at the behest or urging of any organization because the simple truth is that this deduction as currently written hurts the people more than it helps them,” he said.

Winners and Losers

Since the capital gains deduction was put in place in 2005, about 17,000 to 18,000 tax filers a year claimed the deduction.

For tax year 2014, the latest year with data available from the Tax Commission’s biennial tax expenditure report, 18,856 filers claimed deductions amounting to $105.3 million — about $5,666 per filer.

Consultants for the Incentive Evaluation Commission, which studied the tax credit last year, found over the life of the program that individuals making more than $200,000 a year claimed, on average, 85.8 percent of the total deduction amount.

The theory behind the tax break, as the consultants pointed out, is that eliminating capital gains taxes makes investment more profitable.

But ultimately the consultants recommended the deduction should be repealed after concluding the program has created a net cost to the state to the tune of $465 million between 2010 and 2014 alone.

But the incentive commission, a group of political appointees, suggested retaining it on a 3-1 vote.

According to the group’s final report, Cynthia Rogers, an economics professor at the University of Oklahoma and the only commissioner to vote against it, said: “There is simply no way to link the deductions to gains in investment or employment in Oklahoma. … at best, this program takes a shotgun approach rather than focusing on growth or strategic industries.”

But others said data limitations were why the consultants couldn’t show that the program was beneficial to the state’s economy.

And the State Chamber of Oklahoma argued after the Senate’s passage of the bill that removing the exemption would discourage investment in the state and hurt both large and small businesses.

“(The legislation) is short-sighted and bad public policy through and through,” said Chamber President and CEO Fred Morgan. “It will create a highly volatile funding source and will not achieve what is being promised, all while punishing small businesses and their families in the interim.”

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a right-leaning think tank, and former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, are among others who advocate keeping the incentive.

Coburn, noting that Texas has no income or capital gains taxes, argued this would put Oklahoma at an economic disadvantage.

“Policymakers should turn their attention to their number-one job as an elected official during times like these, which is the tough but necessary work of strong fiscal governance and oversight,” he said in a statement.

But with no signs that teachers will relent and end the work stoppage without further legislative activity, Democrats and education supporters said they will put pressure on leadership and rank-and-file Republicans in the coming days.

“Instead of calling the bill up and voting for it, they are trying to play games,” Rep. Scott Inman, D-Del City, told a group of teachers and public school supporters outside his office Tuesday. “They are trying to wait you out, that’s what they are doing.”


Multimedia Producer – @cp_rgraham
07/16/2018 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH - The Cherokee Nation’s Election commission held a special meeting on July 10 in the Cherokee Nation Election Commission building. Commissioners revised various segments of the EC bylaws, rules and regulations. The commission also discussed actions to be taken on the recent water damage to its headquarters. The commission then voted to allow EC Chairwoman Shawna Calico to vote on all motions. Before this decision, Calico only voted when votes ended in ties. Later Commissioner Carolyn Allen motioned for the commission to go into executive session after attorney Harvey Chaffin told the five commissioners he saw no need for executive session. Once the commission came out of the private discussion, Calico announced no action was taken during the executive session. The Cherokee Phoenix covered the event and produced the following video of the entire meeting, not including the executive session.
07/15/2018 02:00 PM
TULSA, Oklahoma (AP) — Activists in Oklahoma are looking to entrench the right to use marijuana in the state's constitution by promoting a pair of ballot measures. The Tulsa World reports that the first state question would classify marijuana as an "herbal drug" and amend the Oklahoma Constitution. The other initiative says a person 21 years or older can possess or consume up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use. Both were filed in April. Voters in Oklahoma backed the medicinal use of the drug last month. Yet, Isaac Caviness with Green the Vote says the two state questions being promoted are an "insurance policy" to make sure State Question 788 is not over regulated.
07/15/2018 08:00 AM
TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma's 4.0 earthquakes are up significantly this year, but the overall rate of earthquakes is declining. Oklahoma has had six quakes of at least magnitude 4.0 halfway through this year, which is one more than all of last year. But the overall rate of earthquakes has declined, with 96 quakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater through June 30, compared with 144 at this point last year and 302 by the end of 2017, the Tulsa World reported. A magnitude 4.6 in April near Perry was the 12th largest in state history. Scientists are largely seeing earthquakes on unmapped faults that were activated in 2014 by wastewater injection, said state seismologist Jake Walter. Scientists are researching specific mechanisms by which the state's ongoing seismicity is triggered, he said. Wastewater can trigger the initial earthquakes, but quakes themselves can lead to more quakes. "So in some ways the wastewater injection has created a new paradigm that defies how we would categorize main shocks and aftershocks if this were a fault that had slipped in a more natural setting," he said. Walter said that Oklahoma's seismic risk appears to be similar to the latest hazard forecast put out by the U.S. Geological Survey in March. The agency calculated Oklahoma's short-term hazard levels to be similar to active regions in California. The chance of earthquake damage in high-hazard areas of Oklahoma this year ranges from 1 percent to 14 percent, "much higher" than most parts of the U.S.
07/14/2018 02:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Civil lawsuits have been filed in two Oklahoma counties accusing state health officials of improperly imposing strict rules on the state's recently approved medical marijuana industry. Separate lawsuits were filed Friday in Cleveland and Oklahoma counties over the policies that were adopted this week by the State Board of Health and then quickly approved by Republican Gov. Mary Fallin. The board of Fallin appointees voted 5-4 on Tuesday to approve a ban on the sale of smokable marijuana and requiring pharmacists at dispensaries, infuriating activists who had worked for years to get medical marijuana on the ballot. The measure passed June 26 with nearly 57 percent of the vote. Interim Commissioner of Health Tom Bates said July 10 his office anticipated legal challenges and was prepared to defend the new rules.
07/12/2018 08:15 AM
TAHLEQUAH – Nearly 500 representatives of the 25 at-large and 88 in-jurisdiction Cherokee organizations recently traveled to Tahlequah for the Cherokee Nation’s 14th annual Conference of Community Leaders. The two-day conference hosted by the tribe’s Community and Cultural Outreach was held June 22-23 at Northeastern State University. Attendees attended workshops led by experts in sustainability and culture, and also met with tribal leaders, including Principal Chief Bill John Baker, Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Tribal Councilors. The tribe concluded the conference with the Community Impact Awards banquet, which honors community organizations that do outstanding volunteer work, promote the culture and make other significant contributions. “The community organizations, both in the 14 counties and at-large, are some of the tribe’s most valuable partners, because they allow us to reach and help our citizens more effectively and efficiently,” Hoskin said. “Whether it’s mentoring youth or offering cultural enrichment programs or providing housing through temporary shelters, these groups define the values of community and family that are important to us as Cherokee people, and that is something to be commended and recognized.” Cherokee Citizens League of Southeast Texas, an official at-large Cherokee Nation organization based in Houston, was honored with the 2018 Organization of the Year award. After Hurricane Harvey struck the organization’s community, members stepped up to help neighbors recover from the flooding and coordinated efforts to take donations to those in need. The organization also received the Strong Hands Award for its efforts after Hurricane Harvey. “We were all surprised and humbled to be recognized for our work following Hurricane Harvey,” Wade McAlister, Cherokee Citizens League of Southeast Texas president, said. “We were just doing what we do. It was a team effort and exemplifies both the Cherokee ethic of gadugi and the Houston can do spirit.”?? Boys & Girls Club of Adair County received the Youth Leadership Award at the Cherokee Nation Community and Cultural Outreach conference. The nonprofit organization maintains in school, after school and summer programs for the youth of Adair County. “Boys & Girls Clubs of Adair County is based on inspiring and enabling youth to realize their full potential,” Kristal Diver, Boys & Girls Club of Adair County CEO, said. “Receiving the Youth Leadership Award is a great honor and has shown us that we are moving in the right direction. The continuous support of Cherokee Nation has made it possible for us to provide a safe, positive place with fun and engaging activities, supportive relationships with adults and opportunities for our youth.” <strong>Other organizations honored with Community Impact Awards were:</strong> Newcomer of the Year Award – Northern Cherokee County Community Booster Club Newcomer of the Year Award – Illinois River Area Community Organization Mary Mead Volunteerism Award – Native American Fellowship Inc. Mary Mead Volunteerism Award – Greater Wichita Area Cherokees Most Improved Award – Marble City Activity Organization Best in Technology Award – Indian Women’s Pocahontas Club Best in Technology At-Large – San Diego Cherokee Community Continuing Education Award – Spavinaw Youth and Neighborhood Center Hunger Fighters Award – Tailholt Community Organization Roy Hamilton Historical Preservation Award – Adair County Historical and Genealogical Association Roy Hamilton Historical Preservation Award – Mt Hood Cherokees Strong Hands Award – Mid County Community Organization Strong Hands Award – Cherokee Citizens League of Southeast Texas Grant Writer of the Year Award – Adair County Historical and Genealogical Association Technical Assistance Award – Cherokee National Historical Society Best in Reporting Award – Stilwell Public Library Friends Society Best in Reporting At-Large – Kansas City Cherokee Community Community Partnership Award – Tailholt Community Organization Community Partnership At-Large – San Antonio Cherokee Township Community Inspiration Award – Noweta Cherokee Community Foundation Community Inspiration Award – New Mexico Cherokee Community Cultural Perpetuation Award – Washington County Cherokee Organization Cultural Perpetuation At-Large – Cherokees of the Northern Central Valley Donna Chuculate Cemetery Preservation Award – Webbers Falls Historical Society Museum Donna Chuculate Cemetery Preservation Award – Cherokees of the Northern Central Valley Youth Leadership Award – Boys & Girls Club of Adair County Youth Leadership At-Large – Valley of the Sun Cherokees Conference Attendance Award – Cherokees for Black Indian History Preservation Foundation Conference Attendance Award – San Antonio Cherokee Township Above & Beyond Award – Cherokees for Black Indian History Preservation Foundation Above & Beyond Award – Capital City Cherokee Community Community Leadership Award – Orchard Road Community Outreach Community Leadership At-Large – Cherokee Society of Greater Bay Area Lifetime Achievement Award – Gary Bolin (Brushy Cherokee Action Association) Lifetime Achievement Award – Dude Feathers (Oakhill Piney Community Organization) Organization of the Year Award – Mid County Community Organization Organization of the Year At-Large – Cherokee Citizens League of Southeast Texas Sponsor Award – Cherokee Nation Businesses
07/11/2018 04:00 PM
VINITIA – Less than three months after the U.S. Surgeon General released a public health advisory urging more Americans to carry a lifesaving medication that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, Vinita firefighters used that medication, naloxone, to save a life. In June, Vinita firefighters responded to a call about a female who had chewed a fentanyl patch. Vinita Fire Chief Kevin Wofford said when they arrived at the scene, firefighters found the patient unresponsive. After obtaining baseline vitals, they administered one dose of Narcan nasal spray, which is a brand name for naloxone. Within minutes, Wofford said, the ambulance arrived and the EMTs helped the patient into the ambulance where her symptoms abated. “In about three minutes after they had administered the Narcan, she was becoming more responsive and they got a reversal,” Wofford said. Wofford said the Narcan nasal spray for helping save this patient and describes the medication as being “a big help” to area first responders as they deal with the growing crisis of opioid overdose deaths. The Narcan nasal spray used in the June rescue was supplied to the Vinita Fire Department during a naloxone training hosted by in part by Cherokee Nation Behavioral Health Prevention Programs earlier this year. On Feb. 27, 100 representatives from Craig County area law enforcement agencies, fire departments and emergency medical services, as well as school administrators, teachers and coaches received naloxone training and were given free naloxone kits to use in emergency overdose situations. The training and naloxone kits were supplied by Behavioral Health, which received a $1 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration as part of the First Responder Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. “The first part of the grant is to get all ‘traditional’ first responders — police, fire departments, EMS — trained and supplied throughout the 14 counties of Cherokee Nation,” Sam Bradshaw, Behavioral Health Prevention Programs manager, said. “Once we’ve done that, then we’ll come back around and offer the training and naloxone kits to ‘nontraditional’ first responders — doctor’s offices, nurses and other people in the community.” Due to grant requirements, first responders can only receive the naloxone kits from CN if they undergo training. To date, naloxone trainings have been held in 12 CN counties and will soon be presented in the last two. Bradshaw said he hopes to be able to offer the ‘nontraditional’ first responder training toward the end of the year. Anyone interested in attending a naloxone training and obtaining kits should call 918-276-2192. “We will resupply naloxone kits that have been used,” Bradshaw said. “To get the replacement kits, first responders must fill out a form, which allows us to collect the data we need for the grant. They can fill out the form they were given with the naloxone kits or contact Grand Nation, which has the forms and will help them get the form filled out correctly so we can get more kits to the first responders who need them.” Naloxone kits that aren’t used may also need to be resupplied, Bradshaw said. “This is a four-year grant and, hopefully, not all of the kits will be needed,” said Bradshaw. “But even those who don’t ever use it, need to be aware that these kits will expire. So we’ll resupply if they’ve expired.” While the naloxone training focuses on dealing with the consequences of opioid addiction, Behavioral Health Prevention Programs is also working to reduce prescription drug-related harm and increase awareness of the opioid epidemic. To learn more, visit the ThinkSMART Oklahoma Facebook page or <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.