Time to Sign Up!

by | April 13th, 2017

We are more than half-way through the legislative session. Whew! Since Together Oklahoma focuses on reasonable revenue solutions to fill the big ol’ budget hole, the last half of session means crunch time for us! There is NO reason to trust that the legislature will pass a good budget without hearing from you. They are already making deals and some of what some of them are saying would make you furious! There are so many ways to advocate but the most impactful way to communicate that we want them to do better is show up in person to look them in the eye and tell your story.

Sign Someone Up for a Day at the Capitol!

TOK leaders will be at the Oklahoma State Capitol to help orient advocates who sign up for any of the Capitol days and times listed on this poll.  Sign up for a time that you can be there AND/OR convince someone you know to sign up to be there on behalf of both of you.   We’ll give you all the support you need to say to our legislators-“We won’t tolerate another budget that tears down our communities!” 

Your commitment matters! Usually budget deals don’t come out until the very last moment of session, but thanks to your advocacy, we’re starting to see budget plans emerge, and more are on the way. Teachers, nurses, park rangers, students, rural doctors, fire fighters, and all the rest of our fellow Oklahomans are depending on us. I feel confident that Together Oklahoma members are going to do all we can to make sure this year’s state budget actually reflects our values! 

Keep up the great work, sign up for a Capitol day, and I’ll see you there!

– KJ

(For more about which key bills are still alive, which are dead, and what’s at play in negotiations over the state budget, check out this podcast from me and OK Policy)

One Thing Thursday: Celebrate Our Successes So Far!

by | April 6th, 2017

“Redbud tree” by Selena N. B. H. is licensed under CC BY 2.0

You obviously care about our future.  If you didn’t, you would not be reading this weekly update from the Together Oklahoma Coalition.  I’m glad you are here and together let’s get grounded in reality.

I’m a gardener so I think a lot about getting grounded, or more specifically about the soil that my plants grow in.  Good soil, plus water, sunshine, and protection from pests, is all a plant needs.  I’ve come to think of our state budget as the soil that our society grows in.  Without adequate revenue our ability to provide schools with good teachers, well-maintained infrastructure, safe streets and neighborhoods, and public goods like state parks, libraries, and arts programs, will wither and die.  That ability is just like crops in the Dust Bowl. The public works we value are starting to blow away. But wait! There is a solution!  In fact, there are many revenue solutions that can anchor us back in solid ground. 

In the past couple One Thing Thursdays, I’ve asked you to call your legislators about these revenue solutions and then I asked that you connect with other people in your districts.  I hope you keep doing those things as we head into the last seven weeks of the legislative session.  

One Thing Thursday for April 6th:

Take a moment to celebrate that we are having some success!  Keep that fire in your belly that fuels your will to act, but also look around and see that we are on some higher ground.  Don’t believe me? Check out this list of things that are going better this session:

  • The Governor, her staff, some of the legislators, and the state Treasurer are all publicly stating that we have a revenue problem.  This is new!  The budget hole is NOT new but this is the first year I’ve seen elected leaders on both sides of the aisle realizing, and publicly proclaiming, that “we can’t cut our way to prosperity”.
  • There are more than 8,000 Together Oklahomans receiving this weekly email and many are following up with essential calls and visits to legislators.  Last year I asked people to join me at the Capitol and most days no one showed up. Now folks know that there are plenty of ways for each of us to be involved to the best of our abilities.
  • Senate Bill 170 to HALT AND REPEAL THE TAX CUT, has actually passed the Senate, and the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, and if we keep the pressure on, I believe it can make it all the way to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.  Those of you who have been with us for a while know that we have been fighting to get this done FOR YEARS and we aren’t about to quit now. Advocacy Alert HERE.
  • Fewer bad bills this year– I know there have been some scandals, drama, and unconstitutional or pointless bills up at 23rd and Lincoln this session, but there actually seems to be fewer shenanigans this year and more legislators pushing back when those do show up.  Sure, we aren’t getting the laser focus on the revenue crisis that we hoped for, but I’ve seen worse years at our Capitol. Remember that the legislation that makes it on the 9 o’clock news usually tells us when things go wrong and not when they go right.
  • House Bill 2209: Tax Incidence Reports would give legislators more tools to make better decisions. It may not be all we want, but it gets the ball rolling, and with the help we’ve had from you it may just pass into law.
  • We have this snazzy new membership form and a growing Together Oklahoma leadership team.  We sometimes try to bite off more than we can chew, but if we all take a seat at the table, we’ll make it through this meal without a big belly ache.
  • Best of all, WE HAVE REVENUE OPTIONS, and we have seven more weeks to clearly communicate to our legislators and our fellow constituents why we MUST come to our senses, as a state, and pass a state budget with NO MORE CUTS.  Get good soil!

We can do this!  I believe in us, not because I’m excessively optimistic, but because I am paying attention to the big picture and seeing the ground we have gained.  In my mind’s eye, I can see our garden growing. See it with me.  What role do you plan in this care and cultivation team? A better future for our loved ones is within our reach.  Let’s celebrate our success, support each other, and keep working so that together we can make Oklahoma bloom and thrive!

 

One Thing Thursday: your legislators don’t answer to only you, what can you do?

by | March 30th, 2017

Thank you for joining us again this week to talk about one thing that you can do to join Together Oklahoma in our work to fully fund the priorities that matter to ALL Oklahomans. Our Together Oklahoma vision states that-

  • We confidently affirm that a budget is a moral document, and we are deeply troubled by what our current state budget says about Oklahoma values.

When we say “a budget is a moral document”, we mean a budget reflects the values of those who write it. If we don’t value something then we don’t put resources towards it. If the legislators of the state of Oklahoma want to keep showing us that they do not value what we value, like public schools, rural hospitals, nursing homes, our ability to respond to epidemics, water quality testing, safe roads and bridges, libraries, museums, state parks, disaster preparedness, domestic violence prevention, drug abuse treatment, and so much more, then our legislators may continue to choose to not fund those things. That is NOT their only option!

Do most Oklahomans value all those things?  I am confident that we do!  
It is up to us to help them make better choices. No one of us can do it alone.  Let’s get together with our district teams to support each other in fighting to make sure our tax dollars are used to invest in our values.

Your legislators need to know, that we know, that they have options to fund the budget.  Engaging with your fellow constituents, instead of going it alone, is essential because your legislators don’t answer to only you.  There are lots of advocacy tasks you can do on your own, but if you don’t engage with your fellow constituents at all, you are unwisely keeping yourself uninformed about information you need to know. 

One Thing Thursday for March 30th, 2017-

Meet with your district teams to plan how you’ll be influencing your own legislator and making sure they insist on investing in Oklahoma using good options to fund the budget

Again, please make a plan attend one of these district meetings for constituents in your own state legislative districts and/or follow these directions to set up your own meeting that other TOK members can attend.  Our future depends on you and what you do!

 

One Thing Thursday: Ask them for responsible revenues to avoid devastating budget cuts.

by | March 23rd, 2017

If you got this as an email, thanks for signing up for Together Oklahoma emails!  If you are reading this as a blog but want the email, sign up here.  You can find out more information about why Together Oklahoma enthusiastically affirms that “a budget is a moral document” and what we intend to do to about the ongoing state budget crisis at togetherok.org and at the bottom of this email.  

There are ways for all of us to have an impact and I want to help you find the ways that work best for you. Starting today, I’ll be asking you to do just one thing each Thursday!

One Thing Thursday for March 23rd:

Contact your two state legislators and insist that they support fair and responsible options to raise new revenues and avoid more devastating budget cuts!

Now’s the time to contact your Senator and Representative — by phone, email, or in person, if possible — and insist that they support fair and responsible options to raise new revenues and avoid devastating budget cuts. Let your legislators know how you, your family, and community have been affected by budget cuts and what the impact of deeper cuts would be. They need to hear that this is an urgent situation and that they must take action

Here are a few revenue ideas we encourage you to recommend when you reach out to legislators:

  • Partially offset the income tax cuts of the past decade by assessing a high-income surcharge;
  • Eliminate the capital gains tax break;
  • Restore the 7 percent tax rate on gross production;
  • Adopt combined corporate reporting;
  • Raise the cigarette tax.

You can learn more about these revenue options, as well as several other proposals, on OK Policy’s website. You can also download a two-page fact sheet, “Revenue options for a better budget.” For additional suggestions on how to advocate for a better budget, please see this recent blog post from Together Oklahoma.  If you want more tips on talking to your legislators you can find them here.You can find your legislators’ contact information here.

Thanks for taking the time to do this one thing. If you want more to do read on, and if not I’ll be in touch again next Thursday!

More about what individual TOK members are doing:

  • Participating in TOK Chapters or building new chapters. There are TOK Chapters where members are working together to host events, carpools to the Capitol, small group meetings with legislators, and more.  See how to start a chapter HERE.
  • Connecting with fellow constituents. The two legislators who represent you also answer to the rest of the constituents in your two state legislative districts. You can connect with your district teams because constituent power is stronger in larger numbers!
  • If you want to do more can fill out our Together Oklahoma membership form and one of our TOK leaders will connect you with more resources.

Together we are making Oklahoma better!

Do actions speak louder than words?

by | March 21st, 2017

I’m fed up with the bad budget news coming from our state legislature! Are you with me?

I’m going to 23rd and Lincoln tomorrow for Let’s Fix This Capitol Day (Mar 22th)! (if you aren’t on Facebook, you can find the event at this link)  I hope to see many of you there in person and/or following along online.  I’ll post my schedule below and you can track me and your fellow advocates in the capitol_updates channel in TOK Slack.

But before we talk more about that I have a serious question to ask.  How do you evaluate your legislators?  As a team manager I’ve learned that evaluations are key to good management. Occasionally ​I’ve hired ​some kind, funny, sympathetic characters who, when it came down to it, didn’t get the job done.

It is extremely important that we don’t make the mistake of thinking that a legislator being friendly means that they are doing their whole job well.  I think being nice to your constituents is ESSENTIAL but how nice is it if they are kind to us in person and they cut funding to all we hold dear when our backs are turned?  There is only one way to know what kind of legislator you are working with and that is to track their actions.  

Keeping track of the bills your legislator writes and how they vote isn’t all that fun if you do it all alone.  That’s why I’ll remind you again that we are working as state legislative district teams. Let’s work together to simplify tracking bills and votes.  We are in this together and I hope we’ll be together at the Capitol tomorrow or in Slack!

The plan for TOK members at the Capitol:

We have less than 10 weeks to get our legislators to look at these revenue options and keep from digging us deeper into this big ol’ budget hole! TOK is partnering with Let’s Fix This and other groups instead of planning our own Capitol days because it is a better use of everyone’s resources and it is also more fun!  If you can’t be there during the day, join us for the Capitol Crawl Wednesday evening or at least follow along on the Together Oklahoma Facebook Page and @togetherok twitter and with the hash tag #LetsFixThisOK

Our three goals for the day (From the Capitol or where ever you are) :

  1. Ask legislators what they plan to do about the budget hole and what they think of the revenue options we are suggesting. 
  2. Report legislators’ answers back to our fellow constituents via Together Oklahoma Slack.
  3. Support each other as we take action TOGETHER!

Here is my schedule for tomorrow:

  • 9:00 am – Joining advocates in the Blue Room for a little Let’s Fix This orientation.
  • 10:00 am – Assisting advocates in talking to their legislators and talking to some legislators myself
  • 11:00 am – Meeting up at the Capitol Visitors Center with some TOK Members who are just arriving at the Capitol.
  • 12:00 pm – If the weather is nice I’ll be taking my lunch outside for a picnic on the Capitol lawn. TOK members are welcome to bring their lunch and join me. Watch the hash tag #LetsFixThisOK on social media to see where we end up sitting down to eat or to let other folks know where they can find you to share a meal.
  • 1:30 am – Meeting up at the Capitol Visitors Center with some TOK Members who are just arriving at the Capitol to do a little orientation before folks go visit their legislators.
  • 6:00 pm – Joining Let’s Fix This folks on the Capitol Crawl.

You can find me at any of these spots or watch for my online updates. If you are as fed up as I am, let’s set a good example for our legislators and fellow Oklahomans.  Truly your actions speak louder than your words!

KJ

 

 

Legislators who won’t listen to you?

by | March 16th, 2017

 

Together Oklahoma is non-partisan. That means we want ALL legislators to hear from their own constituents right away! We bring Oklahomans together to talk about how a budget is a moral document and how we want our state budget to reflect our values. That means we need you! We have less than 11 weeks to convince our state legislators to pass a better budget instead of another round of steep cuts to public schools, health departments, state parks, and more. 

While some of you are fortunate to have legislators who host regular town halls and constituent meetings, even a few who have legislators who send surveys to find out your opinions on bills, several of you have told me that you can’t seem to get a response OR you get a response but your legislators always disagree with you.

If you are in that situation, it is important to know why and what you can do about it.  The best thing for you to do is pretty clear cut and easy to understand:  Focus on your fellow constituents right away!  

Why do you need to engage with your district teams? How should you engage with your fellow constituents?  I’ll cover that and more below.

Engaging with your fellow constituents is essential because your legislators don’t answer to only you.  There are lots of advocacy tasks you can do on your own, but if you don’t engage with your fellow constituents at all, you are unwisely keeping yourself ignorant about information you need to know.

  • Know who your two state legislators are, you can find them here.
  • Know you have TWO district teams, one for State Senate and one for State House of Representatives, and they are not going to be exactly the same group of constituents because the district boundaries aren’t the same.  
  • Once you fill out the Together Oklahoma membership form, I will email you a list of TOK members in your district.  I don’t give out member contact information but you can access your district team in Slack. There is a channel in Slack for each of your Oklahoma State Legislative Districts. More about what Slack is and how we use it HERE.
  • I highly suggest you use those district member lists and Slack channels to do all of these things:
    1. Share the work of all of these tasks so no one is overwhelmed with too many citizen responsibilities!
    2. Track who is talking to your legislator and what they are learning from those communications using a spreadsheet or whatever means works for y’all.
    3. Share what you know about your legislator and their positions on upcoming bills. 
    4. Make note of which bills your legislator has sponsored. Your district team can request that list from TOK staff on Slack or via email at research@togetherok.org
    5. Keep track of how your legislator votes on bills that matter to you. They are people and just like the rest of us, their actions speak louder than words.
    6. Work together to power map your legislator, and find more about how to do that HERE.
    7. Plan to carpool together to the Capitol OR set up a constituent meeting with your legislator at home in your district.  Remember, face-to-face communications are most impactful!
    8. Bring your fellow constituents into your district teams.  Citizen power is stronger in larger numbers!
    9. Resist the temptation to make these partisan district teams.  There is plenty of Democrat and Republican organization happening elsewhere.  Together Oklahoma is a place to put those distinctions aside and find the points where we can all come together. 
    10. Connect with your local chapter of Together Oklahoma or consider starting one if you aren’t near Tulsa, Norman, or OKC.  HERE are the guidelines for starting a TOK chapter.
  • There is so much more you and your district team can do but that is plenty to get you going!

If you still aren’t convinced that you should connect with your district team, here is more about why I think you should:

  • You and your fellow district members are going to have different communication styles and personal traits.  Some legislators will listen better to you and some will only hear people who aren’t like you.  Legislators are just human beings and we are all biased to some extent.
  • Doing all ten of the things I suggested above takes time and none of us has all the time in the world.  Split up the work and keep a constant stream of communication flowing to and from your legislator. You and your district team can strategically engage with your legislator over time in a way that is much more meaningful and persuasive than some one day assault with a rally or a single person going up to the Capitol.
  • Other members of your district have some of the same concerns you do and some have concerns that are different.  You will be better able to persuade our leaders and our society to do things that are good if you know what’s going on with the other people around you.
  • Finally, we are in a time of absurdly harsh partisanship that ignores the reality that we are all in this life together! We all want good schools for our children, access to great jobs, clean, safe, and healthy communities and more.  There is so much more that unites us than what divides us and frankly, I think our elected leaders need YOU to set an example of how to work together for the common good, don’t you?

Let’s do this!  Let’s do it now!  If you aren’t connected to your district team through Together Oklahoma all you need to do is fill out this membership form and we’ll get you connected. You’ll receive an email invitation to Slack and a list of people who are working with the same legislators who represent you.  You can follow these guidelines to use Slack to your optimal advantage. How much or how little you collaborate with your teams is up to you but you can’t escape the fact that you are in two state legislative districts with other Oklahomans.  I hope you will get to know them and that they will get to know you!

Are you planning to join us at the Capitol on March 22nd for the Let’s Fix This Day at the Capito from 9am-4pm? We need your legislators to see you there so please join us or at least make sure someone from your district team will be there to represent you and your fellow constituents.  Time is running out and we need all hands on deck!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Power Mapping For Change

by | March 14th, 2017

As good advocates for change, we have many tools at our disposal. One important tool is called a power map. A power map helps us identify decision-makers and understand all the forces acting on them — like constituents; personal and professional relationships; special interest groups; other advocacy organizations; and political party leaders; among others.

This web of influence is often difficult for the average citizen to understand. The lines of influence between these players are always evolving, and the reasons behind a legislator’s position on any given subject may not be — probably won’t be — based on a purely rational assessment of the issue’s pros and cons. For us to have a chance of nudging our legislators in the right direction, we have to understand the forces at play.

There are a few simple steps to creating an effective power map:

  • Determine your goal or policy objective.
  • Identify the right target for your efforts.
  • Brainstorm the people and institutions that know and interact with your target.
  • Determine the nature of the relationship between your target and the people who influence them.
  • Make a plan of action.
  • What’s Your Goal?

Before starting any campaign, your team must determine what success looks like. What is your ultimate goal? At this stage, your team should stay focused on identifying the problem, not specific solutions. For example, if you and your team are worried about a proposed tax cut and the effect it might have on vital services, you may have a pretty good idea of what your goal is already. You probably want the legislature to see the light and vote against the tax cut. However, an important aspect of determining your goal is to not jump to conclusions about what the best solution might be. There may be a dozen different ways to accomplish the goal of funding services. Squabbling over the details early on is a great way to blunt the power of your team, because you end up directing your energies against each other instead of the real decision-makers.

  • Who Can Make It Happen?

            Next you need to identify who the real decision makers are. Often this will be a legislator, a city councilor, or some other elected official, but your target may be any individual or group that has the power to effect change in the policy. Depending on what your specific goal is, the focus of your efforts could be a prominent citizen, a journalist, or the head of a state agency or private institution. For larger and more complicated goals, consider whether success depends on targeting multiple individuals or even an entire institution. Picking the right target is often a simple task, but sometimes a little research is needed to find out who the correct target should be. As you build your power map, you may discover that the individuals you thought were in charge aren’t. Like the Wizard of Oz, there might be a someone you don’t expect who is really pulling the strings. When this happens, keep your map flexible, add the true decision maker to your power map, and refocus your efforts on the “man behind the curtain.”

  • Brainstorm as a group

As a group activity, power mapping is a great way to build consensus and communicate a plan of action to your team. It helps focus your efforts, and it can shift meetings from complaining about a problem into making a productive plan of action.

The most crucial skill when power mapping in a group is to understand the process of brainstorming. Brainstorming is about getting ideas out and recorded. It is not about the quality of the ideas. It’s not the time to criticize, make negative comments or stifle input. You want every team member contributing. Using sticky notes to record every idea (one note = one idea), create a comprehensive list of influences on the target.

Let’s say your team goal is to get your state senator to vote against an upcoming tax cut. The state senator is your target. Now is the time for you and your team to brainstorm all the forces acting on the senator. Find out everything you can about him and consider what people and institutions are connected to him. These may include:

  • Family members
  • Friends
  • Current and former colleagues in school, business, sports, or the military
  • Companies the senator may have done business with or worked for
  • Major employers in the state and especially in the senator’s district
  • Media (including newspapers, television and web outlets, whether or not they tend to favor or criticize your target)
  • Social media (not just the platform, i.e. Facebook or Twitter, but also the individual social media actors that the senator has historically responded to)
  • Community groups and activists
  • Nonprofits and charities
  • Churches and other religious organizations
  • The senator’s political party and important party officials
  • Map the relationships

Armed with this list of actors, you can begin to create a power map diagram. If you have a white board, now is the time to use it! Begin by placing the target in the center of your diagram and arrange your sticky notes around the target. Draw lines between the target and the actors on your sticky notes. These lines indicate that the actor has influence over the target. We call them relational lines of power. On the line, you can briefly describe the type of relationship between the actor and the target (see Diagram 1).

Diagram 1

You may notice right away that the various actors may have connections to each other, not just to the target. Draw relational lines of power between the various actors as well as to the target. Some actors will have many connections to both the target and other actors. These nodes of power are important influencers of both the target and other influencers. Take note of who they are.

  • Create a Plan of Action

Your diagram should look something like Diagram 2, a messy web of interconnected nodes and relational lines of power. Every line coming from your target leads to an individual or group that has some measure of influence over the target. Every line leading to your target is a string that you can pluck.

Diagram 2

You can use your power map to identify who you should contact, who should get to know you, and who you need to get on your side. Ideally, mapping the relationships will turn up someone connected to your target who is also connected with you or your allies. Maybe you’re not ready to directly persuade your target, but you are ready to reach out to this person or group connected to him. For the most important campaigns, this may be a multi-step process where you have to start with someone well removed from the ultimate decision-maker. But if you can convince all your target’s friends, family and business associates, getting your target to come around to your point of view is much easier.

The why and how of legislative district teams.

by | March 13th, 2017

Why do you need to engage with your district team? How should you engage with your fellow constituents?  I’ll cover that and more and I hope you’ll join your fellow Together Oklahoma members in Slack to talk about this even more.

Engaging with your fellow constituents is essential because your legislators don’t answer to only you.  There are lots of advocacy tasks you can do on your own, but if you don’t engage with your fellow constituents at all, you are unwisely keeping yourself uninformed about information you need to know.

  • Know who your two state legislators are, you can find them here.
  • Know you have TWO district teams, one for State Senate and one for State House of Representatives, and they are not going to be exactly the same because the district boundaries aren’t the same.  
  • Once you fill out the Together Oklahoma membership form, I will email you a list of TOK members in your district.  I don’t give out member contact information but you can access your district team in Slack. There is a channel in Slack for each of your Oklahoma State Legislative Districts.
  • I highly suggest you use those district member lists and channels to do all of these things:
  1. Share the work of all of these tasks so no one is overwhelmed with too many citizen responsibilities!
  2. Track who is talking to your legislator and what they are learning from those communications using the spreadsheet that is in your Slack channel or whatever means works for y’all.
  3. Share what you know about your legislator and that legislator’s positions on upcoming bills. 
  4. Make note of what bills your legislator has sponsored. I can get you a list if you request it.
  5. Keep track of how your legislator votes on bills that matter to you.
  6. Work together to power map your legislator, and find more about how to do that HERE.
  7. Plan to carpool together to the Capitol OR set up a constituent meeting with your legislator at home in your district.  Remember, face-to-face communications are most impactful!
  8. Bring your fellow constituents into your district teams.  Citizen power is stronger in larger numbers!
  9. Resist the temptation to make these partisan district teams.  There is plenty of Democrat and Republican organization happening elsewhere.  Together Oklahoma is a place to put those distinctions aside and find the points where we can all come together. 
  10. Connect with your local chapter of Together Oklahoma or consider starting one if you aren’t near Tulsa, Norman, or OKC.  HERE are the guidelines for starting a TOK chapter.
  • There is so much more you and your district team can do but that is plenty to get you going!

If you still aren’t convinced that you should connect with your district team, here is more about why I think you should:

  • You and your fellow district members are going to have different communication styles and personal traits.  Some legislators will listen better to you and some will only hear people who aren’t like you.  Legislators are just human beings and we are all biased to some extent.
  • Doing all ten of the things I suggested above takes time and none of us has all the time in the world.  Split up the work and keep a constant stream of communication flowing to and from your legislator. You and your district team can strategically engage with your legislator over time in a way that is much more meaningful and persuasive than some one day assault with a rally or a single person going up to the Capitol.
  • Other members of your district have some of the same concerns you do and some have concerns that are different.  You will be better able to persuade our leaders and our society to do things that are good if you know what’s going on with the other people around you.
  • Finally, we are in a time of absurdly harsh partisanship that ignores the reality that we are all in this life together! We all want good schools for our children, access to great jobs, clean, safe, and healthy communities and more.  There is so much more that unites us than what divides us and frankly, I think our elected leaders need YOU to set an example of how to work together for the common good, don’t you?

Let’s do this!  Let’s do it now!  If you aren’t connected to your district team through Together Oklahoma all you need to do is fill out this membership form and we’ll get you connected. You’ll receive an email invitation to Slack and a list of people who are working with the same legislators who represent you.  You can follow these guidelines to use Slack to your optimal advantage. How much or how little you collaborate with your teams is up to you but you can’t escape the fact that you are in two state legislative districts with other Oklahomans.  I hope you will get to know them and that they will get to know you!

 

 

Revenue Solutions for the Big ol’ Hole!

by | March 7th, 2017

Like Will Rogers said “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging!”.  Well, we are in a big ol’ hole because the state budget has been cut almost 15 percent over the past decade when adjusted for inflation — or more than $1.1 billion per year. Many agencies now receive 20 to 40 percent less than prior to the Great Recession. How about we stop digging and build a ladder?

Below are seven rungs that could fit on that ladder. Want more info? Download OK Policy’s revenue options factsheet.

  1. Reduce tax breaks for the oil and gas industry
  2. Assess a high-income surcharge.
  3. Increase the cigarette tax.
  4. End the capital gains exemption. 
  5. Adopt combined corporate reporting.
  6. Increase the fuel tax.
  7. Improve collection of Internet sales taxes.

Recurring Revenue Options:

  1. Reduce tax breaks for the oil and gas industry. Oil and Gas has been an important part of our economy and will continue to be so for some time. So we should ask them to pay their fair share of taxes! Oklahoma traditionally has taxed oil and gas production at 7 percent with various exceptions. But in 2014, the Legislature voted to tax almost all production at 2 percent for 36 months. That is well below the tax rates in other energy-producing states. It doesn’t make sense, and we can’t afford it! This tax break is expected to cost the state $370 million in FY 2018. Instead, the oil and gas gross production tax rate on new production could be raised to 4 percent when prices are low and back to 7 percent when prices are higher. This would have a limited impact while the industry is down, but it would be a serious revenue increase over time [REVENUE: ~$40M].
  2. Assess a high-income surcharge. Don’t let anyone convince you that our budget hole is only about the cost of oil. Oklahoma has cut the top income rate from 6.65 percent to 5 percent since 2004. These cuts have contributed to chronic budget shortfalls by reducing annual revenue by over $1 billion. We can’t afford that! A large majority of the benefit has gone to the highest-income households. Oklahoma could assess a surcharge of 6 percent on income over $200,000 ($100,000 for single individuals) and 7 percent on income over $400,000 ($200,000 for singles). This would be a great way to improve our home state and only 3 percent of households would be affected by the surcharge. Even after this change, all households would still be paying less income taxes than before our legislators passed these recent tax cuts [REVENUE: $204M].
  3. Increase the cigarette tax. I know some folks don’t like this because it is regressive, but you know what is more regressive? Closing rural hospitals, cutting programs at DHS, and making it harder for people to get the care they need, that’s what. Last session legislators came close to raising the tax on cigarettes to $2.53 from $1.03 per package. This option is on the table again. It is ON THE TABLE, so let’s not let the “perfect get in the way of the good.” Revenue from a cigarette tax increase could be dedicated for health care services to reverse past cuts and avert further ones, and it will make people healthier to boot!  [REVENUE: $258M, according to Gov. Fallin’s FY ‘18 budget proposal].
  4. End the capital gains exemption.  Oklahoma allows a 100 percent income tax deduction on capital gains from the sale of property located in Oklahoma or the sale of stock of a company headquartered in Oklahoma. The tax break, which primarily benefits taxpayers making over $1 million annually, is of questionable economic benefit and could also violate the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Do we really need to have more ways that we may be violating the Constitution in this state? I don’t know about y’all, but I am sick of making national headlines for the wrong reasons. [REVENUE: $105M]
  5. Adopt combined corporate reporting. Hey there! Do you like loopholes that allow some folks to skip paying their fair share?  Yeah, me neither. Some multi-state corporations shift income to out-of-state subsidiaries to escape state tax liability. We don’t have to do it this way. Most states with a corporate income tax have adopted an effective and well-established reform known as combined corporate reporting that halts this tax avoidance strategy and ensures that multi-state corporations pay their fair share of taxes, just like local businesses.  Let’s level the playing field so all businesses can have a framework that allows them to be the best corporate citizens they can be. [REVENUE: ~ $20M – $60M]
  6. Increase the fuel tax. Oklahoma has among the LOWEST fuel taxes in the nation (17¢ per gallon for gas and 14¢ per gallon for diesel), because we’ve just kinda skipped over adjusting it since 1987. Some of y’all reading this weren’t even born then!  Since that time the fuel tax has lost nearly half its value to inflation. Fuel tax increases could be pegged to be in effect only when gas prices are low. This would offset the loss in gross production taxes that Oklahoma experiences during times of low oil and gas prices. Nifty, right? [REVENUE: $135M for 5¢ increase of gasoline and diesel tax; $220M for Gov. Fallin’s recommendation to increase both gas and diesel tax to 24¢ per gallon].
  7. Improve collection of Internet sales taxes. One of the BIG reasons we’ve had so many folks working on getting Oklahomans to “Buy Local” is because states are hampered from collecting taxes on sales from retailers that lack a physical presence in their state – even though the tax is owed. Internet sales don’t have to hurt our mom-and-pop main-street shops but they are! Last year lawmakers passed a bill (HB 2531) that included a broader definition of who maintains a place of business in the state and also required remote retailers to send customers an annual statement listing their purchase. Oklahoma could now follow the lead of Colorado and Louisiana by also requiring remote retailers to notify the Tax Commission of their customers’ aggregate sales, which would boost compliance. [REVENUE: Unknown]

You know it and I know it. Oklahoma is once again facing a massive budget shortfall (aka the big ol’ hole). According to preliminary estimates, lawmakers will have about $740 million less for next year’s budget than what they appropriated this year. It doesn’t have to be that way but this is what they’ve set in motion so far. The state budget has already been cut almost 15 percent over the past decade when adjusted for inflation — for a total spending reduction of more than $1.1 billion per year. Many agencies now receive 20 to 40 percent less than prior to the Great Recession. Don’t let anyone seduce you with their siren song about wasteful government.  If they come a crooning, hit pause and ask them “Would you rather we quit having our Health Departments inspect restaurants for rats or just let all those school-less kiddos loose in the Capitol for a little up-close and personal Civics 101 ? “

The state needs more revenue! We’ve got to avoid more devastating cuts, to ensure fair pay for our teachers and state employees, to close gaps in mental health and substance abuse treatment, and to address critical staffing shortages in our corrections facilities, and the list of urgent needs goes on and on. As Oklahoma’s Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger has said, “We are not cutting our way out of this budget hole. We have to have a serious conversation about revenue in this state.” He is right about that and there NO reason to expect that your legislators will know that unless you and your fellow constituents confirm that they’ve heard about these options loud and clear!

Four things you can do about it:

  1. Contact your two legislators about the revenue options and get other folks to join you!
  2. Share this TOK Blog Post about the revenues. 
  3. Join the Together Oklahoma teams that are working on events, communications, outreach, and research about the revenues by filling out this little membership form
  4. Check our calendar of community events, attend and event, and talk about the revenues!

Now, you have in hand your broad menu of revenue options that are worth considering to ensure a better budget and a stronger economy that works for all! I’ve offered 4 things you can do and explained just how to get your legislators attention and who is on your team six ways from Sunday so please check out the Advocacy Tipsheets if you need a refresher.  Every single person in this state is counting on all of the rest of us to do the right thing.  Are you mad about this? GOOD. Set a good example and get out there spread the word!  

To Be Successful We Need To Be Strategic

by | March 2nd, 2017

Photo by Bil Kleb

I see you all out there, feeling feisty about getting our state legislators to do right by Oklahoma and pass a better budget this year!  I’m glad more Oklahomans are doing all you can do to help make the public investments that matter to us all. In fact, I’ve never seen as much citizen advocate action as we have this session, but let’s remember that to be successful we need to be strategic and we need a team. Let’s not try to go it alone.

If this a representative democracy, who is being represented? No state House Representative or state Senator is representing just you, so when you set out to do legislative advocacy, don’t go it alone.  You’ve been contacting your legislators about our weekly advocacy alerts and the suggested revenue options but legislators will respond differently to a whole group of constituents than they will to just you.

That is why I’m using Together Oklahoma to reach out to you in several different team-oriented ways.  

Individual TOK members are:

  • Receiving and acting upon weekly updates on Thursdays, like this one, plus Action Alerts on Mondays. You can see those anytime HERE on the togetherok.org website.
  • Participating in TOK Chapters or building new chapters. There are TOK Chapters where members are working together to host events, carpools to the Capitol, small group meetings with legislators, and more.  Our active chapters are TOK OKC, TOK Tulsa, and TOK Norman, but there are more than enough people to start TOK Chapters all over the state. See how to start a chapter HERE.
  • Connecting with fellow constituents to strategically impact the two legislators who represent you. You have both the right and the responsibility to find the best ways to engage with the two state legislators who represent you. This week members of Together Oklahoma, who have filled out our membership form, and joined Slack, have been added to two channels corresponding to each of their own two state legislative districts. If you haven’t filled out a membership form, you can do so now. You can use these district connections to plan Town Hall Meetings to talk with your legislator about ways to fix the state budget. Even if you don’t like your legislators, they still represent you ,so please let me help you connect with your district teams. I went into more detail about this last week in Your Team and Your Quest.

Beyond your individual relationships with your legislators, participating in your local chapter, creating a new chapter, and engaging with your fellow constituents in your two district groups, you can also join the Together Oklahoma committees.

  • We have members all over the state who are planing creative communications, hosting events, researching legislators and districts, and doing outreach efforts to make these resources available to all Oklahomans. To join one of these committees fill out the membership form or, if you have already filled it out, and you haven’t heard from a committee chair, email us at intern@togetherok.org

There is no shortage of meaningful things you can do!  If you still don’t see what you are looking for in the options above, let me know what you’d like to do and I’ll see how I can support you. You can find us on slack or at info@togetherok.org.

Upcoming Events

  • TOK Norman Coffee Chat with Legislators
    • Friday, March 10th, 9am-11am at The Screen Door Coffee and Entertainment, West Main Street, Norman, OK
    • Senator Sparks and Representatives Griffith and Virgin will be joining members of Together Oklahoma in conversation about the budget hole, what is being done, and what we can do, as well as answering other constituent questions. Representative Martin said he will try to attend as well if he is able.
  • Let’s Fix This Capitol Day (Mar 15th)
    • Wednesday, March 15 at 9 AM – 12 PM at the Oklahoma State Capitol, 2300 N Lincoln Blvd, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73105
    • The purpose of the Let’s Fix This Capitol Days is to get regular people to go to the state Capitol and talk to their legislators about whatever issues are most important to them. We know going to the Capitol can be intimidating, and we want to change that.

We are in this together so let’s be strategic and build toward more success!