May 13, 2016 Weekly Wrap


General Revenue Fund Collections for April Fall Short of Estimate 

The Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services reported this week that General Revenue Fund (GRF) collections in April missed the estimate by nearly 13 percent. Despite the lower revenues, further midyear reductions to state agencies remain unlikely.  

April GRF collections of $611 million were $89.4 million, or 12.8 percent, below the official estimate upon which the Fiscal Year 2016 appropriated state budget was based, and $62.3 million, or 9.2 percent, below prior year collections.

House – Senate Joint Committee Deciding Revenue Options for Budget

A joint committee of House and Senate members met during each of the last two weeks and approved several measures aimed at identifying revenue sources necessary to help close the nearly $1.3 billion budget gap as they continue to craft the FY-2017 budget.

Among the bills considered and passed were House Bill 3208, which would authorize the Oklahoma Tax Commission to issue new license plates for Oklahoma motorists, Senate Bill 1579, which would authorize the OTC to increase efforts to collect income and sales taxes, and Senate Bill 1582, which would place an annual cap of $25 million on the Investment/New Jobs Income Tax Credit.

The committee also approved measures to eliminate the double state income tax deduction and the earned income tax credit. 

The measures would save the state more than $200 million.

Retail Protection Act fixes tax collection process for out-of-state vendors

Legislation to level the playing field between Oklahoma brick-and-mortar retailers and out-of-state vendors passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives today. 

House Bill 2531, by state Rep. Chad Caldwell, will require online retailers that do not have a physical presence in Oklahoma to either begin voluntarily collecting sales tax at the point of consumer purchase or sending each of their consumers a notice at the end of each year stating the total amount of purchases with a reminder that sales and use tax remittance is required.

Caldwell pointed out  this is not a tax increase as sales and use tax collection and remittance is already required by state statute, yet estimates show that only 4 percent of Oklahoma taxpayers currently report use tax on their state tax returns. He also reminded that the collection is voluntary for the online retailer. He said Amazon initially had been opposed to the measure but with amended language the large, online retailer is now in favor of the bill. 

Oklahoma retailers compete on price, service and selection, Caldwell said, but the current structure puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to taxes. 

The measure passed by a vote of 70-18 and now heads to the governor for her signature. 

Measure Returns Evaluation of Teachers Back to Local School Districts

A measure designed to return flexibility in evaluating teachers back to local school districts was approved by the Oklahoma House of Representatives this week. 

House Bill 2957, by state Rep. Michael Rogers and state Sen. John Ford (R-Bartlesville), would eliminate the quantitative or student outcome measurements of the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness (TLE) evaluation system, which relieves school districts and teachers from VAM, Value Added Measures, which is a teacher evaluation system based on student test scores.  School districts do have the option of continuing to use quantitative measurements in evaluating teachers at the expense of the local school district.

 The bill would retain the qualitative measurements, which evaluate teachers based on classroom instruction and learning environment. The measure also creates a professional development component  to be used as another qualitative tool in the evaluation process.  The Department of Education will create the professional development component to be introduced during the 2018-2019 school year.

 It is estimated that this measure could save local school districts millions, and would save the Oklahoma Department of Education more than $500,000 annually.

 The bill has been supported by the Department of Education and school administrators from across the state.  

 The bill now heads to the governor’s desk to await her signature.

Governor signs ‘catfishing’ legislation

Legislation to give legal recourse to Oklahoma victims of “catfishing” was signed into law by the governor this week.

Catfishing is an online scheme where a predator impersonates someone else in order to trick a victim into giving out personal data and information. The legislation would be the first of its kind in the nation, the author said.

House Bill 3024, by state Rep. John Paul Jordan, the “Catfishing Liability Act of 2016,” would allow people whose photos or videos are stolen to request an automatic injunction against the person using them. It would also allow those victims to request monetary damages, including a $500 minimum award in punitive damages.

Jordan said that catfishing represents a legal gray area in Oklahoma and that judges would have little guidance on how to rule if such case ever came up in court.

Popularized by MTV’s show Catfish, Internet catfishing is where a person knowingly uses another’s name, voice, signature, photograph or likeness through social media to create false identities in attempts to lure victims into a relationship, normally romantic and sometimes financial.