Wednesday, February 20, 2019

$8.2B certified for FY2020 appropriations, 7.5% increase


BOARD OF EQUALIZATION APPROVES $8.2B FOR FY 2020 APPROPRIATIONS

OKLAHOMA CITY (Feb. 20, 2019) — The Board of Equalization, chaired by Governor J. Kevin Stitt, on Wednesday certified $8,249,071,274 in revenues for FY 2020 appropriations, which is $574.5 million, or 7.5 percent, more than was appropriated for FY 2019.This amount is $37.8 million, or 0.5 percent, less than the December estimate.

“Today’s report by the Board of Equalization is encouraging,” said Governor Kevin Stitt. “Our state’s economy has remained strong because of Oklahomans who are working hard, opening businesses and creating jobs. Moving forward, my budget priorities for FY 2020 remain the same. My number one focus is on improving our state’s savings and delivering agency accountability. These are the keys to unlocking Oklahoma’s turnaround and putting us on a path to a stronger future. In order to accomplish this, we must invest in our savings account and recognize that true fiscal accountability and transparency is not possible until the governor has hire and fire authority over state agencies. I look forward to working with the Legislature this session to get this done.”

All major tax categories showed growth between the board’s December meeting and its February meeting except personal income tax, which fell $27.9 million, or 1.0 percent, and gross production taxes on natural gas, which decreased by $53.2 million, or 11.4 percent.

"It's important going into the next two fiscal years that we build a state budget that is sustainable. While we did not meet the threshold for money to be deposited into the new Revenue Stabilization Fund this year, it is very likely that a large deposit will happen next fiscal year," said Secretary of Budget Mike Mazzei. “This deposit could be hundreds of millions of dollars, which means there could be no growth revenue in FY 2021."

"We need to be cautious when allocating agency appropriations this year," Mazzei added. "If current trends continue, and we appropriate all available funds for FY 2020 operations, we could be setting ourselves up for some difficulty next year.”

Oklahoma state government builds a 5 percent cushion into every appropriated state budget to prevent mandatory budget reductions if revenues fall below the official estimate. If revenues are projected to fall more than 5 percent below the estimate for the remainder of the fiscal year, a revenue failure is declared and mandatory appropriation reductions must occur to maintain a balanced budget.

The Board of Equalization packet is available on the OMES website.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Senate Education Committee passes 5-day school week bill

Oklahoma Republicans used to tout a strong belief in local control when it comes to education. Now, seemingly motivated by pressure from the unions who run the Oklahoma education system, they are reversing course.

During the budget crunch of recent years, some schools - given the flexibility of the 1,080-hours required by current law - opted to hold classes for four days a week instead of the traditional five, while still meeting the mandated amount of teaching time. Some communities appear to have preferred that setup (I even had a cleaning customer who is a teacher tell me she liked it better and that her students did better as well), but the education unions decried it and used it as part of their campaign to seek more funding. The State Senate has made it a part of their mission for this session to move the requirement back to the 180-days and remove much of the local control ability for districts to opt for the four-day school week.


Bill restoring 5-day school week clears Senate Education Committee

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Senate Education Committee approved a bill to restore five-day school weeks in Oklahoma schools, advancing one of the four agenda items of Senate Republicans.

Senate Bill 441 by Senator Mary Quinn, R-Claremore, says all public schools shall be in session for no less than 180 days. Currently, schools are to be in session for 1,080 hours. The bill provides exemptions to the five-day school week if local schools can demonstrate four-day weeks aren’t adversely impacting student achievement and four-day weeks actually save the local district money.

“Five-day school weeks are best for students and families. Four-day weeks have hurt Oklahoma’s reputation nationally and impaired the state’s ability to recruit new employers and jobs. Restoring five-day school weeks puts the focus on the student, where it belongs, and will go a long way in repairing our reputation nationally as we work to recruit new jobs and grow Oklahoma’s economy,” said Treat, R-Oklahoma City.

“Senate Republicans are committed to keeping our word on the historic teacher pay raises and doing what’s best for students and that means restoring five-day school weeks. We also believe in the importance of local control, which is why we’ve included reasonable exemptions to the five-day week. I appreciate my Senate colleagues for advancing the bill today and look forward to moving it forward through the process,” Quinn said.

Treat said he applauded the members of the Senate Education Committee who joined him in voting in favor of students by supporting SB 441. Supporters were:

  • Majority Floor Leader Kim David, R-Porter
  • Senator Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa
  • Senator Jason Smalley, R-Stroud
  • Senator Joe Newhouse, R-Tulsa
  • Senator Tom Dugger, R-Stillwater
  • Senator Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee
  • Senator Marty Quinn, R-Claremore
  • Senator Paul Scott, R-Duncan
  • Senator Wayne Shaw, R-Grove
  • Senator Carri Hicks, D-Oklahoma City

OCPA column: Better service at a better price


Better service at a better price
by Jonathan Small, president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs

Whether dealing with auto repair shops or Internet service providers or any number of businesses, we’ve all heard the promise of “better service at a better price.”

Well, taxpayers should demand the same. Taxpayers are both the owners and the customers of government. Their tax dollars finance it, and they consume its services. That’s why Oklahomans should be grateful to our new governor, Kevin Stitt, who has made it clear in bringing his business background to state leadership that he intends to deliver better service at a better price.

From his personnel appointments to his insistence on efficiency, accountability, and economy in his inaugural message and State of the State address, Gov. Stitt has made it clear that he intends to bring the idea of good service at a fair price into state government.

No longer will we be asked to throw more tax dollars at problems without seeing a clear return on that investment. That’s good news. According to a new survey commissioned by OCPA and conducted by WPA Intelligence, taxpayers are skeptical of the old approach.

For example, when asked about Oklahoma’s public-school revenue per student of $9,219, only a third of respondents said taxpayers are getting a good return on investment. Just over half (51 percent) say the return on investment is lacking.

Consider the new ranking of state education systems by scholars Stan Liebowitz and Matthew Kelly of the University of Texas at Dallas. They show that New York state spends more than $22,000 per student to achieve a quality ranking of 31st—while Tennessee spends under $8,800 per student and ranks 30th.

What matters is not just how much you spend on schools—or any endeavor, in government or the private sector—but rather how you spend it.

The WPA Intelligence survey also asked respondents: “For every dollar paid in taxes that goes to the Oklahoma state government, how many cents out of each dollar do you believe are wasted?”

Only 7 percent of Oklahoma voters think government waste is minimal (less than 10 cents of every dollar).

Incredibly, registered voters overall believe that 47 cents of every dollar is being wasted. That’s not a misprint. (The number is 45 cents among Democrats, 48 cents among Republicans, and 50 cents among Independents.)

Not exactly a resounding vote of confidence in state government. Which is why the time is right for a governor who, unlike many politicians, has balanced the books of a business, made a monthly payroll, and dealt with the need to deliver good service at a fair price to customers.

Gov. Stitt knows that spending more dollars does not necessarily lead to better service. And he knows that a business that spends as freely and irresponsibly as some government agencies do would soon be out of business.

Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said, at an OCPA speech in Tulsa in 2011, “Never take a dollar from a free citizen through the coercion of taxation without a very legitimate purpose.” He pointed out that those in government “have a solemn duty to spend that dollar as carefully as possible because, when we took it, we diminished that person's freedom.”

Oklahoma taxpayers want and deserve better service at a better price.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

Major Growth Continues in Health Care Sharing


For those of you who are long-time readers, I've written quite a bit in the past about health-care sharing and our experience as a family with this different method of dealing with health-related expenses. Back in December of 2016, I wrote an article entitled An Overview: Health Care Sharing's Tremendous Growth, detailing the surge in participation in health care sharing after the passage and implementation of ObamaCare.

Over the two months, I've gathered the latest information from the six nationally-available health care sharing ministries, but before I share the statistics let me explain what exactly "health care sharing" is, for those who are unfamiliar with the term.

Health Care Sharing - Background

Health care sharing is based on a Biblical principle found throughout the Scripture (see Acts 2:44-45), with Galatians 6:2 being a key verse: "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ." Applying this principle to health care means Christians banding together to share each other's medical costs.

While there are some minor differences among the major health care sharing ministries, the basic system is the same. Members usually affirm a statement of faith and agree to live a lifestyle that fits certain moral guidelines. Participants commit to a set payment each month, which is sent to fellow members who have submitted their medical bills to the ministry, which assigns those medical needs to specific members each month.

Health Care Sharing Ministries (HCSMs) "are operated by not-for-profit religious organizations acting as a clearinghouse for those who have medical expenses and those who desire to share the burden of those medical expenses." They are not insurance, but HCSMs and their members were exempted from the insurance mandate in ObamaCare and thus paid no penalty or tax during the time it was in effect. HCSMs are legal and operate in all 50 states, U.S. territories, and even have international members (such as missionaries).

HCSM members are considered cash or self-pay patients, and can generally use any physician or hospital that will accept cash/self-pay patients (some of the ministries use networks for extra savings, but they're not required). Most of the ministries also work with third-party groups to negotiate deep discounts on larger bills. Most HCSMs have limitations on pre-existing conditions, but some have more flexibility on them than others.

Health care sharing in a modern sense traces back to the Amish and Mennonites in the 1960's, but in the 1980's and 1990's several new non-denominational (generally evangelical Protestant) groups started which accepted membership nationwide regardless of church affiliation, provided they agreed to the statement of faith and guidelines (as mentioned previously).

According to the Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries, HHS lists 104 known and active health care sharing ministries, 97 of which are Mennonite/Old German Baptist churches or associations with closed membership. Most have fewer than 100 members.

There are currently six main, nationally-available HCSMs. Christian Healthcare Ministries began in 1981. In 1993, Christian Care Ministry started Medi-Share. Samaritan Ministries started sharing in 1994. Altrua HealthShare (2000; 1997 through merger), Solidarity HealthShare (2012; 1990s through affiliation), and Liberty HealthShare (2013; 1995 through affiliation) started sharing more recently, but are affiliated with older groups in order to qualify under the ObamaCare restrictions on HCSMs (continual existence since before 2000 is one rule).

According to a paper published by the Charlotte Lozier Institute last December, there were just over 100,000 participants in HCSMs in 2005. Growth since that time has been exponential, particularly since ObamaCare began to be implemented. I reached out to the six aforementioned ministries and obtained some statistical information to share about their recent increase in participation.


The Nationwide Ministries

We'll now examine the membership stats and brief cost explanations for each of the nationally-available HCSMs, going from largest to smallest.



As of December 2018, there were about 411,600 individuals participating in Medi-Share; in December 2016, there were 212,400 members. There are currently about 6,800 members in Oklahoma, up from 3,170 in December 2016.

Monthly membership costs with Medi-Share are quite a bit more complicated than with the other HCSMs, more like typical health insurance. It depends on age, health, and varying initial unshareable costs ranging from $1,000 to $10,500. It looks like it ranges from a low of about $44 (single aged 18, healthy, $10,500 personally responsible before sharing) to a high of about $1,246 (head of household aged 64, 3+ member family, $1,750 pre-sharing).

Medi-Share has no per-incident or lifetime cost limits.


Christian Healthcare Ministries was not particularly helpful in responding to my inquiry, and was especially reticent when it came to membership figures, saying "here is our policy on discussing numbers: we don’t" -- although a blog post on their site last month said they have "are serving nearly 400,000 Christians". In December 2016, they had somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 members. They had "over 3,000 members" in Oklahoma in 2016, and would not indicate current levels, but judging from growth rates they likely have around or more than 5,000 Oklahoma members.

Monthly membership costs run from a low of $45 (one individual on 'Bronze' program) to a high of $450 (family of three or larger on the 'Gold' program). CHM's initial unshareable Personal Responsibility cost is $500 per incident for their 'Gold' level, to $5,000 per incident on 'Bronze'. All three levels share up to $125,000 per incident.

CHM also offers Brother's Keeper, an additional giving program that raises the per-incident cap to unlimited for Gold members, and adds $100,000 per year to the Silver/Bronze $125,000 per-incident cap up to a maximum of $1,000,000 (in year 10).

As of December 2018, Samaritan Ministries had about 264,000 individuals participating; in November 2016, there were 209,650 members. There are currently about 4,500 members in Oklahoma, up from 3,425 in November 2016.

Monthly membership costs run from a low of $100 (single individual under age 30 on Basic, the lower membership level) to a high of $495 (family of 3+ individuals on Classic, the upper membership level). Samaritan's Classic membership level has a $300 initial unshareable cost (pre-discount) and a per-incident cap of $250,000, while their Basic membership level has a $1,500 unshareable cost (pre-discount) and has a $236,500 per-incident cap.

Samaritan also offers Save To Share, an additional giving program that raises the per-incident cap to unlimited. Members of Save To Share set aside between $133 (single individual) and $399 (3+ family) each year for use if needed by other Save To Share members.

As I've mentioned before, my wife and I have been members of Samaritan Ministries since shortly after getting married in 2012.


Liberty HealthShare and Solidarity HealthShare
(National Coalition of Health Care Sharing Ministries)


Liberty and Solidarity are affiliated organizations, with Liberty being the larger of the two. Solidarity is exclusively for practicing Catholics. The two groups comprise the "National Coalition of Health Care Sharing Ministries", which administers Solidarity and helps with their operations, utilizing Liberty's wider experience. As of December 2018, they had a combined total of 236,000 members; in November 2016, there were about 90,000 individuals participating. They have about 3,000 members in Oklahoma, up from 1,000 members in late 2016.

Monthly membership costs run from a low of $199 (single individual under age 30 on Liberty Share, their lowest level) to a high of $529 (head of household aged 30+, 3+ member family on Liberty Complete, their highest level). Their initial unshareable cost ranges from $1,00 for an individual to $2,250 for a family. Per-incident caps range from $1,000,000 on their highest level to 70% of eligible medical bills up to $125,000 on their lowest level.


Currently, Altrua HealthShare said they have about 20,000 individuals participating; in December 2016 there were about 25,000 members. Altrua originally began as a Mormon-oriented HCSM in 2000, but changed structure and leadership in 2005 to became non-denominational in reach. They currently have about 300 members in Oklahoma, which was the same figure I was given in 2016. Altrua seems to be the only nationwide HCSM that has not grown.

Monthly membership costs run from a low of $100 (single individual on 'Copper' program) to a high of $874 (family of 3+ members on 'Gold' program). Their initial unshareable costs are a bit complicated, but range from $500 to $7,500 on the first submitted need, and $2,500 to $5,000 on the second need.

Altrua has lifetime sharing limits of $1,000,000 to $2,000,000, with annual caps of $150,000 to $250,000 for their lowest two levels.


Growth continues significant upward trajectory

Following up from my 2016 survey of the state of Health Care Sharing Ministries, we see continued and significant growth among the nationally-available groups. They have all benefited significantly from the turmoil of ObamaCare and the individual mandate exemption available for HCSM members.

There are now over 1,300,000 individuals participating in health care sharing in these six ministries (not counting the smaller localized Amish/Mennonite groups), almost double the 712,000 in late 2016, and 13-times larger than the 100,000 members in 2008.

Here's a chart I put together with the membership information I've gathered from the previously-discussed ministries:
CCM = Medi-Share, SMI = Samaritan Min., CHM = Christian Healthcare Min., Lib/Sol = Liberty+Solidarity
The upward trend in HCSM membership began in 2010, picked up speed through 2014, and rocketed skyward from 2014 to 2016. Major growth has continued since then, albeit at a slightly lower pace. The years with asterisks are dates that I have been able to find few official figures from, and are primarily filled in by the general trends (the other years are actual statistical numbers from the ministries).

Here's the chart for the combined figures from these six nationally-available HCSMs:

There has been an increase of about 1,200% since 2008, and membership in these six HCSMs has nearly doubled in just the last two years.

Not included in these figures are members of the several dozen other organizations who have no online presence, predominately small, localized churches and ministries in the Amish and Mennonite communities. Taking these additional ministries into account, there are likely near 1,500,000 Americans participating in health care sharing organizations across the nation.

Approximately 18,000 to 20,000 Oklahomans are members of one of the six health care sharing ministries I surveyed, up from around 11,000 in 2016.


Q&A on HCSM challenges and legislation

When I reached out to the different ministries, I asked them two questions dealing with challenges facing health care sharing ministries, and legislative action that could help members of HCSMs. Here are their responses.

Q: What do you perceive to be the greatest challenges facing HCSM growth?

Samaritan Ministries:
The biggest challenge has always been the cultural mindset it takes to switch from insurance. Samaritan Ministries is not insurance and society has an insurance mindset. Making the move from insurance to Samaritan takes a shift in thinking. We take great pains to make sure inquirers understand that Samaritan is not insurance, so that also naturally dampens rapid growth. Also, growth has slowed because there are more options for Americans because of regulatory changes to short-term plans, associations plans, and the economy improved leading to more employment and employer-provided insurance.
Liberty Healthshare:
The greatest challenges facing HCSM growth are a lack of awareness of this option, and the need to build the capacity to better serve larger numbers of members. We were the first to begin using TV to market the health sharing option, and we are intensely focused on growing our capacity to process and pay bills in two months and to answer all member calls, as well as making it easier for members to interact with us and stay informed about how their costs are being shared online. We are also assessing additional options to make health sharing more holistic and customizable.
Medi-Share:
While there are bound to be changes in healthcare reform and the healthcare market will continue to evolve, our members will continue to faithfully pray for one another and share in one another’s healthcare burdens, just as they have for the past 25 years.
Christian Healthcare Ministries:
One of the biggest, if not THE, biggest enemies we have is the insurance industry and the insurance regulators thinking we are getting too big. They both are determined to shut us down because some of us have been bragging and seemingly gloating about how fast we are growing and how big we are. This is not just a problem, it is the biggest threat to our existence that currently exists.

Q: Are there specific legislative measures that you would like to see passed on the topic of Health Care Sharing Ministries? What are you doing to help push that along?

Samaritan Ministries:
In the states, we would like to have clarification in their insurance codes that health care sharing is not insurance. That clarification is already in 30 states and we look for opportunities to expand that in the future where possible. Also, tax parity on the state and federal level to allow members to deduct their shares on their income taxes. Additionally, access for members of health care sharing ministries to Health Saving Accounts (HSAs). Congressman Mike Kelly (R-PA) and Collin Peterson (D-MN) previously introduced bipartisan legislation, H.R. 2310, which would amend the IRS code to allow health care sharing members to utilize HSAs. We trust that the legislation will once again be introduced in the next session of Congress.
Liberty Healthshare:
The Trump administration is revising the rules for HRAs. We’ve advised HHS and other agencies of the federal government that inclusion of HCSMs as a viable alternative for employers offering HRAs to their employees honors the free exercise of religion, as well as accommodating religious conscience. Under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, agencies of the federal government have broad discretion to include people of faith in their rule making. Integrating HRAs with HCSMs would accomplish an accommodation of religious practice in healthcare.

Further, some states (i.e. VT) are considering instituting their own insurance individual mandate. We have testified before state committees and advised the state agencies to include an exemption for HCSMs, following the federal model in the ACA.
Medi-Share:
We recently hired a Government Affairs & Policy Representative who is monitoring healthcare legislation and regulation at the Federal and State levels to ensure that our members’ needs are represented.
Christian Healthcare Ministries:
We are not pursuing legislative initiatives. That doesn’t mean we won’t act to protect our members to preserve their ability to exercise this freedom of religious faith or if we feel action is in their interest.
Sharing Works!

Health care sharing is a mature health insurance alternative that has been proven viable by decades of use and billions of dollars worth of medical bills shared. In this era of constant changes in health care and health insurance, it's an exciting option for Christians to consider. Tens of millions of dollars worth of medical needs are shared each and every month by one-and-a-half million individuals across the country, testifying to the fact that this really does work.

My wife and I are members of Samaritan Ministries, and it works for us. I have friends or relatives who are members of Christian Healthcare Ministries, Medi-Share, and Liberty HealthShare, and have heard positive things about each ministry. Sharing works! You might not be aware of it, but you probably know members of health care sharing ministries yourself. Regardless of the ministry, these are all good options that should be looked into.

More Information and Links

If you are interested in more information about health care sharing, or the specific ministries I've mentioned in this article, feel free to utilize these links, or contact me via email.

Nationally-available health care sharing ministries:

Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries: Samaritan Ministries, Medi-Share and CHM are members of this public policy organization to advocate and provide information about health care sharing to government officials and the general public.

Health Care Sharing Ministries: An Uncommon Bond, published by the Charlotte Lozier Institute, is an informative 35-page report on HCSMs and the savings experienced by members.

My personal experience with Samaritan Ministries: three different medical needs in six years, about $102,000 in medical bills were shared in full by over 110 families across the country. If you look into Samaritan and decide to join, I'd appreciate being listed as your referral (we get a credit), if you've found my information helpful. The other ministries also give referral credits, so if you decide to join a different ministry, I may know someone you could list in that ministry as well.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Music Monday: Adagio for Strings

This week's Music Monday is Adagio for Strings, written in 1938 by American composer Samuel Barber.


Enjoy!

See below for all previous Music Monday posts. Do you have a song you'd like to suggest for a future Music Monday? Email me at JamisonFaught@MuskogeePolitico.com.

February 11th, 2019: 'Romance' from 'The Gadfly'
February 4th, 2019: Columbia, Gem of the Ocean
January 7th, 2019: Loch Lomond
December 31st, 2018: Auld Lang Syne
December 24th, 2018: Remember O, thou Man
December 17th, 2018: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
December 10th, 2018: Carol of the Bells (medley)
December 3rd, 2018: God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
November 26th, 2018: Happy Birthday
November 19th, 2018: My Heart is Filled with Thankfulness
November 12th, 2018: Hymn to the Fallen
October 29th, 2018: A Mighty Fortress is Our God
October 22nd, 2018: Hymn to Red October
October 15th, 2018:  Indian Reservation ("Cherokee People")
October 8th, 2018: Wagner's 'Columbus Overture'
October 1st, 2018: Danny Boy
September 24th, 2018: Dvorak's 'From The New World' Symphony, 4th Movement
September 17th, 2018: Deep River
September 10th, 2018: Muleskinner Blues
September 3rd, 2018: Boomer Sooner
August 20th, 2018: Psalm 23
August 13th, 2018: Ashokan Farewell
August 6, 2018: How the West Was Won
July 23rd, 2018: I Just Can't Wait to Be King
July 16th, 2018: 'Jupiter' from 'The Planets'
July 9th, 2018: Hail to the Spirit of Liberty
July 2nd, 2018: Turn The Tide
June 25th, 2018: Good Guys Win
June 18th, 2018: Watching You
June 11th, 2018: Adoration
June 4th, 2018: March from 'A Moorside Suite'
May 28th, 2018: Taps
May 21st, 2018: Listz's La Campanella
May 14th, 2018: Handful of Weeds
May 7th, 2018: Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
April 30th, 2018: Polonaise in A-flat major, Op. 53 ("Heroic")
April 23rd, 2018: Blow Ye The Trumpet
April 16th, 2018: Asturias (Leyenda)
April 9th, 2018: Old Mountain Dew
April 2nd, 2018: His Life For Mine
March 19th, 2018: See, the Conqu'ring Hero Comes!
March 12th, 2018: Choctaw Nation
March 5th, 2018: Hark, I Hear The Harps Eternal
February 19th, 2018: The Olympic Spirit
February 12th, 2018: Olympic Fanfare and Theme
January 29th, 2018: Hail to the Chief
January 23rd, 2018: Waltz in A-Flat Major, Op. 39 No. 15
January 15th, 2018: Bleed The Same
January 8th, 2018: Saint-Saëns' Symphony No.3 'Organ' (Maestoso)
December 25th, 2017: God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
December 18th, 2017: I Saw Three Ships (The Piano Guys)
December 11th, 2017:Who Is He In Yonder Stall
December 4th, 2017: Carol of the Bells (Mannheim Steamroller)
November 27th, 2017: Joy to the World!
November 20th, 2017: We Gather Together
November 13th, 2017: Mansions of the Lord
November 6th, 2017: Träumerei
October 30th: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
October 23rd, 2017: In Christ Alone
October 16th, 2017: When I'm Knee Deep In Bluegrass
October 9th, 2017: I Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb
October 2nd, 2017: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major (Brahms)
September 25th, 2017: Beethoven's Sonata No. 8 in C minor ('Pathétique')
September 11th, 2017: Have You Forgotten?
September 4th, 2017: Bach's Double Violin Concerto
August 28th, 2017: Noah Found Grace In The Eyes Of The Lord
August 21st, 2017: The Heavens Are Telling The Glory of God
August 14th, 2017: Beethoven's 5th Symphony
August 7th, 2017: 'Lift High The Name Of Jesus' medley
July 31st, 2017: Fanfare for the Common Man
July 24th, 2017: Variations on 'Happy Birthday'
July 10th, 2017: Summer (Presto) from Vivaldi's Four Seasons
July 3rd, 2017: Freelance Fireworks Hall of Fame
June 26th, 2017: Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
June 19th, 2017: A Christian Home
June 12th, 2017: Ol' Man River
June 5th, 2017: Choctaw Cowboy
May 29th, 2017: Armed Forces Salute
May 22nd, 2017: Double Bass Concerto No.2 in B minor
May 15th, 2017: Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 in D major
May 8th, 2017: The Army Goes Rolling Along
April 17th, 2017: He Is Alive
April 10th, 2017: Surely He Hath Borne/And With His Stripes/All We Like Sheep
April 3rd, 2017: Here Comes Carolina
March 27th, 2017: 'Spring' from Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons'
March 20th, 2017: Symphony No. 5 ("Reformation") Finale
March 13th, 2017: The Pigeon on the Gate
March 6th, 2017: Finlandia
February 27th, 2017: When I Can Read My Title Clear
February 20th, 2017: William Tell Overture - Finale
February 13th, 2017: 'Romance' from 'The Gadfly'
February 6th, 2017: White Winter Hymnal
January 30th, 2017: Hail, Columbia
January 23rd, 2017: Hail to the Chief
January 16th, 2017: Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy
January 2nd, 2017: Auld Lang Syne
December 26th, 2016: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
December 19th, 2016: I Wonder as I Wander
December 12th, 2016: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
December 5th, 2016: A Christmas Festival
November 28th, 2016: God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
November 21st: Beethoven's 'Hymn of Thanksgiving'
November 14th: Hymn to the Fallen
November 7th: This World Is Not My Home
October 31st, 2016: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
October 24th, 2016: 'Mars', from 'The Planets'
October 17th, 2016: My Shepherd Will Supply My Need
October 10th, 2016: Spain
October 3rd, 2016: International Harvester
September 26th, 2016: 'The Imperial March' from Star Wars
September 19th, 2016: Awake the Trumpet's Lofty Sound
September 12th, 2016: Before the Throne of God Above
September 5th, 2016: The Hunt
August 29th, 2016: Liberty
August 22nd, 2016: Summon the Heroes
August 15th, 2016: Bugler's Dream
August 8th, 2016: Olympic Fanfare and Theme
August 1st, 2016: 'Prelude' and 'Parade of the Charioteers' from Ben-Hur
July 25th, 2016: How The West Was Won
July 18th, 2016: Six Studies in English Folk Song
July 11th, 2016: From Everlasting To Everlasting
July 4th, 2016: The Stars and Stripes Forever
June 27th, 2016: Rule, Britannia!
June 20st, 2016: Bugler's Holiday
June 13th, 2016: Ride of the Valkyries
June 6th, 2016: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54, Allegro Vivace
May 30th, 2016: Armed Forces Salute
May 23rd, 2016: Paid in Full (Through Jesus, Amen)
May 16th, 2016: Overture from 'Carmen'
May 9th, 2016: L'Arlesienne Suite No. 1 - Prelude
May 2nd, 2016: My God Is a Rock
April 25th, 2016: Toccata and Fugue in D Minor
April 18th, 2016: Paganini's Caprice No. 24 in A Minor
April 11th, 2016: Fantasia on a 17th Century Tune
April 4th, 2016: Hark The Sound/I'm a Tarheel Born
March 28th, 2016: Rustle of Spring
March 21st, 2016: 'Ode to Joy' sung by a 10,000-voice choir
March 14th, 2016: Hard Times Come Again No More
March 7th, 2016: 'The Suite' from Downton Abbey
February 29th, 2016: Moonlight Sonata
February 22nd, 2016: Liebestraum No. 3
February 15th, 2016: Help Is On The Way
February 8th, 2016: God of Grace and God of Glory
February 1st, 2016: 'My Story'
January 25th, 2016: Israeli Concertino
January 18th, 2016: What Grace is Mine
January 11th, 2016: "Meditation" from Thaïs
January 4th, 2016: Praeludium and Allegro
December 28th, 2015: Appalachian Carol
December 21st, 2015: God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
December 14th, 2015: O Holy Night
December 7th, 2015: Christmas Fantasy
November 23rd, 2015: Simple Gifts
November 16th, 2015: Preacher Tell Me Like It Is
November 9th, 2015: Armed Forces Salute
November 2nd, 2015: Amazing Grace
October 26th, 2015: The Harmonious Blacksmith
October 19th, 2015: Liberty Fanfare
October 12th, 2015: The Majesty and Glory of Your Name
October 5th, 2015: Elgar's 'Enigma' Finale
September 28th, 2015: Stayed on Jesus
September 21st, 2015: Great Gate of Kiev
September 14th, 2015: Nearer, My God, To Thee

OCPA decries advancement of Senate Medicaid expansion/waiver bill


OCPA statement on Senate Bill 605

After Senate Bill 605 by Greg McCortney (R-Ada) passed the Retirement and Insurance Committee today, Jonathan Small, president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA), released the following statement:

“It’s disappointing that Senate Bill 605, which will significantly reduce the incentives for work and create a new medical welfare entitlement program for up to 628,000 able-bodied, working-age adults, passed the Retirement and Insurance Committee today.

“Annually, more than one million Oklahomans are on Medicaid. Oklahoma’s Medicaid population and costs have already exploded. If Senate Bill 605 becomes law, it will expose Oklahoma to potentially $321 million in new, required Oklahoma taxpayer spending annually.

“Just like the federal government did with teaching hospitals, historical Oklahoma FMAP rates, and Insure Oklahoma, it will eventually reduce its responsibility of any expansion and the next liberal president will gut any ‘Oklahoma Plan’ just as the Obama administration gutted Insure Oklahoma and hurled thousands of Oklahomans into the failed Obamacare exchanges.”

Senate committee passes bill to increase small business access to health insurance


Bill increasing small business owners’ access to health insurance sails out of Senate committee

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Senate Retirement and Insurance Committee unanimously approved a bill by President Pro Tempore Greg Treat that would help more small business owners gain access to quality, affordable health plans.

Senate Bill 943 increases access to association health plans (AHP) by making state law more closely reflect federal rule changes that allow more employer groups and associations to form AHPs based on common geography or industry. An AHP allows small business owners to group together as if a much larger, single employer to obtain health insurance oftentimes at lower rates.

“Association health plans could have a huge impact for small business owners and sole proprietors across Oklahoma – who drive much of the job creation that keeps our economy growing,” said Treat, R-Oklahoma City. “Senate Bill 943 lets small employers and sole proprietors in Oklahoma take advantage of AHPs to gain access to quality, affordable health care plans. This could save small businesses hundreds, if not thousands of dollars each year, resources that can be reinvested back into their companies and employees.”

Senate Bill 943 now heads to the Senate floor for consideration.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Stitt appoints Charlie Prater as new head of OK Tax Commission

I must admit, this one caught me a bit by surprise. Charlie Prater, the financially-troubled losing candidate in the GOP primary/runoff for State Auditor, is the recipient of Gov. Stitt's latest appointment:


GOVERNOR KEVIN STITT ANNOUNCES NEW COMMISSIONER TO THE OKLAHOMA TAX COMMISSION

Oklahoma City, Okla. (February 14, 2019) – Governor Kevin Stitt announced today the appointment of Charles Prater as the next commissioner to the Oklahoma Tax Commission.

“Charles Prater has built a successful career in accounting and finance, and his knowledge and expertise will serve Oklahoma well as we work toward greater transparency and accountability in state government,” said Stitt.

“It is an absolute honor to be nominated as a Commissioner to the Oklahoma Tax Commission by Governor Stitt,” said Prater. “It will be my privilege and duty to serve the citizens of Oklahoma, the governor and his staff, and our Legislators in this capacity. I will work hard every day alongside the governor to help make Oklahoma a top ten state.”

Charles Prater currently serves as the President and CEO at Assurance Resource Company (ARC). A Certified Public Accountant, Prater has over 35 years of private sector experience in public accounting and as an executive officer and board member in a publicly-held regulated financial services company, receiverships, insurance arbitration, tax and strategic planning and audits. In addition to working at ARC, Prater has served as the Chief Financial Officer for Neuroscience Specialists and Compone Services, LTD, and the Vice President of UICI and CEO of their Insurance Subsidiaries.   Prater is a member of the Oklahoma Society of Certified Public Accountants, American Institute of Certified Public Accounts, and Leadership Exchange Academy Alumni. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a major in Accounting from Oklahoma State University.

Each of the three members of the Oklahoma Tax Commission is appointed to a six-year term by the Governor and confirmed by the State Senate. Currently, the Commission is comprised of Chairman Steve Burrage, Vice Chairman Clark Jolley and outgoing Secretary-Member Thomas E. Kemp, Jr. The commissioners are responsible for the supervision of the administration and enforcement of state tax laws and the collection of a majority of all state-levied taxes and fees.

Legislative Committees Advance Equal Opportunity Scholarship Expansions


Oklahoma Legislative Committees Advance Equal Opportunity Scholarship Expansions

OKLAHOMA CITY – Committees in the Oklahoma House and Senate have passed two bills expanding the Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship program. The program currently offers tax credits to donors who give to non-profit organizations funding innovative learning opportunities in rural public schools, or that fund scholarships for students attending private school.

Opportunity Scholarship donations support STEM and arts programs in rural public schools, such as Chickasha High School’s robotics team. In the private sector, schools like Cristo Rey Oklahoma City Catholic High School and Crossover Preparatory Academy in Tulsa rely on Opportunity Scholarships to offer free or vastly discounted college-prep educations to underserved, inner-city communities.

Although proven to be successful, the Opportunity Scholarship program’s growth has been hindered by a tax-credit cap. Currently, the state can only pay out $5 million in tax credits for donors. That limit has been reached for two years in a row, which has discouraged additional contributions.

House Bill 2621, by Rep. Jon Echols, increases the tax credit cap to $60 million, and also allows larger school districts to benefit from programs supporting public schools. In the Senate, Senate Bill 407, by Sen. Dave Rader, increases the cap to $20 million. Both bills were advanced by the Appropriations Committees in their respective chambers.

In attendance at both committee hearings were parents who thanked legislators for their support.

“In our public-school system, Opportunity Scholarship dollars are helping to fund some of the most innovative, successful programs offered in the state,” said ChoiceMatters Executive Director Robert Ruiz. “For those students who attend private schools, students are changing the entire trajectory of their lives thanks to these scholarships. Our thanks go out to lawmakers supporting policies that empower parents and directly impact students.”

Former Gov. Keating and OCPA react to false statements by OSSBA, CCOSA, and others

Former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating and OCPA react to false statements by OSSBA, CCOSA, and others

 After the Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA), the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration (CCOSA), and others falsely claimed that the Equal Opportunity Scholarship program is a voucher, former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) Chairman Larry Parman, and OCPA President Jonathan Small released the following statements:

Former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating:

“I was shocked and saddened to read the false statements by OSSBA, CCOSA, and others claiming the Equal Opportunity Scholarship program is a voucher. A voucher provides government funding for a student to go to a school of their choice. The scholarships provided through the Equal Opportunity Scholarship program are privately funded. These groups have a right to oppose the scholarship program—which actually helps Oklahoma’s rural public schools and most vulnerable students—but their statements and lobbying in opposition should steer clear of an impossibility of truth.”

 OCPA Chairman Larry Parman:

“OSSBA, CCOSA, and others seek to deny families the opportunity for a better education for their children by claiming—without evidence—that the Equal Opportunity Scholarship program is a voucher program that robs public schools of state funding. That is no surprise considering both serve as lobbyists for public school boards and public-school administrators. In fact, the scholarship does not use any state funds. Instead, it encourages private citizens to provide a scholarship that helps families trapped in a poorly performing or unsuitable school. In the face of low test scores and no evidence of ability to remedy the situation, we should unlock educational options by expanding the Equal Opportunity Scholarship program and let parents decide what is best for their children.”

OCPA President Jonathan Small:

“The false statements regarding the Equal Opportunity Scholarship program by OSSBA, CCOSA, and others are stunning. If these groups want to criticize voucher programs—Medicaid, child care assistance through the Department of Human Services, the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship program, or Oklahoma’s Promise, for example—they are well within their rights to do so. But they ought not falsely claim that something is a voucher when it is not.

“The Equal Opportunity Scholarship program, according to statutorily imposed limitations, provides a non-refundable credit against state taxes owed by individuals or corporations who make donations to scholarship or granting organizations. These organizations provide scholarships from private funds to assist students in obtaining an alternative education that better meets their needs or to cover innovative programs in public schools.

“It’s sad that these groups and others desperately resort to fabrications in order to try to block raising the cap on this program. Oklahoma’s Equal Opportunity Scholarship program is similar to programs in 17 other states, its structure has been found constitutional, and it has been found by an independent study to generate $2.91 in government savings for every $1 in tax-credit value.”