All articles by David Blatt

State workforce still at critically low levels

by | October 20th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (1)

workforce-300x180Despite four years of solid economic growth, Oklahoma’s state budget has never recovered fully from the last recession. While total state appropriations are slightly above pre-downturn levels, the FY 2015 budget is $680 million, or 7.9 percent, below FY 2009 when adjusted for inflation. Most agencies are still 15-30 percent below pre-recession funding levels.

The deep recession and continued tight funding has had an especially heavy impact on agency workforces. Most agencies were forced to cut staff during the downturn by implementing Reductions-in-Force and buyouts, or by leaving a significant number of vacant positions unfilled.  Even with slight overall budget increases the past several years, the state’s public sector workforce remains far below pre-recession levels, according to data supplied by the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.  In FY 2014, state government employed 36,470 FTE (full-time equivalent) employees. This is an increase of 628 workers, or 1.8 percent, from FY 2012, but 2,880 workers, or 7.3 percent fewer than before the state fiscal crunch hit following FY 2009. Compared to 2001, the state workforce is 1,158 employees smaller, even as Oklahoma’s population has grown by some 350,000 residents.

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SQ 770 & 771 would expand property tax breaks for some veterans and their families

by | October 14th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (0)

pennsylvania national guardAfter Oklahoma voters decided twenty state questions in 2010 and 2012, including several broad and contentious issues, this November’s ballot may seem anticlimactic. Oklahoma voters will have just three state questions to decide, none of which are especially momentous. Two of these, SQ 770 & SQ 771, involve homestead exemptions for certain military personnel and their families.

In Oklahoma, most homeowners get the first $1,000 of the assessed value of their primary residence, also known as their homestead, exempted from property tax.  Some categories of homeowners, including low-income families and seniors, are provided a larger exemption.

In 2004, Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly approved SQ 715. The measure amended the state Constitution (Article X, Section 8E) to fully exempt veterans with a 100 percent permanent disability from paying any property tax on their homestead property. The exemption also applied to the disabled veteran’s surviving spouse.

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Misguided ruling could rob health care from 55,000 Oklahomans

by | October 8th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (0)

ACA_SupremeCourtThe ruling by Oklahoma federal District Court Judge Ronald A. White that Oklahomans buying health insurance on healthcare.gov are ineligible for tax credits may have been a victory for Attorney General Scott Pruitt. But if upheld by higher courts, it would be a huge defeat for tens of thousands of previously-uninsured Oklahomans who are using these credits to purchase affordable health coverage. The good news is that the ruling rests on a misguided interpretation of the Affordable Care Act that may still be overturned.

Premium tax credits are a central mechanism of the Affordable Care Act’s goal of extending health insurance coverage to tens of millions of  uninsured Americans. Individuals and families with incomes between 100 percent and 400 percent of the poverty level are eligible for the tax credits on a sliding-scale basis. The credits can only be used to buy certain health plans on the new health insurance marketplaces, known also as Exchanges. Under the ACA, states were given the opportunity to operate their own exchange; where they chose not to do so, as in Oklahoma and a majority of states, the exchange is operated by the federal government at HealthCare.gov.

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Upcoming Event: The 2014 Elections and the Future of Health Reform

by | October 2nd, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare, Upcoming Events | Comments (0)

poli-sci department u of mnOn Monday November 10th, Dr. Lawrence R. Jacobs, one of America’s foremost experts on health care policy, will give a lunchtime talk titled, “The 2014 Elections and the Future of Health Reform.” The talk, co-hosted by Oklahoma Policy Institute and the Oklahoma Scholars Strategy Network, will be will be held at the Jim Thorpe Association and Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame, 4040 N. Lincoln Blvd., Oklahoma City, beginning at 11:45 am. Tickets for this public event, which includes lunch (vegetarian options provided), are $15 and can be reserved online by clicking here.

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Broken Democracy, Part II: What’s getting in the way of voting?

by | September 30th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Elections | Comments (13)
Photo by Vox Efx.

Photo by Vox Efx.

It may have been hard for Oklahomans and other Americans not to develop an acute case of election envy during the recent Scottish referendum on independence. Eighty-five percent of eligible Scottish voters cast a ballot; in some districts, turnout topped 90 percent. Meanwhile, in Oklahoma, less than half of registered voters went to the polls in 2012, and in this year’s November elections, fewer than 40 percent are likely to show up to decide who will represent us in statewide offices, Congress, and the state legislature. Oklahoma’s voter turnout is now among the very lowest in the nation.

As we discussed in this recent blog post, low voter turnout is one major indicator of the breakdown of democracy in Oklahoma, along with declining voter registration, the growing number of uncontested elections, and a demographically unrepresentative legislature.  Here we look at factors that may be hindering Oklahomans from participating fully in the electoral process.

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The conservative case for raising the minimum wage

by | September 29th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Economy, Poverty | Comments (0)
Fast food workers strike at McDonald's in Chicago. Photo by Steve Rhodes.

Fast food workers strike at McDonald’s in Chicago. Photo by Steve Rhodes.

For many working Oklahomans, low-wage jobs aren’t paying enough to support themselves and their families without public assistance. Raising the minimum wage would boost the overall economy while properly shifting the responsibility for ensuring family economic security back towards the private sector and away from government and taxpayers.

Oklahoma is a state with a high concentration of low-wage jobs. Nearly one of every three jobs in Oklahoma (31.9 percent) is in an occupation where the median annual pay is below the federal poverty threshold for a family of four, the fifth highest prevalence among the states. Of this low-wage population, some 60,000 workers earned the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour in 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Between 2008 and 2012, some 67,000 Oklahomans worked full-time year round yet earned less than $15,000 for the year, four-fifths of whom were supporting or helping to support an entire household with their wages. 

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Introducing our new class of Research Fellows and interns

by | September 23rd, 2014 | Posted in Blog, OK Policy | Comments (1)

graduation-cap-10Oklahoma Policy Institute is very pleased to announce the selection of four Oklahoma graduate students as our second class of OK Policy Research Fellows.

The 2014-15 Research Fellows are all distinguished by a combination of strong research interests and an active personal commitment to improving the well-being of disadvantaged Oklahomans:

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Oklahoma’s democracy is broken

by | September 16th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Elections | Comments (4)

low turnout2Last month,  Oklahoma voters went to the polls for primary runoff elections. Well, a few voters went to the polls. Average turnout was a paltry 18.1 percent. In 11 of the 16 runoff contests, fewer than one in five registered voters cast a ballot to select their party’s nominee. In the two statewide Democratic primaries for Superintendent of Instruction and U.S. Senator, turnout was less than 11 percent.

Pitiful turnout in primaries is an extreme example of a broader breakdown of democratic participation in Oklahoma. Earlier this year, Oklahoma was ranked 47th among the states for electoral performance in a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts. On a majority of indicators in the study, including voter registration, turnout, voting wait time, and registration or absentee ballot problems, Oklahoma ranked among the bottom third of states.

In this post, we examine the signs of weakening political participation and representation in Oklahoma. In a follow-up post, we will consider some of the contributing factors behind our poor electoral performance and look at what we can do about it.

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Schools, housing, & poverty: Thoughts on segregation in Tulsa

by | September 11th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

This is an edited version of remarks made to a community form hosted by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice on “Resegregation of Tulsa Schools” held September 4, 2014. All statistics, along with their sources, are compiled in this spreadsheet.

segregation-protest-public-domain-e1357376046603

In a 1974 paper in the American Journal of Sociology, two scholars examined data on segregation in public elementary schools. They looked at schools in 60 cities, just before the start of serious efforts by the federal government to enforce the desegregation of public schools in the South. The researchers used a statistical measure called the dissimilarity index to look at how segregated or integrated the schools were in each city.

Not surprisingly, the research found most US school systems were strongly segregated. On the index where 0 represents perfect integration and 100 represents perfect segregation, the average score for the 60 cities was 79 percent.  The scores ranged from a low of 39 in Sacramento to a high of 97 in two cities – Tulsa and Oklahoma City. We’ve clearly had a lot of ground to make up over the past 40 years.

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Raise your hand if you got a raise

by | September 8th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (1)

old one dollarFor some 12,000 state employees, the long wait for a pay raise has finally ended. Legislation passed this last session provided selected workers a raise of 6.25 percent or more, effective July 1 (or in the case of state troopers, January 1). But with legislators appropriating significantly less than what an expert study recommended to move the state towards more competitive compensation, a majority of state employees were left out of this year’s pay raise plan.

Legislators also decided to pick and choose which positions received raises without much input from the agencies involved. This ad hoc process left out some workers who are in very similar positions to those who received raises. While the raises were a welcome start, many Oklahoma’s public employee compensation still has many gaps in what we need to attract and maintain enough qualified workers.

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