Ken Miller: Rhetoric versus reality on tax incentives

by | December 6th, 2011 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (2)

Ken Miller is State Treasurer and a member of the the Task Force for the Study of Tax Credits and Economic Incentives.  This originally appeared as an article in the November Oklahoma Economic Report and is reprinted with permission. For an earlier blog post on tax credit reform by Task Force co-chair David Dank, click here, and see this piece laying out OK Policy’s position.

Critics contend that if politicians are good at anything, it is studying something to death. While this legislative interim has been full of task forces and studies, many promise to be more than just simple academic exercises. True, some are meant to garner attention for a favored issue. Others are meant to bolster an opinion. And some are honest undertakings in search of good policy.

And there are some with elements of each of the above. Facing a December 31 report deadline, the Task Force for the Study of Tax Credits and Economic Incentives is preparing final recommendations.

It is this task force member’s hope that rhetoric and ideology will play a subordinate role to sound policy and economic reality. The task force recommendations can impact our business climate for years to come and must take into account the competitiveness of states in attracting industry and economic growth.

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In The Know: GOP lawmaker files bill to allow immigrant guest workers

by | December 6th, 2011 | Posted in Blog, In The Know | Comments (2)

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that Republican Senator Harry Coates has filed legislation to create a state guest worker program for immigrants. The OK Policy Blog warns about purported tax cut ideas that would shift more costs onto low and moderate-income Oklahomans. OK Policy analyst Kate Richey appeared on Dr. Bruce Prescott’s “Religious Talk” radio show to speak about the need for Affordable Credit in Oklahoma and problems with payday lending.

The new House Ethics Committee held its first meeting Monday to discuss developing a code of conduct and procedures for enforcement. An Oklahoma County judge ruled that Representative Randy Terrill and and former state senator Debbe Leftwich will not face conspiracy charges on top of their felony bribery charges.  The Attorney General’s office warned public employees that e-communications such as texting, email and Facebook have the most potential to lead to violations of the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act.

The US Postal Service is asking for permission to eliminate overnight First Class delivery and close 250 sorting and processing centers – including Tulsa’s – which could mean the loss of nearly 600 jobs at the Tulsa sorting facility. The number of dropouts in Tulsa Public Schools increased by more than 75 percent last year, though administrators attribute the spike to increased efforts to reenroll students who have dropped out previously in alternative education programs.

NewsOK writes that discipline problems among Oklahoma corrections workers are related to low pay, long hours, and poor working conditions created by budget cuts. The Number of the Day is how many Oklahoma children are living in homes where the householders are grandparents or other relatives. In today’s Policy Note, The Center for Children and Families projects that under full implementation of the Affordable Care Act, an estimated 3.2 million children will gain health care coverage, cutting the number of uninsured children in the US by 40 percent.

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Beware the tax shift

by | December 5th, 2011 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (7)

Photo by flickr user zeuxis.pixelsurgery used under a Creative Commons license.

An idea floating around in the tax reform debate has been to swap tax credits for a reduction in the top income tax rate. That’s one of the motivations behind the tax credit task force, which has looked at reigning in a number of business and economic development tax credits.

Oklahoma also provides another kind of credit, directed not to favored industries, but to all taxpayers below a certain income level. Some lawmakers seem tempted to eliminate these as well. They should think again.

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In The Know: Push building to eliminate Oklahoma's personal income tax

by | December 5th, 2011 | Posted in Blog, In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that NewsOK reports on a continuing push against the state income tax and features a point-counterpoint on eliminating the income tax with OK Policy Director David Blatt and OCPA President Michael Carnuccio. At the final meeting of the tax reform task force, small business representatives recommended against reducing the state income tax. The tax credit task force is recommending a number of measures to improve oversight of tax incentives.

Insurance Commissioner John Doak is proposing a rule that would allow insurance companies to decline to offer individual coverage for children less than 1 year old. Doak said insurance companies would be better off if these children were covered by government-provided insurance in the federal high-risk pool. With three Oklahoma counties facing multi-million dollar settlements over sexual abuse complaints brought by female inmates, many counties still lack the money, technology and manpower to police their jails.

The New York Times reports on how Congressman Dan Boren receives large financial benefits from the natural gas industry while pushing their interests in Congress. The federal government denied a request by Oklahoma for individual assistance of those affected by November’s earthquakes. Superintendent Janet Barresi is hiring Joel Robison, the head lobbyist for the state’s largest teachers’ union, as her chief of staff. The Tulsa World questions whether the state would really be able to find much savings through school consolidation.

Oklahoma tribal leaders say the Obama administration has been much more focused on their concerns than previous administrations. Lawmakers and tribal leaders are discussing how to regroup after Governor Fallin decided not to appoint anyone as the state’s Indian liaison.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahoma women aged 18-35 years who reported being sexual assaulted in their lifetime. In today’s Policy Note, The Century Foundation questions a proposal by Senate Republicans to pay for extending the payroll tax cut by eliminating jobs.

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The Weekly Wonk – December 2nd, 2011

by | December 2nd, 2011 | Posted in Blog, OK Policy | Comments (0)

What’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk is dedicated to this week’s events, publications, and blog posts.

This week at OK Policy, we posted one large Oklahoma employer’s internal analysis showing they would be better off keeping workers’ coverage under the new health law – about $771K better off.  A guest blog post from a veteran teacher explored what’s behind the best performing educational systems in the world.

Also this week, we explained why direct spending is usually the simplest and most efficient way to achieve public goals.  OK Policy Director David Blatt was quoted in a NewsOK article about a little-known committee that reviews state tax breaks.  Lastly, watch this video posted to our blog charting the persistent and unprecedented spike in long-term unemployment:

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Watch This: Long term unemployment, 1967-2011

by | December 1st, 2011 | Posted in Blog, Watch This | Comments (2)

This animated graph, produced by the TellTaleChart, illustrates the unprecedented spike in long-term unemployment during and after the Great Recession.  The current median duration of unemployment (or weeks out of work) represents a dramatic departure from decades of unemployment trends.  As the producer glumly observes, “The median duration of unemployment was already at 20 weeks when the recession began.  It climbed to over 25 weeks in the summer of 2010 and has settled in, now almost three years into the recovery, at well above 20 weeks.  This of course is no recovery at all.”  The duration of unemployment in Oklahoma nearly doubled between 2006 and 2010, with the latest data putting the median weeks out of work in the state at 12.3 weeks.


View other clips from OKPolicy’s “Watch This’ video series:

Packed Oklahoma prisons, rising costs

Creativity & Learning

The Great Recession

Making Ends Meet: The Medicare Generation

A tale of two (Oklahoma) cities

Employers better off keeping workers' coverage under new health law, Oklahoma study shows

by | November 30th, 2011 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (1)

This is part of an ongoing series of posts examining the Affordable Care Act, including previous posts on health insurance exchangesrate review and temporary high risk pools. For links to previous posts and additional resources, please visit the health care reform page on our website. 

Employer-based health insurance coverage is the single largest pillar of the American health insurance system. Unemployment and rising costs continue to erode employer-based coverage, but more than half of all Americans – 169 million -  are still insured through employers.  The federal tax code has long encouraged employers to provide coverage by making employer health care expenditures tax-deductible.

The new federal health care law, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), aims to expand health insurance coverage in the United States in part by strengthening employer-based coverage. The law provides sizable tax credits to small businesses (≤25 employees) that offer insurance. Beginning in 2014, large employers (≥50 employees) will have new responsibilities to provide coverage.  Known as the ‘play or pay’ provision, the law outlines that:

When you want something done, do it

by | November 29th, 2011 | Posted in Blog, Capitol Matters | Comments (4)

Recently Maj. Gen. Rita Aragon, Oklahoma’s Secretary of Veterans Affairs, suggested that school gyms, playgrounds, and athletic fields should be opened to the public after hours. She argued that these “shared-use agreements” for public facilities would reduce obesity, especially in poor communities that may not have access to private gyms, parks, or safe sidewalks.

Aragon’s idea would be an effective and efficient use of public dollars based on a simple premise: the state identifies a public good and directly provides it. Contrast that with an obesity-fighting idea from a few years ago, when Sen. Mike Mazzei proposed a tax credit to reimburse 20 percent of the cost of health club memberships. This would have been more expensive than simply opening up schools and limited to those who could afford 80 percent of a health club membership. In addition, a substantial part of the credit would be wasted on those who would have joined a health club without it.

Sen. Mazzei’s tax credit was not made law, but it is emblematic of a common problem in public policy. Because we have stigmatized direct government action in many areas, we look for workarounds that are less efficient than if the state just went ahead and provided the service. This creates gaps in both efficiency and accountability.

Another example is how the state has encouraged rehabilitation of historic buildings. Lawmakers decided this was in the public interest, so they created a tax credit. However, because the credits were transferable, recipients sold many of them at 80 or 90 cents on the dollar. The buyers likely had no relationship to the rehabilitation project, so a significant percentage of the money was immediately wasted.

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Guest Blog (Betty Casey): Don't Wait For Superman

by | November 28th, 2011 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (3)

Betty Casey has taught high school English, middle school gifted and talented, and Freshman Comp., English Lit. and Humanities at the University of Oklahoma and Tulsa Community College. She is currently managing editor of TulsaKids Magazine, a monthly parenting publication.

In the past few months I’ve had the pleasure of watching three screenings about public education: “Waiting for Superman”, “The Race to Nowhere” and, most recently, “American Teacher.” Of the three, “American Teacher” contributed the most realistic and valuable information to the dialogue about what’s wrong and what’s right in American education.

The documentary follows five public school teachers. While “Waiting for Superman” blames teachers (and teachers’ unions) for everything from low standardized test scores to young people going to prison, “American Teacher” actually lets the teachers tell their story — and it’s a story of heartbreak and courage in the face of low pay, poor working conditions, and lack of respect.

Are there bad teachers? Sure. But does anyone seriously believe that our schools are suddenly filled with bad teachers? My children who went through Tulsa Public Schools were all well prepared for college. Like the dedicated teachers in the film, my children’s teachers were available early in the morning and late into the night. One of their high school math teachers would stay and tutor kids as long as they needed him, sometimes until 9 or 10 pm.

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The Weekly Wonk – November 23, 2011

by | November 23rd, 2011 | Posted in Blog, OK Policy | Comments (0)

What’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk is dedicated to this week’s events, publications, and blog posts.

This week OK Policy published, “An Incomplete Recovery: The State Budget Outlook 2012-2015,” the third in our annual series of forecasts for the state budget.  This blog post summarizes the forecast and lays out what’s at stake in the coming years if we don’t put the state on a sound fiscal path.  Our budget projections were covered this week by the Tulsa World and the Associated Press.

continue reading The Weekly Wonk – November 23, 2011