Guest Blog (Mike Connelly): The questions we should be asking about criminal justice reform

by | May 7th, 2012 | Posted in Blog, Criminal Justice | Comments (0)

Mike Connelly was the first research director the now-defunct Oklahoma Sentencing Commission in the 1990s.  He went on to direct sentencing commissions in Maryland and Wisconsin before returning to Oklahoma to manage the state DOC’s Evaluation & Analysis unit until his recent retirement.  He also consulted with the Pew Center on the States’ Justice Reinvestment effort in Missouri last year.

When there is an obvious problem, any sincere effort to address it tends to be greeted uncritically.  Until this post at OK Policy Blog, I hadn’t seen a single effort by state media to critically analyze the current criminal justice reform proposal being considered by the state legislature.  But there remain questions that we should ask as it goes through the legislative process and later into implementation.

A policy isn’t really a policy until it’s implemented, no matter what the legislation says. In the case of this legislation, the DAs and judges responsible for the sentencing were not among those who invited the reform consultants into the state, and they have never shown interest in real reform. To reduce incarceration, DAs and judges would have to choose probation over prison, treatment over incarceration, and shorter sentences. Have they ever indicated that they would do this if given more information about the defendant? Is there anything in the proposals that would encourage them to make changes in their practices?

continue reading Guest Blog (Mike Connelly): The questions we should be asking about criminal justice reform

In The Know: Speaker expects budget and tax cut deal within 2 weeks

by | May 7th, 2012 | 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 gperry@okpolicy.org. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that House Speaker Kris Steele said a budget agreement and tax cut plan should be worked out within two weeks. The Oklahoma Capital Investment Board is being phased out but the state still has to deal with the agency’s $20 million of debt. Five companies or individuals are responsible for nearly half of the $264 million in state income tax credits claimed for tax year 2008.

Deteriorating, underfunded weigh stations are preventing Oklahoma from ensuring that overloaded trucks do not tear up state roads. Local officials says Oklahoma needs to do more to fund recovery from natural disasters. The Tulsa World examines the need for more education and skill-training programs for the working poor.

NewsOK pointed out that tax cuts are not as important to business as supporters believe. OK Policy previously compiled quotes from business leaders and many other tax cut skeptics. The Tulsa World looks at states that are increasing taxes to protect core services in tough times.

A U.N. investigator visited Tulsa to hear concerns from Native Americans. NewsOn6 reported on a bill that could eliminate all minimum coverage requirements for health insurance plans. OK Policy previously explained what this bill would do. The Tulsa World examines the role of group homes in Oklahoma’s child welfare system.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of college students in Oklahoma who graduate with outstanding student loan debt. In today’s Policy Note, economist Nancy Folbre discusses why we need economic incentives that discourage not just sloth and fear, but also cruelty and greed.

continue reading In The Know: Speaker expects budget and tax cut deal within 2 weeks

The Weekly Wonk: May 4, 2012

by | May 4th, 2012 | 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 discussed how much like last year, ambitious talk of reining in tax expenditures has amounted to very little.  We posted an excerpt from State Treasurer Ken Miller’s Economic Report on the precarious situation with natural gas prices.  We explained why state programs designed to help the poor should reward those who save.

On Wednesday May 9th, the State Chamber of Oklahoma is hosting a tax policy forum, co-sponsored by Oklahoma Policy Institute and the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, featuring Arthur Laffer and UCO Business Dean Mickey Hepner.  Click here to watch video highlights of an earlier forum on proposals to eliminate the income tax.  We evaluated a recent public opinion poll and found that after accounting for margin of error, it did not find conclusive majority public support for cutting the state income tax rate.

continue reading The Weekly Wonk: May 4, 2012

In The Know: Legislature nears budget agreement, uncertain about tax cuts

by | May 4th, 2012 | Posted in Blog, In The Know | Comments (0)

In 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 gperry@okpolicy.org. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Depressed natural gas prices have dampened tax cut fervor among state officials trying to negotiate a budget agreement; Americans for Prosperity is robocalling Oklahomans and urging them to tell lawmakers to eliminate the income tax.  OK Policy previously discussed the central role of out-of-state lobbying groups on the tax debate.  The Legislature voted to reauthorize the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority (OETA) for two more years.

School districts have reported significant delays in reimbursement of federal funds from the Oklahoma State Department of Education.  Gov. Fallin and lawmakers disagreed over rules to implement the new A-through-F grading system for the state’s public schools.  Supporters of income tax cuts have been touting a recent poll, but after accounting for margin of error, the poll does not show a conclusive majority of voters in favor of cutting the top tax rate.

The U.S. added fewer jobs than forecast for April and the unemployment rate declined as more workers left the labor force.  The House approved a bill to limit purchases of cold and allergy medication containing a key methamphetamine ingredient.  David Blatt wrote in The Journal Record about the state’s common goals and how best to use our resources to achieve them.

The EPA is slated to remove eleven Oklahoma streams from the impaired waters list.  The first domestic violence shelter in the state for adult victims of sex trafficking in Oklahoma earned certification and plans to expand.  Lawmakers look to phase-out and eventually shut down a quasi-state agency tasked with investing millions of taxpayer dollars in start-up ventures.

In today’s Policy Note, the Russell Sage Foundation released a report documenting a decade of trends in American homeownership.  The Number of the Day is Oklahoma’s rank nationally for the percentage of its residents who report engaging in no leisure-time physical activity.

continue reading In The Know: Legislature nears budget agreement, uncertain about tax cuts

Poll dancing: Advocates exaggerate public support for tax cuts

by | May 3rd, 2012 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (0)

Supporters of income tax cuts have been touting a recent poll that purports to show strong support for tax cuts in Oklahoma.  A telephone survey of 500 registered voters were asked four questions about tax cuts, tax credits, and the size of government.  The discerning consumer of public opinion research should be skeptical about this poll’s conclusions for two reasons.  First, the survey is delicately phrased to elicit attitudes about tax cuts ‘in a vacuum’ and leaves too many influential factors out of the questions entirely.  Second, the pollster’s report relies heavily on results within sub-samples (e.g. party, income) – with margins of error that reach double-digits for some groups.

The Sooner Survey poll, conducted by Republican lobbyist and consultant Pat McFerron, asks voters if they favor ‘eliminating some tax credits‘ to reduce the top tax rate, but it doesn’t tell them which tax credits.  It’s likely that when asked directly about popular credits slated for elimination – including the child tax credit, child care tax credit and sales tax relief credit – many respondents would answer this same question very differently.  The same applies when the poll asks respondents to agree or disagree with the statement: ‘I would favor cutting government programs and services so the savings can be passed along to taxpayers in the form of a tax cut.’  The key to an accurate answer is to present an accurate choice.  How would the answers change if the poll had posed instead, ‘I would favor larger class sizes so the savings can be passed along to taxpayers in the form of a tax cut, ‘ or ‘I would favor fewer police officers..,’ etc?

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In The Know: Senator seeks fraud investigation of Chesapeake

by | May 3rd, 2012 | 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 gperry@okpolicy.org. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that U.S. Senator Bill Nelson plans to ask the Justice Department to investigate Chesapeake Energy Corp for potential fraud and price manipulation. Chesapeake’s largest stockholder is pursuing steps to intervene in the management of the company. Chesapeake retained a PR consultant who has been described as “spinmeister of the apocalypse” because he has worked for many high-profile clients in moments of humiliating public collapse.

State Treasurer Ken Miller said that Oklahoma’s economy continues to do well despite the low price of natural gas, but if prices don’t rebound the state could end up paying out more in tax credits to the industry than it gets in taxes. Lawmakers said that despite months of work on the issue, major reforms to business tax credits this year is unlikely. The OK Policy Blog previously summarized what happened with the various bills seeking to reform tax expenditures.

OK Policy analyst Gene Perry writes in the OK Gazette about the risk to broad-based tax credits for working families that do not have powerful lobbyists defending them. An OK Policy issue brief provides more details about these credits. On May 9, the State Chamber of Oklahoma is hosting a tax policy debate between Arthur Laffer and UCO Business Dean Mickey Hepner.

Lawmakers are at odds over implementation of an A-F grading system for public schools. Legislation to reform Oklahoma’s criminal justice system has been sent to Governor Fallin. OK Policy previously analyzed what this legislation would do and what obstacles still stand in the way of real reform. DHS officials have revised their child welfare reform plan, agreeing that abused and neglected babies should no longer be housed in state shelters after the end of the year.

The Number of the Day is how many violent crimes were committed in Oklahoma per 100,000 people in 2010. In today’s Policy Note, Tax Credits for Working Families explains why the claim that those on the bottom half of the income spectrum don’t pay taxes is flat-out wrong.

continue reading In The Know: Senator seeks fraud investigation of Chesapeake

Upcoming Event: Tax Policy Forum, May 9

by | May 2nd, 2012 | Posted in Blog, Upcoming Events | Comments (0)

The State Chamber of Oklahoma is hosting a tax policy forum, co-sponsored by OK Policy and the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. Speakers include:

  • Arthur Laffer, PhD, the author of a report being relied on by those pushing to abolish the Oklahoma income tax
  • Mickey Hepner, PhD, Dean of the College of Business Administration at UCO and a critic of tax cuts
  • State Treasurer Ken Miller, PhD, who will be moderating

The event will be held Wednesday, May 9, noon-1:30pm at the Oklahoma History Center, 800 Nazih Zuhdi Dr, Oklahoma City.

Seating is limited. RSVP for lunch to Karen Cagle at kcagle@okstatechamber.com or call 405-235-3669.

At a previous forum sponsored by OK Policy, eight leading Oklahoma economists, economic developers, and budget experts exposed serious flaws in the Laffer report. You can see a ten-minute highlight reel or watch the full two-hour forum on YouTube.

(Oklahoma Economic Report) Natural Gas: Beneath the surface

by | May 2nd, 2012 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (0)

Source: OK Policy Note: Gross production tax revenues are from production months, two months prior to date of tax remittance

This article appeared in the April 2012 edition of the Oklahoma Economic Report, a publication of the Office of State Treasurer Ken Miller. It is reprinted here in its entirety with permission.

It seems that each day brings another story of record low natural gas prices and record high supplies. A warmer-than-normal winter in the United States drove down natural gas demand this year at a time when prices usually rise and supplies are reduced.

As a result, natural gas in storage is at or near record levels while prices are at their lowest in more than a decade. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimated natural gas in storage at the end of March at 2.48 trillion cubic feet, about 57 percent higher than at the same time last year.

According to Bloomberg, the average spot price in April at the Henry Hub in Louisiana was $1.99 per thousand cubic feet (mcf) as of April 27.

continue reading (Oklahoma Economic Report) Natural Gas: Beneath the surface

In The Know: Chesapeake replacing McClendon as board chair

by | May 2nd, 2012 | 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 gperry@okpolicy.org. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that Chesapeake Energy is replacing Aubrey McClendon as board chair. He will remain as CEO. Reuters reports that McClendon has been running a $200 million hedge fund on the side that traded in the same commodities Chesapeake produces. Media Matters argues that The Oklahoman’s coverage of fracking has been slanted to favor the energy industry.

More local officials in Sequoyah County are expressing concerns about the negative effects of tax cuts. The Oklahoman warns that triggers would be a one-way ticket to lower taxes no matter what happens to the economy. The OK Policy Blog previously warned against putting the tax system on auto-pilot with triggers. A NewsOK letter to the editor writes that tax cuts would harm Oklahoma’s business environment.

In negotiations with the union, American Airlines is scaling back the number of layoffs and outsourcing of Tulsa jobs. Governor Fallin signed a resolution disapproving pay raises for judges. The OK Policy Blog discusses how programs designed to help the poor should reward those who save. Urban Tulsa Weekly discusses the continuing racial divide in Tulsa coming to light in efforts to rename a street after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Number of the Day is Oklahoma’s unemployment rate, 8th lowest in the U.S. in March 2012. In today’s Policy Note, The Atlantic discusses the beginnings of an idea that could dramatically change how the Federal Reserve participates in the economy.

continue reading In The Know: Chesapeake replacing McClendon as board chair

A Rock and a Hard Place: 'Asset-tests' and Oklahoma's poor

by | May 1st, 2012 | Posted in Blog, Poverty | Comments (0)

The federal ‘Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations‘ (FDPIR) program provides food assistance to low-income Native American households living in Indian Country.  Many households participate in FDPIR as an alternative to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), formerly the food stamp program, because they do not have easy access to SNAP offices or grocery stores.  The agency that administers the tribal food program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), recently proposed new regulations that would eliminate the program’s ‘asset test’, currently set at $2,000-$3,250.

continue reading A Rock and a Hard Place: 'Asset-tests' and Oklahoma's poor