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The Weekly Wonk: Income inequality at all-time high, the benefits of SNAP, and more

by | July 26th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Weekly Wonk | Comments (0)

the_weekly_wonkWhat’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk shares our most recent publications and other resources to help you stay informed about Oklahoma. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The Know. Click here to subscribe to In The Know.

This Week from OK Policy

This week on the OK Policy Blog, summer intern Chan Aaron looked at data showing income inequality in Oklahoma is at its highest point in the state’s 107-year history. David Blatt discussed how the SNAP program is among the most effective ways that our nation helps hard-working families to stay afloat and ensures that children have enough to eat.

Summer intern Derek Wietelman weighed the pros and cons of Oklahoma’s push to shift us to natural gas-powered vehicles. Steve Lewis compared recent comments by President Obama and Governor Fallin in support of smart on crime reforms, and he discussed why Oklahoma to do much more to reduce incarceration.

David Blatt’s Journal Record column talked about why it’s important to listen for the more civil voices when political controversies bring out a lot of divisive rhetoric.

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Oklahoma can’t afford ‘baby steps’ on criminal justice reform (Capitol Updates)

by | July 24th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Capitol Updates, Criminal Justice | Comments (1)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol. You can sign up on his website to receive the Capitol Updates newsletter by email.

President Obama during his visit to the federal prison in Enid, Oklahoma

President Obama during his visit to the federal prison in Enid, Oklahoma

It was good to see Governor Fallin’s remarks about criminal justice in her statement about President Obama’s visit to Oklahoma that included a stop at the federal prison in El Reno.  Governor Fallin said, “There is an emerging bipartisan consensus that our justice system must be ‘smart on crime’ as well as tough on crime. For individuals with mental health and addiction issues, for instance, we need to do a better job of offering treatment and supervision as alternatives to prolonged incarceration. The president and I have some common ground on this issue, as do some Republican presidential candidates as well as leading conservative activists like the Koch family.

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In The Know: Study finds Oklahoma City and Tulsa roads among worst in nation

by | July 24th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

Study finds Oklahoma City and Tulsa roads among worst in nation: The Oklahoma City urban area ranks fifth among large urban areas in the annual cost to motorists of driving on rough roads and 16th in the percentage of roads in poor condition. Tulsa ranks fourth among large urban areas in the cost to drivers and 17th in the percentage of roads in poor condition [NewsOK]. You can read the full report here.

State yanks accreditation for Langston-sponsored charter school: The Oklahoma State Board of Education are questioning Langston University’s oversight of its growing number of sponsored charter schools. The board took the unusual step Thursday of not only withholding state funds, but also yanking the 2015-16 accreditation of a Langston-sponsored charter in Oklahoma City called Alexis Rainbow Arts Academy. Langston sponsors three Tulsa charter schools, and three or four more Langston-sponsored charters could open in Tulsa this fall [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma wants to lead a shift to natural gas-powered vehicles. Is it a good idea?: CNG-powered vehicles have been more popular in Oklahoma than in any other state. It’s cleaner burning and often cheaper than conventional gasoline. But does it make sense to rebuild our transportation infrastructure around another fossil fuel? [OK Policy Blog]

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Oklahoma wants to lead a shift to natural gas-powered vehicles. Is it a good idea?

by | July 23rd, 2015 | Posted in Economy | Comments (4)

Derek Wietelman is an OK Policy summer intern. He is an Oklahoma State University student pursuing a double major in statistics and political science, with minors in economics and environmental economics, politics, and policy.

Mktg_natural_gas_stationOver the past few years, a top priority of Governor Fallin’s administration has been to encourage the use of compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles in municipal fleets as well as to increase the number of CNG fueling stations in Oklahoma. CNG is a form of natural gas that can be stored and used as a fuel source for compatible motor vehicles.

Oklahoma is not alone in its efforts to promote CNG. Governor Fallin has been joined by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper in leading a bipartisan 22-state initiative to convert state and municipal fleets to CNG vehicles. They have also lobbied the auto industry to produce more CNG vehicles for the average consumer and hosted representatives from foreign governments in Oklahoma to discuss the advantages of increasing CNG usage.

Given Oklahoma’s prominence as a natural gas producer and that CNG is cleaner-burning than standard petroleum, converting state and local government fleets to CNG could be a win-win situation for both government budgets and the environment. However, the relative lack of CNG fueling stations nationwide, concerns about the relationship between natural gas and climate change, and the feasibility of electric car options should give consumers pause before they commit to a CNG vehicle.

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In The Know: DHS cuts clothing vouchers for foster children

by | July 23rd, 2015 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

DHS cuts clothing vouchers for foster children: The Oklahoma Department of Human Services blames a $45 million budget cut for getting rid of its clothing voucher program, except for a handful of exceptions. Foster parent Kia Shiever said the money had been a big help because her two foster children came with very little clothing and pretty much nothing they could wear during the summer [News9].

How the mentally ill “boomerang” in and out of Oklahoma jails: For years it has been a truism that Oklahoma’s prisons have become de facto mental institutions, with about a third of inmates showing current signs of mental illness. Less often mentioned are the mentally ill in jails – places that have fewer resources to treat people with mental disorders. Jails also serve as regular, off-and-on destinations for many offenders each year who repeatedly commit non-violent crimes such as trespassing, theft and public intoxication [Oklahoma Watch].

Interim study will explore creation of state bank: State Rep. John Montgomery requested on a state bank that could potentially loan money to students to attend college or help finance projects for schools or municipalities. One other state — North Dakota — has a state bank that could be used as a model [Claremore Daily Progress].

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Please don’t feed the stereotypes

by | July 22nd, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Economy, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

This is an expanded and revised version of an op-ed that ran in The Oklahoman.

The Oklahoma Republican Party recently ignited a local and national firestorm with a Facebook post pointing out a so-called irony of signs in national parks warning that feeding animals can create dependence on handouts at a time when a growing number of Americans are receiving federal food stamp benefits.

The post, which was later deleted, displayed a callous and mistaken understanding of the food stamp program and the people it serves. The program, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is among the most effective ways that the United States helps hard-pressed families to stay afloat and ensure they can afford enough to eat.

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In The Know: Grand jury sworn in for investigation of Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office

by | July 22nd, 2015 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

Grand jury sworn in for investigation of Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office: The inquiry is a culmination of a nearly 45-day petition effort by Marq Lewis and We the People Oklahoma. The 12 jurors and 3 alternates will conduct an extensive investigation that could result in Sheriff Stanley Glanz’s ouster from office [Tulsa World].

Committee recommends sales tax hike to build new Oklahoma County jail: A committee that spent seven months studying options for the problem-plagued Oklahoma County jail voted Tuesday to recommend building a new facility. It would be paid for with a county one cent sales tax increase for up to five years [NewsOK].

Governor Fallin executive order gives attorney general new power: Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has issued an executive order granting the state attorney general’s office expanded authority over proposed actions of numerous state regulatory boards. Board members who reject the attorney general’s advice will be subject to removal for misconduct [NewsOK].

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In The Know: Legislators to study privatization of Commerce Department

by | July 21st, 2015 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

Legislators to study privatization of Commerce Department: A joint House-Senate interim study led by Sen. Ron Justice and State Rep. Leslie Osborn will look at privatizing all or part of the state Department of Commerce. Several other states have handed over business recruitment to privately run boards. Greg LeRoy, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based think tank Good Jobs First, said they’ve found that allowing businesses to run an economic development agency is inherently corrupting [Journal Record].

Oklahoma environmental violators fund projects in lieu of fines: Fines for dumping or polluting don’t always have to be paid in cash. Since 1995, the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Policy has allowed polluters to fund what it calls supplemental environmental projects as part of their fine. DEQ recently added water loss audits as a qualifying initiative, to help municipalities find how and where aging pipeline infrastructure leaks [Journal Record].

‘Illegal activity’ fine print compounds an Oklahoma tragedy: Monroe Bird III, a 21-year-old Tulsan, was shot by a security guard while sitting in a car with a friend and left paralyzed from the neck down. Mr. Bird’s insurance company declined to cover his medical bills, claiming that his injuries resulted from “illegal activity.” Yet Mr. Bird was not convicted of any crime in connection with the incident. He was not even charged. Without insurance, he was discharged from the hospital and died at home last month from a preventable complication often seen in paralyzed patients [New York Times].

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Oklahoma’s income inequality is at an all-time high

by | July 20th, 2015 | Posted in Economy | Comments (5)

Chan Aaron is an OK Policy summer intern. He is pursuing an environmental policy degree at The University of Tulsa. He is also a graduate of Oklahoma State University with a degree in philosophy and a veteran of the United States Navy.

Photo Credit: Kia Cheng Boon / 123rf

Photo Credit: Kia Cheng Boon / 123rf

Rising income inequality has become one of the biggest concerns for U.S. and world leaders in recent years, and for good reason. As recent data from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows, income inequality in the United States is near a historic high not reached since just before the Great Depression. While incomes for Oklahoma households are slightly more equal than the nation as a whole, they are still the highest they have been in the state’s 107-year history.

According to the Economic Policy Institute’s study, the average income of the top 1 percent of Oklahomans in 2012 (the most recent data) was $1,105,521, which is 26 times greater than the average income for the other 99 percent of the state ($41,995). Oklahoma’s 2012 economic disparity numbers ranked 12th highest in the nation.

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In The Know: Earthquake restrictions announced for some Oklahoma injection wells

by | July 20th, 2015 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

Earthquake restrictions announced for some Oklahoma injection wells: The Oklahoma Corporation Commission has ruled the oil and gas wastewater injection wells in 21 Oklahoma counties fall under a seismicity watch. The well operators have until August 14 to prove they are not injecting below the Arbuckle geological formation, which scientists say is increasing earthquake risk [OK Energy Today]. St. Gregory’s University, a Catholic university and monastery in Shawnee, is still dealing with hundreds of thousands in costs from a damaging earthquake in 2011 [StateImpact Oklahoma].

Judge tosses out Oklahoma Attorney General’s lawsuit against EPA Clean Power Plan: More than two weeks after filing another lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency over its Clean Power Plan, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s suit has been tossed by a Tulsa U.S. District court judge. In the ruling issued Friday by Judge Claire Eagan, she said the lawsuit was premature and lacked jurisdiction. She said his claim that the EPA’s plan to cut power plant carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 would harm Oklahoma’s electricity system was “exaggerated” [OK Energy Today].

Funding drops again for Oklahoma schools: Even though the Oklahoma legislature was able to keep the budget for the State Department of Education from seeing a decrease for this fiscal year, initial allocations for some area school districts are not faring as well. SDE had to hold out more money for charter schools and virtual schools, as well as about $3.5 million for changes to the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship that provides vouchers for students with disabilities to attend private schools [Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise]. Since 2008 Oklahoma has made the largest cuts to per-pupil education funding in the nation [OK Policy].

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