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Income inequality in Oklahoma has declined but there’s more work to be done

by | July 20th, 2016 | Posted in Economy, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

Income inequality between people conceptKylie Thomas is an OK Policy intern and a Master’s student in economics at American University. She previously earned her Bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Tulsa.

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) recently released an updated report on income inequality in the U.S. by state, and the data shows improvements in Oklahoma. In 2012, income inequality in Oklahoma reached a historic high. The bottom 99 percent of Oklahomans were earning an average income of $41,995, while the top 1 percent were earning $1,105,521, which was 26 times greater. Overall, in 2012, Oklahoma ranked 12th highest in the nation for income inequality.  

However, Oklahoma’s income inequality gap narrowed in 2013 (the year of most recent data). To be considered part of the top 1 percent in 2013 in Oklahoma, an individual needed to make an income of at least $324,935. The average income of the bottom 99 percent rose nearly $3,000 to $44,849 and fell for the top 1 percent to $903,201, which is still 20.7 times greater than the bottom 99 percent. That’s a little more equal than overall in the U.S., where the average income of the top 1 percent was 25.3 times greater than the bottom 99 percent. Consequently, Oklahoma’s national rank improved from 12th to 15th most unequal.

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In The Know: Arkansas execution case could lead court to revisit Oklahoma

by | July 20th, 2016 | 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

Arkansas execution case could lead court to revisit Oklahoma: Lawyers for eight death row inmates in Arkansas say their challenge of the state’s execution procedures should warrant a U.S. Supreme Court review that would likely revisit the high court’s ruling on an Oklahoma case. The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled against the prisoners last month, but the inmates’ lawyers want the court to withhold a final order pending a possible U.S. Supreme Court review [Associated Press].

How we are transforming our states’ justice systems: President Ronald Reagan once famously said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” No one could have seen it at the time, but we now know that, with respect to our justice system, truer words were never spoken. In 1994, then-President Bill Clinton signed into law a “tough on crime” bill that contributed to the explosion of the federal prison population [Governors Deal, Fallin and Bevin / Fox News]. Governor Fallin’s new, inclusive approach to criminal justice reform is bearing fruit [OK Policy].

A Natural Gas Well Next Door: It sits among a clutch of homes, not far away from a storage tank for natural gas. The pumpjack isn’t operating now, but the company that owns the well says it hopes to re-start the pumping soon. The appearance of a natural gas well in the middle of a neighborhood, less than 30 feet from a home, is startling. Then again, the location is in predominantly black northeast Oklahoma City, where an urban renewal plan has identified numerous environmental and blight issues [Oklahoma Watch].

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In The Know: Oklahoma Supreme Court clears path for November vote on sales tax initiative for education

by | July 19th, 2016 | 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

Oklahoma Supreme Court clears path for November vote on sales tax initiative for education: The Oklahoma Supreme Court issued a ruling Monday that clears the way for Oklahomans to vote this November on whether to increase the state sales tax by 1 cent per dollar to pay for $5,000 teacher pay increases and other educational purposes. Supreme Court justices ordered modifications to the ballot title to eliminate bias and make the purposes of the sales tax initiative more clear, but rejected a court challenge that could have kept the issue off the November ballot [NewsOK]. Read our statement on the proposal here.

Academic standards, tests discussed as Hofmeister launches town hall series on new federal education law: State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister on Monday said the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act will ensure greater state autonomy over public education matters, and many changes are still in store. At Broken Arrow High School, Hofmeister hosted the first of a series of required stakeholder input events at “EngageOK on the Road,” the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s annual summer education conference [Tulsa World]. ESSA maintains annual testing and reforms teacher evaluations [OK Policy].

Oklahoma City school board set to consider charter school expansion: Charter school expansion is back in play, and supporters of KIPP Reach Academy say they are in a much better position heading into Monday night’s Oklahoma City School Board meeting. In recent days, a group of elected officials, business leaders and community activists has met individually with school board members and Superintendent Aurora Lora to address concerns or misconceptions about the high-performing middle school [NewsOK]. The school board approved a modified charter school expansion [NewsOK].

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Time for Oklahoma to off the runoff

by | July 18th, 2016 | Posted in Elections | Comments (0)

runners in business suitsWhen August 23rd rolls around next month, you can be sure that lots of things will be on Oklahomans’ minds: kids going back to school, the upcoming Labor Day weekend, and the start of college football season, to name a few. What probably won’t be on the minds of most Oklahomans are the primary runoff elections that will be held in a handful of districts across the state that day. Yet these run-off elections, decided by a shrunken electorate, will have a decisive impact on who ends up representing these districts in the Legislature.

There will be 14 runoff elections this August in races where no candidate won over 50 percent of the vote in the June 28th primary. Eleven of these will be Republican runoffs — seven for the Senate and four for the House — along with two Democratic House runoffs and a Democratic runoff for the Fifth Congressional District. Interestingly, while the number of candidates filing for legislative and Congressional races surged from 311 in 2014 to 388 in 2016, there will be fewer runoffs this year (14) than in 2014 (16). In races that will be decided by a runoff, the vote total of the leading candidate in the initial primary ranged from a low of 33.47 percent for Republican Tom Gann in HD 8 to a high of 49.89 percent for Republican Adam Pugh in SD 41.

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In The Know: Insurance Commissioner to review earthquake insurance premium hikes

by | July 18th, 2016 | 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

Insurance Commissioner to review earthquake insurance premium hikes: Earthquake insurance used to be dirt cheap in Oklahoma. Now, in the wake of hundreds of recent earthquakes, premiums and rates are on the rise, so the state insurance commissioner decided to hit the “pause button.” Last month, Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak called the market noncompetitive. It was more than just a statement — it allowed him and the Insurance Commission, by state statute, to review some of the rising earthquake insurance rates before they were enacted instead of them just going into effect [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma sees drop in quakes as wastewater injection volume declines: Oklahoma is on pace for fewer earthquakes than the prior year for the first time since 2012 — but an area in northwest Oklahoma remains seismically strong and a concern to scientists. The state’s red dirt began to sporadically tremble in 2009 like a popcorn bag just placed into a microwave. The ground rumbling soon took off in earnest, quickly shooting up until perhaps cresting a year ago. And the dip itself in 2012 was a solitary outlier during the several-year climb [Tulsa World].

Laws on drug possession among topics for Oklahoma studies: A ballot proposal to make possession of small amounts of drugs in Oklahoma a misdemeanor punishable by no more than a year in jail would make Oklahoma’s drug laws among the most liberal in the country, according to a state lawmaker who has requested an interim study on the plan. State Rep. Scott Biggs, an ex-prosecutor, disputes the idea that Oklahoma’s drug laws are too harsh. He requested an interim study to compare Oklahoma’s drug laws to those in other states [KOCO]. Oklahoma’s drug possession laws are among the harshest in the nation [OK Policy].

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The Weekly Wonk: Child care subsidy remains on thin ice; a win-win for wages; & more

by | July 17th, 2016 | Posted in Weekly Wonk | Comments (0)

the_weekly_wonk_logoWhat’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

On the OK Policy Blog, Policy Analyst Carly Putnam explained how lifting the child care subsidy remains on thin ice, even with the enrollment freeze lifted. Putnam previously wrote that child care is getting less accessible for working parents. In his Journal Record column, Executive Director David Blatt described a recent article by a venture capitalist calling for a higher minimum wage. The article, titled “Confronting the Parasite Economy,” is available here.

A guest post by Brian Ted Jones of the Kirkpatrick Foundation analyzed the precipitous decline in agricultural employment. The second post in a two-part series by OK Policy intern Kylie Thomas reviewed a new federal education law’s affect on testing and teachers. The first post is available here. Steve Lewis’s weekly blog post discussed privilege and oppression

OK Policy in the News

Writing for the Huffington Post, John Thompson quoted Blatt’s blog post on how poverty in Oklahoma is compared to a developing country. Oklahoma Observer editor Arnold Hamilton cited OK Policy in a Journal Record column arguing that the legislature needs more thinkers, rather than more think tanks. Policy Analyst and Oklahoma Assets Network coordinator DeVon Douglass spoke to the Tulsa World about a panel on police violence she organized and moderated. 

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‘When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality seems like oppression.’ (Capitol Updates)

by | July 15th, 2016 | Posted in Capitol Updates | Comments (5)

flesh crayonsSteve 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 find past Capitol Updates archived  on his website.

There’s not much news out of the Capitol this week, so I thought I’d reflect on the traumatic national week we had.

I recently saw a posting on Facebook that keeps coming back to me. It’s not among the ones you might think I’d be talking about. It’s not the picture of Alton Sterling lying on the ground dead with a bloody chest. It’s not the one of Philando Castile dying before my eyes and the eyes of his 4-year old daughter. It’s not the one of Dallas Police officers ducking behind buildings trying to figure out where the bullets are coming from. Horrible as all of those are, I’ve seen plenty of those kinds of pictures before. Repulsive as they are, they are unfortunately not out of the ordinary. I’ve seen it all before, way too often.

I don’t know if you saw the one I’m talking about or not. It was a picture of an open box of crayons. There is perhaps a half dozen crayons showing, of different colors, black, brown, tan, and several others including the one that more or less matches my skin that is usually labeled “flesh.” Except in this box of crayons ALL the crayons were labeled “flesh.” The black one was labeled flesh; the brown one was labeled flesh; and the flesh one was labeled flesh. The caption at the bottom of the picture was “when you’re accustomed to privilege equality seems like oppression.”

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In The Know: Gov. Mary Fallin to speak on final night of GOP convention

by | July 15th, 2016 | 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

Gov. Mary Fallin to speak on final night of GOP convention: Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and Oklahoma City energy executive Harold Hamm are on the list of speakers for the Republican National Convention released Thursday morning. Fallin spokesman Michael McNutt said the governor is tentatively scheduled to speak on July 21, the last night of the convention. It was not known immediately when Hamm will speak. Fallin’s appearance apparently will be part of the build up to the Donald Trump’s first appearance as the GOP nominee [Tulsa World].

One inmate dead after knife fight at Oklahoma prison: One inmate was stabbed to death and three others hospitalized after a fight in a day room filled with temporary bunk beds at the Mack Alford Correctional Center. The fight began about 9:30 p.m. Wednesday in a day room where bunks were set up to deal with overcrowding, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections said. Gregory Smith, 29, suffered stab wounds and was pronounced dead at Mary Hurley Hospital in Coalgate. He had been serving a life sentence for murder [NewsOK]. The effects of budget cuts on Oklahoma prisons are hidden but dangerous [OK Policy].

State Says 3-Year-Old Probe into Virtual School Continues: Nearly three years ago, Gov. Mary Fallin requested an investigation into allegations of fraud against the state’s largest virtual charter school. State agents launched the probe of Epic Charter Schools and, about a year later, turned their findings over to the Attorney General’s Office. Since then, no charges have been filed against Epic or its employees, and no announcement has been made about the case. But after recent inquiries about its status by Oklahoma Watch, an Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman revealed agents are now “re-interviewing” people in connection with the investigation [Oklahoma Watch].

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The decade Oklahoma’s ag jobs vanished (Guest Post: Brian Ted Jones)

by | July 14th, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Economy, State Questions | Comments (0)

Corporate-FarmingBrian Ted Jones is director of education for Kirkpatrick Foundation. Data on farm employment is from census records accessed through the Oklahoma Department of Libraries.

Since 1990, the number of agricultural jobs in Oklahoma has declined by 77 percent, according to figures from the U.S. Census. This period of employment decline in the farming and ranching industry—once a pillar of the state’s job market—coincides with the expansion of corporate-industrial agriculture that began with the legalization of corporate agriculture in 1969 and accelerated with the arrival of concentrated swine and poultry production in the early 1990s.

Oklahoma is currently engaged in a heated debate over agriculture policy, as voters consider State Question 777, a controversial amendment to the state’s constitution that would provide members of the agriculture industry with a private right of action to challenge laws that restrict their technology and production practices. As director of education for Kirkpatrick Foundation, I’ve spent the last few months exploring the potential impact of SQ 777 on Oklahoma, which has led me to a deep study of Oklahoma’s agricultural economy going back to the territorial period.

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In The Know: Prison guards more likely to stay on the job

by | July 14th, 2016 | 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

Prison guards more likely to stay on the job: As the economy sputters and unemployment creeps up, more prison guards are staying on the job. The Department of Corrections hired 1,052 new employees this past budget year — and kept 452 of them. That’s a marked improvement from the 70 officers gained the prior year, according to an analysis by the state Public Employees Association. Though positive news for prisons, which have long struggled to hire and keep officers, those who monitor staffing there is still much work to be done. “Our concern is, we still lose way too many of them,” said Sean Wallace, policy director for the Public Employees Association [Norman Transcript]. While prisons are filled to 122 percent of their operating capacity, DOC is funded for only 67 percent of its staffing needs [OK Policy].

Challenge seeks to keep Oklahoma farming measure off November ballot: Opponents of State Question 777 have filed an appeal to try and keep the measure on farming practices off the statewide ballot in November. Attorneys for opponents of the ballot measure have filed an accelerated appeal in the case, in hopes the Oklahoma Supreme Court will take up the matter before a deadline in late August for the Oklahoma Election Board to print the November ballot, said Heather Hintz, an attorney for plaintiffs in the case [NewsOK].

Oklahoma Corporation Commission investigating Blanchard earthquakes: A spate of earthquakes in the Blanchard area has Oklahoma regulators scratching their heads, since there’s not any active, deep disposal wells in the area. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission said Wednesday it is investigating all oil and gas activity in the area after United States Geological Survey data shows nine recent earthquakes near Blanchard. The earthquakes have been about 5 miles southeast of Blanchard in the old North Dibble Oil Field, according to USGS data. Blanchard is about 30 miles south of Oklahoma City [NewsOK].

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