The Weekly Wonk August 17, 2014

by | August 17th, 2014 | Posted in Blog | Comments (0)

the_weekly_wonkThe Weekly Wonk is a summary of Oklahoma Policy Institute’s events, publications, blog posts, and coverage. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The KnowClick here to subscribe to In The Know.

This week, we explained that tobacco tax revenue declined last year, and why that was (mostly) good news. A guest blog post argued that Kansas’s recent downgraded credit rating is well-deserved. OK Policy is accepting applications for fall interns and research fellows – you can find out more and apply here.

The OK PolicyCast this week featured a discussion of this week’s headlines and highlights from the education panel from our Summer Policy Institute. You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunesStitcher, or RSS.

In his Journal Record column, Executive Director David Blatt shared the legacy of former Oklahoma governor and state senator Henry Bellmon. We had previously honored Gov. Bellmon with the 2014 Good Sense/Good Cents award. The Tulsa World described the event here. In our Editorial of the Week, the editor of blog The Lost Ogle explains why the blog is continuing its lawsuit against Gov. Fallin regarding documents withheld from an open records request.

Quote of the week:

“I do not like the direction this is going…we sound like we agree with seceding from the union. It is obstructionist. It is not constructive or productive – it is just sour grapes. It is not leading, it is taking the easy way out. And it is does not acknowledge the facts.”

- Katie Altshuler, Gov. Fallin’s Policy Director, in an email to the Governor’s Chief of Staff discussing whether the state should create Oklahoma’s health insurance exchange. The email was part of a trove of documents ordered released on Monday following a lawsuit over their release (Source: http://bit.ly/VekNBz).

Numbers of the day:

  • $549.33 – Financial aid grant dollars per undergraduate student provided by the State of Oklahoma during the 2011-12 academic year. Oklahoma ranks 24th in the nation for state grant dollars per student.
  • 2308 – Total number of adult Oklahomans who received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families payments (commonly known as “welfare”) in May 2014.
  • 28.3% – Percentage of Oklahomans reporting no physical activity. The national average is 22.9%.
  • $61,178 – Average household income in Oklahoma in 2013.
  • 71,245 MWh – Net annual energy savings from Oklahoma utility PSO’s energy efficiency programs in 2013, enough to power about 6,500 homes for a year.

What we’re reading:

OK PolicyCast: Episode 4

by | August 15th, 2014 | Posted in Podcast | Comments (0)
How are Oklahoma educators like the common grackle? Listen to find out!

How are Oklahoma educators like the common grackle? Listen to find out!

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunesStitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

Today’s episode shares highlights from the education panel at the 2014 Summer Policy Institute. Guests include Jenks Principal Rob Miller, Sapulpa Superintendent Kevin Burr, Booker T. Washington high school teacer Dr. Anthony Marshall, and OU professor and education researcher Dr. Curt Adams.

You can download the episode here or play it in your browser:

Public Radio Tulsa has also provided the full audio from many of the Summer Policy Institute panels.

Summer Policy Institute education panelists featured in today's podcast.

Summer Policy Institute education panelists featured in today’s podcast.

More on stories referenced in this episode:

In The Know: Rising rate of unvaccinated children has schools bracing for outbreaks

by | August 15th, 2014 | 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. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

As classes begin for the fall in Oklahoma schools and measles rates climb in surrounding states, state health officials are concerned by the rise in numbers of unvaccinated students. Math and reading proficiency rates in reading and math declined sharply among Tulsa elementary and middle schools this year. School officials attribute the drop to a new requirement to give special education students the same test as is given to the rest of the school population. Tulsa-area high schools saw scores on end-of-instruction exams fall in a variety of subject areas, likely due to a recalibrated scoring system.

Students in over 50 Oklahoma City Public Schools will receive free breakfast and lunch this year via Community Eligibility, a new program offered by the US Department of Agriculture that provides free meals in schools that meet certain socioeconomic qualifications. We’ve written about how Community Eligibility can be used to help kids in poverty before. A guest on the OK Policy blog explained why a recent downgrade of Kansas’ credit rating was well-deserved. The CDC has awarded Oklahoma more than $1 million over the next three years to fight prescription drug abuse in the state. We’ve written about Oklahoma’s biggest drug problem before. NewsOK describes how Oklahoma’s rural hospitals are struggling to stay open and serve surrounding communities.

Thousands are expected to rally in favor of medical marijuana at the Capitol today. Meanwhile, organizers of a petition to legalize medical marijuana say they believe they have enough valid signatures to get it on the November ballot and will turn the petition in today. Tulsa Sheriff Stanley Glanz said he wants more federal inmates because the jail needs the revenue the inmates bring in to remain solvent. The George Kaiser Family Foundation has donated $350 million to the A Gathering Place for Tulsa park on Riverside, believed to to be the largest gift to a public park system in US history.

A former assistant attorney general has filed a wrongful termination claim. He had been dismissed after giving what Attorney General Scott Pruitt says was incorrect advice about compliance with the Open Meeting Act. The state Corporation Commissioner will hold a meeting to discuss a new law that would allow utilities to charge customers who generate electricity from solar panels or wind turbines. We’ve written about the possible meanings and impact of the law before. Oklahoma City’s immigration court will close on Friday, and future hearings will be scheduled in Dallas, adding further complications for immigrants seeking legal status who will now have to travel much further for hearings.

An environmental group is alleging that many US fracking operations, including some in Oklahoma, are illegally using diesel in hydraulic fracturing. A fracking site operator faces a contempt claim for failing to prevent pollution after 20,000 gallons of hydrochloric acid spilled in an oil field, the largest fracking-related accident in state history. The child support division of the state Department of Human Services has been recognized with a national award.

Despite recent rainfall, deep drought conditions persist over western Oklahoma, according to a US Drought Monitor report. StateImpact described the varied history of Oklahoma’s scenic river systems. Tulsa’s Arkansas River Infrastructure Task Force viewed plans for a low-level dam in Bixby, one of four such projects under consideration to keep more water in the river. CNN Money described the surprising boom industry of butterfly farming in Oklahoma.

The Number of the Day is the net annual energy savings from Oklahoma utility PSO’s energy efficiency programs in 2013, enough to power 6,500 homes for a year. In today’s Policy Note, the New York Times discusses how the uncertain and demanding schedules in many low-wage jobs can make it impossible for young workers to build sustainable futures. After the story was published, Starbucks announced that it would be revamping its scheduling policies.

continue reading In The Know: Rising rate of unvaccinated children has schools bracing for outbreaks

A deserved downgrade of Kansas’ bonds (Guest Post: Michael Leachman)

by | August 14th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Taxes | Comments (0)
Michael Leachman

Michael Leachman

Michael Leachman is the Director of State Fiscal Research with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. This post previously appeared on the Center’s Off the Charts blog.

The meaning of Standard & Poor’s recent downgrade of Kansas’ credit rating, in which it cited Kansas’ “structurally unbalanced budget,” is clear: Kansas’ budget is a train heading off a cliff.

Here are the details:

continue reading A deserved downgrade of Kansas’ bonds (Guest Post: Michael Leachman)

In The Know: Fallin supports medicinal use of cannabidiol oil from marijuana

by and | August 14th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, In The Know | Comments (1)

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. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Gov. Mary Fallin will ask state lawmakers to support legalization of cannabidiol, a medicine extracted from marijuana to treat seizure disorders, on a medically supervised, trial-only basis. She continues to oppose decriminalizing the drug or allowing use of medical marijuana more broadly. See the Governor’s statement here. OK Policy previously showed that Oklahoma’s marijuana laws are among the harshest in the nation. A former Oklahoma City doctor was sentenced to eight years in prison for over-prescribing pain and anxiety medications that killed eight of his patients. The OK Policy Blog discussed what’s behind recent large drops in tobacco tax revenue

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority board voted to approve a new “health home” model established by the Affordable Care Act to provide integrated care for Oklahomans with serious mental illnesses. Tulsa World reporter Wayne Greene speculated about what may have been behind Governor Fallin’s refusal to release emails related to her health care policy decisions until recently. Governor Fallin declined a request from Oklahoma labor leaders to ask for the resignation of the three members of the Workers Compensation Commission. The first month of fiscal year 2015 saw state general revenue collections significantly exceed last year and the estimate for this year.

In the coming school year, Moore Public Schools will reopen a newly rebuilt Plaza Towers Elementary School following the 2013 tornado that killed seven students. An Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School faces an uncertain future due to unclear language in the bill that created it. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded $112,000 to the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma to administer the tribe’s environmental programs. OG&E filed an application to increase utility rates 15 percent by 2019 to pay for upgrades to meet national emissions standards and replace an aging Mustang natural gas plant. 

David Blatt’s Journal Record column discusses the legacy of Henry Bellmon, Oklahoma’s first Republican Governor. A federal judge has scheduled a hearing for next month in a lawsuit filed by a group of death row inmates over Oklahoma’s execution procedures. The Norman City Council voted 5-4 to approve a zoning change that will allow a new Walmart Supercenter. The vote came at a meeting that lasted nearly 7 hours with numerous residents protesting against the Supercenter.

A year and a half long study by consultants hired by the City of Tulsa found that city employees are paid 5 to 10 percent below average of comparable workers in the private and public sector. Officials with the Oklahoma Arts Council and many others pleaded with lawmakers to keep the Arts Council as an independent agency. The Number of the Day is the average household income in Oklahoma in 2013. In today’s Policy Note, The New Republic examines how political changes in Alabama and other Southern states are rolling back gains of the Civil Rights movement.

continue reading In The Know: Fallin supports medicinal use of cannabidiol oil from marijuana

Tobacco tax revenue declined last year. Here’s why that’s mostly good news.

by | August 13th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare, Taxes | Comments (0)

In 2004, Oklahoma voters approved SQ 713, which increased the excise tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products while eliminating the state and local sales tax on these products. The new revenues from the increased taxes were dedicated to a variety of health-related purposes, including the Insure Oklahoma premium assistance program, a comprehensive cancer center, trauma care, tobacco cessation, and others.

Tobacco tax revenues allocated for health care under SQ 713 rose from $107.1 million in FY 2006, when the new taxes took full effect, to $145.6 million in FY 2012. However, these revenues fell slightly in FY 2013 and then dropped dramatically by $18.3 million (13 percent) in the fiscal year that just ended. The two largest recipients of tobacco tax funds – Oklahoma Health Care Authority general operations and the Insure Oklahoma fund – saw their funding decrease by $7.3 million and $6.0 million respectively in FY 2014. The shortfall contributed to the Health Care Authority having to enact larger cuts to provider payments and services.

TobaccoTaxRev06-14What accounts for the drop in tobacco tax collections? The answer is complicated.

continue reading Tobacco tax revenue declined last year. Here’s why that’s mostly good news.

In The Know: Oklahoma schools could see mid-year teacher layoffs

by and | August 13th, 2014 | 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. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Mid-year teacher layoffs are a possibility if Oklahoma’s No Child Left Behind waiver is rejected by the U.S. Department of Education. The Oklahoma State Department of Education has requested a one-year extension of its flexibility waiver, but there is no timeline for when a decision will be made. Jenks Middle School Principal Rob Miller is one of six finalists for 2015 National Principal of the Year from the National Association of Secondary School Principals. You can find Miller’s blog here and listen to his remarks on an education panel at OK Policy’s Summer Policy Institute.

Phillips 66 will be giving $1.7 million to Bartlesville Public Schools to create new innovative laboratories on three school campuses to support science, technology, engineering and math classes and research projects. OK Policy is accepting applications for our paid fall internships and our 2014-2015 research fellowships. An over-capacity crowd came out to attend a forum in Norman with a New York activist who said it was possible for the city to put a moratorium on fracking in city limits. Oklahoma City residents soon will weigh in on a proposed water rate increase that would see utility bills climb by 17 percent to promote conservation while funding $2.1 billion in work needed to support projected population growth.

In the wake of Robin Williams’ suspected suicide, Oklahoma’s mental health commissioner Teri White spoke about what to do if you think someone is contemplating suicide. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows Oklahoma babies are breast-fed at some of the lowest rates in the nation. The Cherokee Nation increased its operating budget by more than $4 million, to help cover health costs, increase employment and assist with emergency housing for citizens.

Officials with the medical examiner’s office say they are one step closer to reaccreditation with the hiring of two new staff members. This Land previously examined the severe problems at the Medical Examiner that caused it to lose accreditation.  A court decision on whether Tulsa County will have to pay the attorney fees of couples who sued the county to overturn a ban on same-sex marriages was delayed pending an appeal to the US Supreme Court. Among the emails withheld by Governor Fallin, citing a need to protect the “deliberative process” for policy decisions, was a political analysis of state Senate races filled with pointed criticisms of some candidates. Despite the release of the emails, the Lost Ogle blog and the ACLU will continue to pursue a lawsuit against the governor to avoid a precedent that governors can hide records using “executive privilege.”

The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahomans reporting no physical activity. In today’s Policy Note, education researcher Amanda Ripley discusses a growing movement to improve schools by making it harder to become a teacher.

continue reading In The Know: Oklahoma schools could see mid-year teacher layoffs

Two great OK Policy opportunities for Oklahoma college students

by | August 12th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, OK Policy | Comments (0)

OfficeDoor

OK Policy is pleased to announced two exciting opportunities for Oklahoma college students. We are currently accepting applications for our fall internship and for our 2014-2015 research fellowship. Students working with OK Policy have a wide range of opportunities to conduct research, write blog posts, and contribute to OK Policy projects and events. We invite all interested candidates to apply.

continue reading Two great OK Policy opportunities for Oklahoma college students

In The Know: Fallin emails show debates on politics of health-care decisions

by and | August 12th, 2014 | 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.

Gov. Mary Fallin’s office released 100 pages of emails on Monday that it withheld last year regarding her decision to reject federal funds to create a state health-care exchange and expand Medicaid. While Fallin said she needed to withhold some records to protect the “deliberative process” involving policy decisions, most of the emails revolve around the political cost of accepting federal funds for health care. You can see all of the e-mails here

Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel said the county’s jail will not have enough money to sustain operations since the Department of Corrections began pulling inmates out and moving them to state facilities. None of the 11 firms asked to bid on auditing Tulsa County jail’s daily inmate cost want the job. With juvenile crime down significantly, Tulsa County’s 55-bed juvenile detention center is almost half empty after this weekend. A lawsuit filed Monday accuses an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper of raping a Tulsa woman after pulling her over in a traffic stop.

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services set a new record in collecting $362.5 million in child support payments last year, but unpaid child support in Oklahoma still totals $2.2 billion. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says more than 1,800 unaccompanied immigrant children were processed through Fort Sill before the facility was closed last week. The Tulsa World shared the story of an Oklahoma couple who had been together 20 years but ran out of time waiting for Oklahoma’s marriage laws to change before one of them passed away. NewsOK profiled a conservative judge who became the swing vote in the 10th Circuit Court decision overturning Oklahoma’s same-sex marriage ban.

Oil and gas driller Continental Resources will build two water recycling and processing centers to support the company’s drilling in Garvin and Stephens counties. A Prague woman is suing drilling wastewater disposal well operators over an earthquake that toppled a chimney onto her and may require her to get knee replacement surgery.  U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor will speak at the University of Tulsa on Sept. 10.

The Number of the Day is the total number of adult Oklahomans who received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families payments (commonly known as “welfare”) in May 2014. In today’s Policy Note, Wonkblog discusses new research showing the 24 states refusing to expand Medicaid will lose $423.6 billion in federal funds from 2013 to 2022.

continue reading In The Know: Fallin emails show debates on politics of health-care decisions

In The Know: Oklahoma sees decline in rate of people without health insurance

by and | August 11th, 2014 | 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. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

The rate of Oklahomans without health insurance declined 3.9 percentage points in 2014, but states that accepted federal dollars to expand coverage saw much bigger drops, according to a survey released this week. Arkansas led the country with a 10.1 percentage point decrease — from 22.5 to 12.4. NewsOK looked at how Oklahoma’s Medicaid copay increases are creating hardship for an Oklahoma man who has been unable to work since he broke his back on the job. The OK Policy Blog previously discussed why increasing Medicaid copays is likely to harm Oklahomans’ health without creating any savings in the long run.

With results from the first full-year of the Affordable Care Act’s implementation coming in, the OK Policy Blog assessed the law’s impact on Oklahoma. David Blatt’s Journal Record column argued that it is hard to fathom why Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin and Attorney General Scott Pruitt are pursuing a lawsuit to take away affordable health care from 55,000 newly insured Oklahomans. Several Tulsa families have lost in-home nursing care for their children with disabilities due to state cutbacks. The OK Policy Blog previously discussed the devastating delays for care these families face due to the state’s decade-long waiting list.

Public Radio Tulsa shared audio from the numerous panels of state leaders and policy experts who spoke at OK Policy’s 2014 Summer Policy Institute. You can see social media highlights from the Summer Policy Institute compiled on Storify. The latest OK Policy Podcast features some of the best comments made by speakers during the event. The Tulsa World reported on segments at the SPI honoring former Governor Henry Bellmon and sharing firsthand stories of the child migrants that had been housed at Fort Sill. OK Policy previously debunked several myths that had emerged about these children. As of last Thursday all the children have either been transferred to standard shelters or released to sponsors to await immigration proceedings.

Oklahoma collected more tax revenue last month than any July in state history, though that comes before subtracting revenue that will be paid back in tax refunds and tax expenditures. Gov. Mary Fallin’s office appears to be taking a renewed interest in 2012 criminal justice reforms that largely went unimplemented because of politics and a lack of funding. An OK Policy face sheet previously laid out why Oklahoma’s attempts at criminal justice reform so far fall far short of what is needed. The list of K2 drugs deemed illegal by state lawmakers will balloon Nov. 1 with more than 150 identified concoctions marked as Schedule I controlled substances. The OK Policy Blog discussed how lawsuits challenging two major tax cut bills in Oklahoma could hinge on the definition of two small words.

Reuters shared stories from Oklahomans experiencing numerous earthquakes that are likely connected to drilling wastewater disposal. The energy industry has grown to make up nearly 13 percent of the state’s economy. Vox shared charts showing the six state economies most dependent on fossil fuel production. The administrator of the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission wrote in the Oklahoman about the importance of being vigilant in protecting the state’s water resources. The Cherokee Nation and the town of Welch are working together on a study to help provide healthier drinking water for residents in the town.

A panel put on by the Tulsa County Democratic Party argued that women’s health and well-being are being ignored in Oklahoma politics. The Number of the Day is the financial aid grant dollars per undergraduate student provided Oklahoma. In today’s Policy Note, Robert Reich discusses a growing number of corporations being organized to balance the needs of all stakeholders, not just shareholders.

continue reading In The Know: Oklahoma sees decline in rate of people without health insurance

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