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The next big health care idea

by | May 7th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (0)

This week, the New York Times magazine ran an extended interview with President Obama on his economic program, while The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza profiled Obama’s budget director, Peter Orzsag.  Both pieces devoted considerable attention to health care reform, and made clear that despite the urgency of dealing with automobile bailouts, financial regulation, housing, and the overall economy, health care remains the Administration’s top legislative priority. But what was striking was that neither piece devoted much attention to the issue of the uninsured and the challenge of expanding coverage to the 45-50 million Americans who currently lack insurance. Instead, the health care issue uppermost in the minds of Obama and Orszag, and the policy proposal on which their initiative seems to hinge, is something most Americans have likely never heard of – comparative effectiveness research.

The term refers to the emerging effort to identify which medical treatments and procedures can be shown to have the most cost-effective outcomes in making people healthier, and to find ways to promote medical decision-making in line with these findings. For the Administration, comparative effectiveness research is the key to health care reform because it provides the possibility of expanding access to care while reining in health care spending, which is essential for the nation’s long-term fiscal stability.

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Keeping track

by | May 6th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Stimulus | Comments (0)

Spending from the $787 billion stimulus bill, formally known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or ARRA, is underway. Since passage of the bill in February, payroll withholding for most employees has been decreased thanks to the Making Work Pay tax credit, and food stamp and unemployment benefits for those in need have been increased. Most of the attention, however, has focused on funds being allocated through state government.  A recent Oklahoman editorial suggested that as Oklahoma begins to put federal stimulus dollars into projects to fix roads and bridges and other purposes, “it’s time for the public to begin the laborious task of holding government accountable for the billions in stimulus money en route to the states.” We wholeheartedly agree.

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a conference hosted by Good Jobs First that was specifically concerned with developing strategies for an accountable recovery. Good Jobs First is working closely with the advocacy organization OMB Watch and with national and state coalitions across the country to help ensure that citizens have access to comprehensive and timely information on stimulus funds. The national partners, known as the Coalition for an Accountable Recovery, and the state partners, known as the States for a Transparent and Accountable Recovery (STAR) coalition, have both launched websites that collect key documents and news releases related to the Recovery Act; the STAR website also has a blog.  Both coalitions have a particularly strong interest in watchdogging which companies are benefiting from contracts (and to the extent possible, sub-contracts) funded with stimulus dollars.

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More old sayings that don't make sense

by | May 6th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (0)

Misery loves company? Really? That one doesn’t apply to the state and local governments of Oklahoma. More and more of them are revealing bleak budget pictures for the coming fiscal year, yet none seem to be enjoying the company.

We’ve spent a lot of time watching and writing about the state’s budget outlook. Our blog post earlier this week gives a pretty good idea of what to expect as legislators finalize their spending plan in the next two or three weeks.

Since the Capitol gets plenty of coverage, let’s have a look at what faces our local governments. After all, they provide the services we rely on every day and they represent more than 40 percent of all Oklahoma government spending.

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by | May 5th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (0)

kfc2Recently, Louisville, KY negotiated a deal with Kentucky Fried Chicken to have KFC pay to fill in pot holes in exchange for the right to advertise on those potholes. Upon hearing this, the first thought I had was about the ugliness of the advertising that accompanies the over commercialization in our society. However, a few days later, I heard an NPR story about another creative advertising scheme.

“In a cash-strapped Idaho high school, where signs taped near every light switch remind the staff to save electricity, an enterprising teacher has struck a sponsorship deal with a local pizza shop: Every test, handout and work sheet he passes out to his students reads MOLTO’S PIZZA 14″ 1 TOPPING JUST $5 in bright red, inch-high letters printed along the bottom of each page.”

moltoIs it really that bad? Is that really how we want to finance education in this country? We should all be thankful that, in Oklahoma, we haven’t pitted properly funding such a critical public service as education against selling advertising and endorsing something that may not be healthy for our children. Could you imagine if the schools were so underfunded that they relied on the revenue from Coca-Cola or Pepsi to make their budgets? Could you imagine if we, as a community, were so unwilling to pay the necessary amount required to ensure that our next generation was properly educated and healthy that we were willing to allow them to fill their maturing bodies with caffeine and corn syrup and potato chips just so that the school districts could get the revenue from soda companies and vending machines? Let’s be thankful that we have not become that off base in our priorities…or have we?

State Budget Update: Bringing the pain

by | May 4th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (2)

In spite of all the attention paid in Oklahoma in recent weeks to such urgent matters as the Ten Commandments, stem cells, and the Flaming Lips, the real work of the 2009 legislative session has been unfolding largely behind the scenes as key legislative leaders from the House and Senate try to hammer out an agreement on the budget for the upcoming year, FY ’10. From conversations I had last week at the Capitol  with a number of  legislators, fiscal staff, lobbyists, and agency personnel, it appears that the main outlines of the budget have been decided, although some key issues and details remain to be determined.

For those who have not been following closely, the main parameters for the budget were set in February, when the Board of Equalization certified available appropriations for FY ’10 at $644 million less than the budget for the current year. When adjustments were made for one-time money in this year’s budget and other issues, the shortfall approached $900 million. Although the state has built up the Rainy Day Fund to just under $600 million, of which up to $375 million could be made available for FY ’10, Governor Henry and legislative leaders have consistently expressed their unwillingness to tap into reserves to mitigate the shortfall. Also in February, Congress passed the $787 billion stimulus package (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or ARRA), which included funding expressly intended to help states plug budget shortfalls over the next two years. State fiscal relief primarily assumed the form of a State Fiscal Stabilization Fund ($578 for Oklahoma, of which $473 million can be used only for education and $105 million available as general purpose funds) and enhanced federal Medicaid funding ($800 – $950 million for Oklahoma, available back to October 2008).

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Keeping Perspective

by | May 4th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, OK Policy | Comments (0)

As the Oklahoma Legislature winds down the 2009 session, there is still talk of tax relief–a lower top income tax rate, exemptions for oil and gas drilling, and limits on property tax growth–in spite of a budget shortfall of $600 million or more. With all the reductions of  the last few years and with some of our leaders calling for further tax cuts yet, it is easy to forget that Oklahoma already is a very low tax state.

OK Policy will soon release the Online Guide to Oklahoma Budget and Taxes. It offers a comprehensive look at government spending, revenues, budget processes, and important policy issues Oklahoma faces in  the years ahead. The Guide uses plain English, clear graphs, and an easy navigating system so readers can find out what they need in a hurry, or examine a subject in greater depth.

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Oklahoma's Investment in the Future

by | May 4th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (0)

Recently, I had the opportunity to volunteer with an institution that is a true asset for our state. This is my first year serving as part of the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics (OSSM) admissions committee. It certainly will not be my last.

What is OSSM? In short, it is one of the economic engines that is helping build Oklahoma’s future. It is a statewide public school for students in the 11th and 12th grade who are gifted in Math and Science…really gifted! You should have seen some of their test scores.

According to the OSSM website:

The Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics (OSSM) was created through legislative action in 1983 and graduated its first class of 44 seniors from across the state in 1992. It is designed as a two-year residential public high school for the academically gifted students in mathematics and science.
The school currently has 71 juniors, 63 seniors and an ultimate enrollment estimated at 300.

The late Dr. Julian Stanley of Johns Hopkins University, a nationally known expert on gifted education, called the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics, “the most rigorous academic program of its kind in the nation.” here.

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Tune in!

by | May 1st, 2009 | Posted in Blog, OK Policy | Comments (0)
Sunday evening, May 3rd, I will be the guest on Gwin Faulconer-Lippert’s Oklahoma City radio show on AM1000 KTOK at 7:30 p.m., discussing OK Policy’s recent release on tax credits for the oil and gas industry. If you’re not in the Oklahoma City area, the program will  stream live over the Internet at


Time to cap the tax credit well?

by | May 1st, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (0)

OK Policy has released a new fact sheet looking at Oklahoma’s gross production taxes on oil and gas,which takes a special look at the tax exemptions offered for different forms of production. Over the past five years, producers have claimed $339 million in exemptions, or rebates, from the gross production tax, with almost three-quarters of the rebates claimed for deep well drilling and horizontally drilled wells, according to data supplied by the Oklahoma Tax Commission.

Most gross production tax exemptions are set to expire on June 30, 2009. The Legislature is considering two bills – HB 2062 and SB 313 that would extend the exemptions through 2012. So far, both bills have sailed through the legislative process with a minimum of debate. However, the titles have been stricken from the bills and they look headed to conference committee, which ensures that the Legislature will have at least one more opportunity to consider the matter before any extension of the tax exemptions is sent to the Governor.

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Call 911! Call 911! Call 911!

by | April 30th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Capitol Matters, Taxes | Comments (0)

Considering it was designed to be slow and messy and that it depends on elected officials who must keep us happy, the legislative process works amazingly well much of the time. At other times, though, it encourages bad habits that work against our ultimate goals. Sometimes legislators are overly responsive to the news of the day or to a loud but small constituency. Sometimes they appear to solve problems by forcing someone else to take care of it. This is the story of what happens when two bad habits merge.

On April 16th, the Oklahoma House of Representatives amended SB 1166 to cut county taxes on cellular phones by 70 percent. This action came in the wake of a large anti-tax rally the previous day. Amendment sponsor Mike Reynolds (R-Oklahoma City) said:

I think this shows that yesterday’s ‘Tea Party’ protests are already having an effect. By voting to dramatically reduce a cell phone tax, I think members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives have shown they got the message and are working to rein in taxes in Oklahoma. Hopefully, Washington will get the message too.

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