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Hurry up and wait

by | March 19th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Capitol Matters | Comments (0)

Both houses of the Legislature this week passed a resolution, SJR 12,  that would allow this year’s session to adjourn sine die on May 22nd, one week earlier than scheduled. The goal, explained President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, is to wrap up business before the Memorial Day long weekend rather than return and work through the final week leading up to the constitutionally-mandated adjournment at 5:00 pm on the last Friday of May.

While the hope to get done and get home may be widely shared, there is a countervailing sense that I heard expressed by insiders at the Capitol this week that  negotiating a budget agreement this year is going to be especially long and difficult. Right now, all budget deliberations are on hold while the state awaits additional regulations and instructions from the federal government about the terms and conditions governing the use of federal stimulus act dollars.  The current consensus is that no decisions can be made about how to manage next year’s $600-million drop in available revenue until further instructions are handed down from Washington. The most eagerly-awaited guidance concerns the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, which will provide Oklahoma with $578 million, subject to various restrictions (the U.S. Department of Education has provided some information here). Getting federal guidance, working through the various implications,  and reaching consensus on the appropriate mix of state and federal funds for next year’s budget may take the Legislature not only until the very end of May, but perhaps beyond.

Transparency envy

by | March 18th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Stimulus | Comments (0)

As we’ve said, we are very pleased by Governor Henry’s swift action in launching a state website to provide information on the federal stimulus bill (formally known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or ARRA), as it applies to Oklahoma. If you surf through the site, you’ll find various pieces of information about the multiple funding streams available to the state and Oklahoma’s expected share of these funds. What you won’t find, however, is a single document pulling together information on all the programs, grants, and funding streams that may come Oklahoma’s way as a result of ARRA.

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Kill the drill

by | March 18th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Economy | Comments (0)

Sunday’s edition of the New York Times had a front-page report on the steep drop in drilling activity that has followed plunging oil prices in recent months. Since last summer, the number of oil and gas rigs deployed to tap new energy supplies across the country has fallen by half, and the drop is accelerating, especially for natural gas production. The Times quotes Oklahoma’s Devon Energy as Exhibit A of the drilling hangover era:

“The big bonanza is over,” said Jay Ewing, the completion and construction manager for Devon Energy in the Barnett Shale field here, where so far this year his company has brought its rig count from 35 to 8. “Everyone is really shocked how fast everything has turned.”

Energy experts and company executives warn that oil and gas companies now cutting back on investments will be unable to respond quickly to a future economic recovery. John Richels, Devon’s president, said that if the slump lasted two years, it could then take 18 to 24 months for companies to reassemble rig crews.

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Numbers You Need – March 2009

by | March 17th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Numbers You Need | Comments (0)

Numbers You Need is a monthly publication from OK Policy that presents key data on the state’s economy, work force, human services, and budget in one concise easy-to-read fact sheet.

March’s edition of Numbers You Need provides further evidence of the deteriorating economic situation in Oklahoma. The state’s seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate hit 5.0 percent in January, up from 4.6 percent in December. Building permits issued in the final quarter of 2008 were down 44 percent compared to 2007, with the three month total representing the lowest level of activity since at least 1995. Meanwhile, state revenue collections in February fell steeply for the second straight month, coming in 21.6 percent below last year’s amount and 30.4 percent below the certified estimate.

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Managing the fiscal pain

by | March 15th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Economy | Comments (0)

Last week I sat down with the editorial board of the Tulsa World to discuss the state’s worsening fiscal outlook. Julie Delcour’s column in today’s Opinion section sets out some of our main messages about the severity of the problem and the difficult choices for keeping the budget in balance.

“Budget shortfalls of this magnitude will lead to difficult and painful choices between cutting deeply into public services, raising new revenues, and tapping into budget reserves. If the downturn is of a similar magnitude to the one following the last recession of 2001,” Oklahoma could face shortfalls in the future of $2.4 billion,” warns Blatt, an economist and analyst who monitors the budget and state revenues with the precision of a surgeon.

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Inaugural meeting of Coordinating Council for stimulus funds

by | March 13th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Stimulus | Comments (0)

This afternoon at 3:00 marked the first meeting of Governor Henry’s coordinating council to oversee the use of the federal stimulus money available to Oklahoma through ARRA. All of the members of the council were in attendance for this inaugural meeting. Susan Savage will serve as the lead contact for the council. Scott Meachem will work on all aspects of the stimulus package as they relate to the state budget and will work on a daily basis to coordinate with the legislature. Steve Burrage will be the “monitoring guru”.

Governor Henry stated that the goal of the council is to make sure Oklahoma doesn’t fall into any traps and that we get the full benefit of the stimulus funds. He stressed that, although openness and accountability is a key goal of this process, it goes beyond that. The other stated goal is to identify all opportunities where Oklahoma can benefit from the stimulus package.

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State Coverage Initiative looks at options for expanding coverage

by | March 13th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (0)

Over the past two years,  Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland has been spearheading an extensive effort known as the State Coverage Initiative (SCI) to develop a plan to extend health insurance coverage to a sizable segment of the 640,000 Oklahomans who are currently uninsured. SCI has recently released a blueprint report setting out its main recommendations.

The SCI report calls on the state to maximize existing opportunities for covering the uninsured through the Insure Oklahoma premium assistance program and to create new publicly-subsidized commercial health plans, which would attempt to control costs either by capping annual benefit limits or by waiving current state mandate requirements. The report proposes funding expanded coverage through a broad-based provider fee that would begin at a modest 0.5 percent of revenues.

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Uh-oh!

by | March 12th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (0)

Monthly Revenue Collections COmapred to Prior YearThe February revenue numbers are in and they are not good. The Treasurer’s office reported Tuesday that general revenue came in a whopping $103.9 million, or 30.4 percent below the certified estimate for February. In January, collections missed the estimate by $50.8 million. Collections for each major tax (individual income tax, corporate income tax, sales, gross production, and motor vehicle) came in below the monthly estimate and below collections for February 2008.

In two months, most of the surplus that had built up over the first six months of FY ’09 has vanished, although collections through February still remain $47.3 million, or 1.3 percent, above the certified estimate. With four months remaining in the fiscal year, the hope now becomes that revenue collections do not plummet below the amount appropriated in the current year budget. Because of the law restricting appropriations to 95 percent of the certified estimate, there is a $297 million cushion built into the budget before the state would face a current year revenue shortfall. Suddenly, that cushion is starting to look mighty soft.

Latest from the Federal Department of Education

by | March 11th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Stimulus | Comments (0)

Federal agencies are releasing information and guidance on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) at a fast and furious pace.  The Department of Education has a webpage that has detailed information on each of the major funding streams for education, including Title I (funding for low-income students), IDEA (special education), and the state fiscal stabilization fund. The Department articulates the basic principles guiding the education funds in the stimulus bill:

Principles: The overall goals of the ARRA are to stimulate the economy in the short term and invest in education and other essential public services to ensure the long-term economic health of our nation. The success of the education part of the ARRA will depend on the shared commitment and responsibility of students, parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, education boards, college presidents, state school chiefs, governors, local officials, and federal officials. Collectively, we must advance ARRA’s short-term economic goals by investing quickly, and we must support ARRA’s long-term economic goals by investing wisely, using these funds to strengthen education, drive reforms, and improve results for students from early learning through college. Four principles guide the distribution and use of ARRA funds:

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Expanding the Safety Net

by | March 10th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Economy | Comments (0)

An editorial in yesterday’s Oklahoman notes how the worsening economy is having a growing impact on schools as children and families grapple with problems ranging from food insecurity to purchasing school uniforms to homelessness. The Oklahoman concludes:

Schools and children could benefit from more take-home food programs via food banks, counselors, after-school programs, and funding for other potential supports in and out of schools to keep children healthy, safe and learning until their family finances improve.

The editorial does not note that the economic stimulus package includes a variety of measures aimed at helping schools address rising needs and declining state and local resources, from overall increases for Title I funding and the state fiscal stabilization fund designed to avert cuts in school budgets to specific funding to serve homeless students and upgrade equipment for school nutrition programs (see our budget brief on the stimulus bill). But the editorial is right on point in reminding us that all of us, government, community providers, individuals and families alike, will have to step up to keep children safe, healthy, and ready-to-learn.