In The Know: Oklahoma veterans agency chief investigator fired, accused of being fake police officer

by and | March 24th, 2015 | Posted in 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 chief investigator at the Oklahoma Veterans Affairs Department has been fired and is facing prosecution after authorities concluded he is a fraud. The only state facility for incarcerated juvenile girls could close this summer if additional funding isn’t obtained by the Office of Juvenile Affairs. Tulsa city and county officials seem to be inching closer to a jail agreement, but officials are still negotiating over which inmates should be the first to be released when the jail reaches capacity. The Tulsa World praised the package of criminal justice reform measures moving though the Legislature.

On the OK Policy Blog, we discussed how despite talk of the need for greater scrutiny of tax incentives, lawmakers are pushing another unproven tax break with no idea what it will cost. While still negotiating the language, the Oklahoma House of Representatives Common Education Committee kept alive education reform measures that would replace state-mandated end of instruction tests and extend a moratorium on automatic retention of third graders. Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard announced Monday that he will be seeking school board approval to cancel classes on March 30 to allow teachers and other staff to attend an education rally at the state Capitol. 

A Senate committee approved legislation to prohibit the use of all tobacco products in public schools and make them tobacco free. Inside Higher Ed examined issues surrounding the University of Oklahoma’s treatment of American Indian students. The Cherokee Nation is distributing checks totaling $4 million from tribal car tag sales to 106 school districts. A bill that would require doctors to check a patient database before writing prescriptions for highly addictive drugs is one step away from the governor’s signature after passing a Senate committee.

The Journal Record editorial board argued that accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid would be good for business in Oklahoma. An OK Policy report previously examined the Medicaid expansion’s track record in other states. A man is preparing to take the matter to court after the Oklahoma Tax Commission denied a personalized license plate supporting gay rights with the message “LGBTALY,” claiming it is sexual in nature. Legislation that authorizes public schools to implement programs intended to help prevent child sexual abuse has been approved by an Oklahoma Senate committee, though lawmakers added protections for parents who opt their children out of this training program. Six years after the Legislature approved a Ten Commandments monument on the state Capitol, the state is still fighting legal action.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahoma City metro residents who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. In today’s Policy Note, NPR reports on why Americans with low incomes pay a price in poor health.

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Lawmakers pushing another unproven tax break with no idea what it will cost

by | March 23rd, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (2)
Photo by Ken Teegardin.

Photo by Ken Teegardin.

There’s lots of talk at the Capitol this year about the need for greater scrutiny and control of tax incentives. As we’ve discussed, bills authored by the House Speaker and Senate Pro Tem would evaluate all incentives on a regular basis and collect data on their fiscal and economic impact. Yet at least one measure that would create a new tax incentive of unknown cost and effectiveness is rushing through the Legislature.

HB 1747, authored by Rep. Tom Newell, has been labelled the Rural Opportunity Zone bill. As a way to lure new residents to struggling rural areas, it creates a five-year exemption from all state income tax for anyone moving from out-of-state to a county that is projected to lose population between 2016 and 2075. The bill references a 2012 report by the Oklahoma Department of Commerce that identifies 25 counties, mostly in the Western half of the state, that are expected to see their population decline in the coming decades (see map).

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In The Know: Superintendent Hofmeister to join March 30 education rally

by and | March 23rd, 2015 | Posted in 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.

A year after Oklahoma educators traveled to the state Capitol seeking more classroom funding and better salaries, teachers and their supporters plan to renew those demands with another massive Capitol rally, this time joined by State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister. Oklahoma gained one spot to claim the fourth lowest average teacher salary in the nation, not because teachers are earning significantly more, but because the average salary in Idaho went down. The okeducationtruths blog wrote that the Oklahoma Legislature’s attacks on education keep coming. Come next fall, school districts across the state will have the opportunity to bring in professional chefs to work with their child nutrition staffs on preparing meals that will appeal to students while adhering to new federal regulations.

In a Tulsa World op-ed, David Blatt shared seven things Oklahoma can do to balance the state budget without doing more damage to our health, safety, or economic well-being. Craig General Hospital in Vinita has become the seventh rural Oklahoma hospital to declare bankruptcy in the past five years. OK Policy previously discussed how Oklahoma’s refusal to accept federal funds for health coverage is devastating rural hospitals. The Oklahoman editorial board wrote that a move toward smarter corrections-related policies is underway in Oklahoma. On any given day, more than 100 people diagnosed with a mental illness sit in Oklahoma’s county jails awaiting treatment.

On April 9, the University of Tulsa will host economist Dean Baker for a lecture titled “Inequality in American Society – Should We Blame the Market?” A former chief administrator of the state Workers Compensation Court says the new system adopted last year is among the worst in the country for injured workers. An NPR investigation showed how injured workers suffer as “reforms” limit Workers’ Compensation benefits. Former Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys is under fire for comments he made on a local television broadcast saying the Putnam City schools once had a better gene pool.

The rate of American Indians diagnosed with HIV or AIDS nearly doubled in one year, state Health Department data shows. The OK Policy Blog previously shared a Q&A on HIV and AIDS in Oklahoma. The Principal Chief of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation responded to the tribal council’s vote of no confidence in a two-page letter Friday. A sense of despair has settled over efforts to get enough funding from the Legislature to open the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum. New data released Tuesday by the Oklahoma Employment Securities Commission shows that state has lost about 500 energy industry jobs between December 2014 and January 2015.

The Number of the Day is the decrease in eligible voter turnout in Oklahoma from 2010 to 2014. In today’s Policy Note, Vox shared 4 charts that show how race makes a difference in the lives of working families.

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The Weekly Wonk March 22, 2015

by | March 22nd, 2015 | 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 proposed options for a balanced approach to solve Oklahoma’s budget gap. An upcoming event at TU on April 9th features Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, delivering “Inequality in American Society – Should We Blame the Market?” On the OK Policy Blog, we noted that with HB 1749, the Oklahoma legislature seems to be more focused on punishing teachers than helping them.

All Oklahoma college students are encouraged to apply to our 2015 Summer Policy Institute (SPI), an exciting three and a half-day public policy intensive. SPI offers participants the opportunity to become better informed about vital Oklahoma policy issues, network with fellow students and leaders, and prepare for their future studies and work in policy-related fields.

Time is running out to take our survey! Do you want more infographics? More policy briefs? Are we too liberal, or too conservative? Now’s the time to let us know! We’ll shut down the survey and start crunching numbers after Monday.

In his Journal Record column this week, Executive Director David Blatt argued that a scheduled income tax cut should be stopped, on the grounds that the cut was never intended to be implemented under such dire fiscal conditions. Blatt was quoted by NewsOK in an article discussing how negative media attention hurts the state’s business prospects.

Weekly What’s That:

Coverage crater

This term refers to people in states that have chosen not to expand Medicaid who earn too much for traditional Medicaid but not enough to qualify for subsidies on the online health insurance marketplaces. Then the ACA was originally drafted, it was with the intention that all states would expand Medicaid eligibility to 138 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) – $27,310 for per year for a family of three in 2014. Read more here.

Look up more key terms to understand Oklahoma politics and government here.

continue reading The Weekly Wonk March 22, 2015

Upcoming Event: “Inequality – Should We Blame the Market?” with Dean Baker

by | March 20th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Upcoming Events | Comments (0)

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 2.19.27 PMThe University of Tulsa will host economist Dean Baker for the Lectureship in Politics and Law on Thursday, April 9th, at 7:00 p.m. Dean Baker is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. The lecture, which is free and open to the public, will be delivered in the Chapman Hall Lecture Hall at 2830 E. 5th Street. The topic of Dean Baker’s talk is “Inequality in American Society – Should We Blame the Market?”

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In The Know: State budget shortfall could harm education, health care

by | March 20th, 2015 | Posted in 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.

Faced with spending reductions due to the state’s $611 million shortfall, agency heads warn that the shortfall could prompt teacher layoffs and less access to medical care. We’ve previously presented options for a balanced approach to solve the budget gap. The US Geological Survey is crafting new earthquake hazard maps for Oklahoma due to the state’s recent increased seismicity, and expects to release them later this year.

On the OK Policy Blog, we noted that HB 1749, which would ban payroll deductions for membership dues for school employees’ unions, essentially punishes Oklahoma teachers for speaking out. Writing in the Journal Record, Arnold Hamilton argued that the bill is a warning to all public employees. The Oklahoman’s Editorial Board said that new Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Rob Neu must act quickly to reform his district’s discipline system, which saw the highest suspension rates of Black and Hispanic students in the US in 2011-12.

The number of active hate groups in Oklahoma has declined sharply, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, but experts warn that the groups may simply have moved online, which makes them harder to track. Farmers across the state report that the wild hog population is growing, and is increasingly destructive to crops and farm land.  The Oklahoma Corporation Commission is hearing from Oklahoma Gas & Electric over plans to hike rates as OG&E moves away from coal-fired power plants to comply with federal pollution regulations, but some are concerned that OG&E’s plan is more expensive than necessary. 

New influenza deaths have pushed the state’s death toll for this flu season to 101, well past last year’s record of 72. As bills banning municipalities and counties from banning fracking (HB 2178, SB 809)  move through the state legislature, some officials are expressing concerns that the bills could have unintended consequences. The Number of the Day is the average premium cost change for the lowest-cost silver-level plan available in Oklahoma’s health insurance marketplace from 2014 to 2015 (from $206 to $201, before subsidies). In today’s Policy Note, Governing writes that decades of stagnant wages for workers is costing states and localities tax revenue.

continue reading In The Know: State budget shortfall could harm education, health care

Oklahoma Legislature has a funny way of supporting education

by | March 19th, 2015 | Posted in Education | Comments (3)

spitballIn February, the Oklahoma House approved a bill (HB 1749) that would ban payroll deductions for membership dues to any organization that conducts collective bargaining on behalf of public employees. This week the bill was narrowly approved by a Senate committee, and it could come before the full Senate by next week.

HB 1749 would prevent teachers, school bus drivers, janitors, cafeteria workers, and other school employees who voluntarily choose to be union members from using payroll deduction to pay their union dues. That’s a benefit that these workers have had for decades. It’s something they can also choose to do for charitable contributions, such as the United Way, or for payments to credit unions and insurance companies.

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In The Know: More budget cuts will increase Oklahoma teacher-shortage crisis

by and | March 19th, 2015 | Posted in 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.

State superintendent Joy Hofmeister told legislators that Oklahoma is in the midst of a “teacher shortage” crisis and more cuts to common education would make the teacher shortage much worse. Oklahoma’s top Medicaid officer says the health care program needs $120 million more state dollars next year just to maintain services at current levels for the more than 800,000 young, elderly and disabled Oklahomans it serves each month. David Blatt’s Journal Record column points out that in the face of a $600 million-plus budget shortfall, it should be an easy choice for lawmakers to halt Oklahoma’s scheduled tax cut that was never meant to take effect in these conditions.

NewsOK reported on how American Indians are missing out on important benefits due to stigmas and misinformation about the Affordable Care Act. Even though the House and Senate passed nearly identical bills to ban texting while driving, the bills may die because the two chambers of the Legislature are refusing to give each other’s bill a hearing. The Tulsa World editorial board argued that the anti-texting bill did not go far enough.  Droppings left by a flock of geese on a Grand Lake beach followed by heavy rain were initially responsible for the elevated waterborne bacteria levels that caused the area to be closed to swimmers from June 3 into November.

OK Policy is now accepting applications from college students who want to attend the third annual Summer Policy Institute in August. An official petition drive has begun to remove Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief George Tiger from office. The City of Oklahoma City’s website has been hit with two denial-of-service attacks, where someone in control of large numbers of computers infected with a virus directs them to overload the website’s server with requests. Ward 6 Councilwoman Meg Salyer won reelection on March 3 with just 675 votes, the lowest vote total for a winner in any council election in at least 20 years.

The Number of the Day is the net revenue of new immigrant owned businesses in Oklahoma in 2010, 5.3 percent of all net business income in the state. In today’s Policy Note, Kaiser Health News reported that as part of a settlement between credit rating agencies and the New York Attorney General, the agencies have agreed to be more flexible about the effect of medical debt on credit scores.

continue reading In The Know: More budget cuts will increase Oklahoma teacher-shortage crisis

Calling all students: Apply for the 3rd Annual Summer Policy Institute

by | March 18th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, OK Policy | Comments (0)

10639375_10102542757969537_8233470753009808843_nOklahoma Policy Institute will host the third annual Summer Policy Institute (SPI) from August 2-5, 2015 at the University of Tulsa. The event will bring together more than 50 highly-qualified undergraduate and graduate students for an exciting and stimulating three-day learning experience. SPI offers participants a unique opportunity to become better informed about vital Oklahoma policy issues, network with fellow students and leaders, and prepare for their future studies and work in policy-related fields.

The Institute will be hosted and led by Oklahoma Policy Institute staff. It will also involve leading policy experts from government, academia and community organizations throughout Oklahoma. Keynote presentations will provide a chance to hear from top political practitioners and observers on such topics as political leadership, campaigns and elections, and the nuts and bolts of Oklahoma’s budget and tax system.

For more information about the Summer Policy Institute, go to http://okpolicy.org/summer-policy-institute. The application deadline is May 26th, 2015. If you’re interested in applying, go to http://okpolicy.org/apply-for-the-summer-policy-institute.

Please share this announcement with students, classmates, and others who might be interested and/or share this blog post on Facebook or Twitter.

In The Know: New study addresses surge of Oklahoma earthquakes, predicts major ones

by and | March 18th, 2015 | Posted in 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.

New research on earthquakes in Oklahoma explains why injection wells may cause quakes here and warns of the possibility for big ones. A national consultant said Oklahoma Gas & Electric could save as much as $3.3 billion if it included more wind and natural gas in its power portfolio, as the utility asks to spend $1.1 billion and hike rates 15- to 20-percent to fund upgrades to aging power plants. After the City of Duncan missed out on a round of drought relief grants from the state, city officials are looking for other ways to keep water flowing. Emergency personnel say a wildfire that charred 37 square miles in rural western Oklahoma and destroyed at least six structures is about 70 percent contained.

A new fact sheet from Oklahoma Policy Institute lays out seven options that lawmakers could use to close Oklahoma’s $611 million budget hole without calamitous cuts to public services. The executive director of the Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma was fired Tuesday, after a prosecutor asked for an investigation into allegations of “official misconduct.” Oklahoma’s unemployment rate held steady in January — unchanged from December at 3.7 percent.

Tulsa World columnist Ginnie Graham made a case for replacing Andrew Jackson with Cherokee leader Wilma Mankiller. NewsOK examined a long history of racially offensive incidents at OU and OSU. A Walgreens report found Oklahoma was the top state and Oklahoma City the top metro in the nation for flu activity this season. OK Policy previously discussed why nearly all Oklahomans should get a flu shot

Nonprofit news organization Oklahoma Watch will present a public forum on April 16 about challenges in low-income neighborhoods in south Oklahoma City. The Number of the Day is the percent of students who graduated from 4 year above colleges or universities in Oklahoma with student loan debt in 2012. In today’s Policy Note, the Los Angeles Times shares a Q&A on why Affordable Care Act costs continue to fall.

continue reading In The Know: New study addresses surge of Oklahoma earthquakes, predicts major ones

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