In 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.
Today you should know that the US Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of an Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling that tossed out a proposed “personhood” amendment. Laws intended to reduce crime and control prison growth in Oklahoma and eliminate long lines at driver’s license exam stations are among nearly 100 measures set to take effect Thursday. Other new laws that take effect Thursday are listed here.
Garfield County Assessor Wade Patterson writes on the OK Policy Blog that State Question 766 is an example of the Legislature’s lack of understanding and unwillingness to be problem-solvers. The Stigler News Sentinel writes that supporters of SQ 766 are playing politics with the truth. See links to more information about the six state questions here and OK Policy’s summary and analysis here.
NewsOK discussed a mental health re-entry program that shows a creative approach to corrections can work in Oklahoma. Many parents and teachers are saying the first-ever letter grades for schools don’t match their own knowledge or experience. The state auditor is accusing Oklahoma State Department of Education officials of spending funds from an unauthorized account to pay for expenses at State Superintendent Janet Barresi’s Innovation 2011 summer conference.
The Number of the Day is the average property tax cut for telecommunications companies if State Question 766 passes. In today’s Policy Note, Bruce Bartlett shows that if you take popular, broad-based tax deductions off the table, it doesn’t leave many loopholes to be closed to pay for a significant reduction in rates.
In The News
US Supreme Court rejects Oklahoma personhood appeal
The US Supreme Court on Monday declined an invitation to examine whether the Oklahoma Supreme Court acted correctly when it struck down a proposed “personhood” amendment that sought to grant state constitutional protections to human embryos starting at conception. The justices turned aside the appeal in a one-line order without comment. The case was Personhood Oklahoma v. Barber (12-145). The appeal stemmed from an April 30, 2012, ruling by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which invalidated a proposed statewide ballot initiative that aimed to define a fertilized egg as a person with full rights to due process and equal treatment.
New laws take effect Thursday in Oklahoma
Laws intended to reduce crime and control prison growth in Oklahoma and eliminate long lines at driver’s license exam stations are among nearly 100 measures set to take effect Thursday. Other measures allow those with permits to carry handguns openly and require the termination of benefits for welfare recipients who test positive for drugs or refuse to be tested. Laws taking effect Thursday also include measures that require a doctor to be physically present when a woman takes medication to induce an abortion, and crack down on out-of-state contractors who don’t abide by state laws and regulations and are undercutting in-state contractors by about 30 percent.
See also: Other new laws that take effect Thursday from NewsOK
Guest Blog (Wade Patterson): SQ 766 provides special treatment to some at the expense of others
As the County Assessor for Garfield County, I’m afraid that the solution to the issue of taxing intangible property being presented to the voters in November has not been well thought out at the legislative level. Instead, it’s an example of what happens when one group gets special treatment. If SQ 766 passes it will simply transfer the responsibility to pay the property tax bill to everyone that did not receive the same special treatment. … Whether someone is for or against the exemption is not the issue here. The issue is the Legislature’s lack of understanding and unwillingness to be problem-solvers.
Playing politics with the truth
With Gov. Mary Fallin leading the charge in a half-million dollar public relations campaign, a broad range of groups ranging from the State Chamber of Commerce to numerous city chambers, the Oklahoma Cable and Telecommunications Association and more are pushing hard to have voters pass State Question 766 in November. But they’re playing fast and loose with the truth in their scare-tactic campaign for tax cuts that the non-partisan Oklahoma Policy Institute has said will benefit large, centrally located companies at the expense of everyone else. What makes me say they’re twisting the truth? Simple. I’ve actually read the Oklahoma Supreme Court decision that the State Chamber and its minions are claiming “makes all intangible personal property in the state subject to taxation.”
Program shows that creative approach to corrections can work in Oklahoma
Walter would tell you that trying something different in the field of corrections can work in Oklahoma. He’s living proof. Walter began using heroin as a child. From age 11 to 53, he spent all but 5½ years incarcerated, starting in a boot camp and eventually graduating to boys’ homes and then prisons. In his mid-30s he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. During his last prison say, he began taking medications for his mental illness. As his discharge approached in 2009, Walter was offered the chance to take part in a state program designed to help his re-entry into society. The Oklahoma Collaborative Mental Health Re-Entry Program, in place since 2007, is a partnership between the Department of Corrections and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuses Services.
Oklahoma school report cards finding resistance from parents
Oklahoma’s new school report card system may be intended to inform parents and communities about school performance, but many parents and teachers reacted to the first-ever letter grades for schools by saying they don’t match their own knowledge or experience. Jamie Ausbern, whose son is a third-grader at Pratt Elementary School in Sand Springs, said she was surprised when she found out the school had received a grade of B when it was just recognized by the federal government as one of the top public schools in the country. Thursday, the same day school report cards were released by the Oklahoma State Department of Education, Pratt was recognized by state officials as a 2012 National Blue Ribbon School for exemplary academic achievement.
Oklahoma auditor accuses education department officials in slush fund spending
The state auditor is accusing Oklahoma State Department of Education officials of spending funds from an unauthorized account to pay for expenses at State Superintendent Janet Barresi’s Innovation 2011 summer conference. State Auditor Gary Jones described the scheme as similar to the two secret bank accounts – or “slush funds” – from which Barresi’s predecessors spent $2.3 million on Oklahoma City hotel stays and lavish parties at Bricktown restaurants over the course of 10 years. In a special investigative report issued Monday, the auditor said Barresi’s employees solicited funds from companies with which they contract for millions of dollars of state business and deposited the money into an unofficial account “purportedly” belonging to a private nonprofit organization, the Oklahoma Foundation for Innovation in Education.
Quote of the Day
Blue Ribbon status is not something that’s easy to come by. I think the national award outweighs the state’s grade card. I think there’s an issue with the report card.
-Jamie Ausbern, parent of a third-grader at Pratt Elementary School in Sand Springs. Pratt was recognized as a 2012 National Blue Ribbon School for exemplary academic achievement on the same day that state report cards were released giving the school a ‘B.’
Number of the Day
The average property tax cut for telecommunications companies if State Question 766 passes.
Source: Oklahoma Tax Commission via NewsOK
The real barrier to tax reform
Across the political spectrum, it is generally accepted that the basic goal of tax reform should be to broaden the tax base by eliminating tax preferences and lowering statutory tax rates. It is also believed that the principal barrier to such a reform is the resistance of special interests to the elimination of any particular preference that benefits them. But what if, to paraphrase Pogo, the special interest is us? In all my years in Washington, I have never met anyone, even a professional lobbyist, who thought she was a special interest. That’s always somebody else, someone selfish whose interests are contrary to the national interest. Everyone always says, and may even believe, that whatever special deal they want or wish to preserve in the budget or the tax code is for the benefit of a broad segment of society or the economy. At least insofar as tax expenditures are concerned, this is basically true.
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