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Stimulus reporting–more dead trees don’t help you see the forest

by | November 9th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Stimulus | Comments (0)

There’s been a lot of news about stimulus reporting the last few weeks. A lot of it has focused on jobs created or saved; that’s understandable since that was a major point of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which is the stimulus’ grown-up name. The federal stimulus web site, Recovery.gov,  has posted the first compilation of stimulus grants, loans, and contracts, which covers the first six months under the act. The reports exclude funds allocated directly to individuals through such mechanisms as increased food stamp benefits, extended Unemployment Insurance, Medicaid payments, and tax cuts.

The STAR Coalition of organizations promoting accountability in the recovery praised this effort:

Our groups can now follow the money in ways they never could before and will use it to engage their policy-makers and build a recovery that benefit communities. We will also use the data to actively engage the public to better understand how the Recovery Act is impacting our communities, and how taxpayers can advocate to improve the Recovery Act and other government investments in the future.

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Tax cuts and consequences

by | November 5th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (1)

Plunging state tax collections are wreaking havoc on the state budget and having increasingly painful effects on public services in Oklahoma. Initial estimates were for tax collections for the current year, FY ‘10, to be more than $600 million below the prior year. Three months into FY ‘10, General Revenue  (GR) collections are already almost $400 million below estimate.  Even assuming the economy begins an immediate recovery, we are forecasting that this year’s GR collections will come in at least $1. 5 billion, or 25 percent, below levels in the year preceding the downturn (FY’08).

This acute drop in revenue collections has set off a debate among politicians, editorial boards, and others about whether tax cuts approved by the Oklahoma Legislature during the economic boom years of the mid-2000s are to blame.

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Sunk: Mercury Marine fiasco casts light on costs of state subsidy wars

by | November 3rd, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (0)

Over the past several months, we have blogged several times on state tax incentives, in particular on the need to strengthen transparency and evaluation of tax credit programs (see our posts herehere, here and here). The issue  seems to be quickly gaining critical mass.  In September, a Joint Legislative Task Force chaired by Senator Mike Mazzei and Representative Jeff Hickman began examining transferable tax credits (the Task Force meets again November 5th in Tulsa). Earlier this month, Representative Mike Reynolds called for an investigation into possible abuses associated specifically with two transferable tax credit programs, the Small Business Capital Companies credit and the Rural Small Business Capital Companies credit.  The Oklahoman has taken note, arguing in this editorial that, “while we remain convinced that some incentive programs are justified, the potential for abuse makes the scrutiny vital and timely.”

One common argument for tax incentives is that in the competitive world of state economic development, states that fail to offer tax breaks to entice companies to invest or stay put will see investment and jobs shift elsewhere.

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Snapshot of Oklahomans in poverty

by | November 2nd, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Financial Security | Comments (0)

Oklahoma’s Poverty Profile: 2008 is a new two-page fact sheet of graphs and analysis that spotlights some of the salient characteristics of the population living in poverty in our state. The information is all assembled from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which was released this past August.  Among some of the findings presented in the fact sheet:

  • Nearly one in six Oklahomans (15.9 percent) lived below the federal poverty level  in 2008, which was just over $22,000 annual income for a family of four. The state’s 2008  poverty rate was unchanged from 2007 but remained 2.7 percentage points higher than the national average.
  • Forty percent of those in poverty, and 6.4 percent of the total population, had incomes of less than half the poverty level (see chart).

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This American Health Care debate

by | October 29th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (0)

As the national health care reform debate has unfolded this past year, we have occasionally tried to point our readers towards good sources for making sense of these complicated issues. This post from  the summer suggested some especially useful magazine articles, blogs, and books on health care reform, while this famous  flow chart (now updated) from Donkeylicious.com tried to summarize the major health care proposals in three easy steps.  We’ve also looked specifically at the debate over comparative effectiveness research and the potential expansion of Medicaid coverage for uninsured low-income adults.

Earlier this month, the radio documentary program This American Life aired two full one-hour programs devoted entirely to health care reform. As usual, the programs were insightful, entertaining, and thought-provoking. The first program focused primarily on trying to understand the exorbitant cost of the American health care system, with segments that looked at the role that doctors, consumers, and insurance companies play in keeping costs rising, even while more, and more expensive, care does not ensure better health outcomes.  The second episode focused on health insurance, and included segments tracing the history of the American employer-based health insurance system and looking at why more competition between insurers may not lower health insurance costs.

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Stimulus reports–some things are illuminated

by | October 27th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Stimulus | Comments (0)

In October, federal agencies, grantees, and contractors who are getting some of the stimulus (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act or ARRA) money are required to submit six month reports. This post points you to places you can see reports or summaries of them and includes some analysis and further thoughts.

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KIDSCOUNT Data Center tells us how Oklahoma kids are doing

by | October 22nd, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Children and Families | Comments (0)

For advocates, policymakers, and the general public, having access to reliable data is among the essential building blocks of informed discussion and debate. Last week at the Fall Forum event of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA), participants were introduced to the new KIDS COUNT data center, a great online resource that should help guide policy discussions and decisions in Oklahoma on a whole range of issues over the coming years.

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College savings plan–time to get serious

by | October 20th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Education, Financial Security | Comments (2)

We’ve recently joined with CFED, a national organization dedicated to expanding economic opportunity, and the Oklahoma Asset Building Coalition, in releasing the 2009-2010 Assets and Opportunity Scorecard. Our earlier post summarized the Oklahoma results, as did several media reports.

One area where Oklahoma needs to do better is our 529 college savings plan. Section 529 of the federal tax code allows families to set aside savings in a special account overseen by the state government. Interest earnings on the account are not subject to the federal or state income tax. CFED points out that:

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Medicaid in-home support programs: getting more for less

by | October 19th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (8)

From time to time we publish guest blog posts that help illuminate a policy issue or advance the discussion of public policy in Oklahoma (see our guest blog guidelines). This post was written by Laura Dempsey-Polan of Life Senior Services, a Tulsa senior service care provider. Laura may be reached at (918) 664-9000 X267 or LDPolan@LIFEseniorservices.org. The opinions stated below are not necessarily the opinions of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. This blog is a venue to help promote the discussion of ideas from a variety of different points of view.

Oklahomans and their families prefer in-home supports over institutionalization and we know these supports offer marked savings with much better outcomes. Over two decades, Oklahoma developed five in-home support Medicaid programs (i.e., 1915C Waivers) now serving 31,000 eligible citizens, and 2 more are in the works. Yet, in-home programs are increasingly squeezed by nearly eight years of stagnant reimbursement.

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Nearing exhaustion: As recession drags on, long-term unemployed risk losing benefits

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

Our October edition of Numbers You Need is now out, providing a snapshot of economic and budget trends in Oklahoma through monthly data on jobs, inflation, public benefits, and state revenues, as well as the most recent quarterly data on building permits and an annual update on the poverty rate.

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