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Come on in. Let’s talk.

by | March 25th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, OK Policy | Comments (0)

It seems that the level of discussion surrounding the policy decisions facing our nation and our state have degenerated into more political rhetoric and partisan bickering than sincere efforts to come to a consensus that is best for the people. Even basic necessities of such a discussion, such as facts, have given way to the desire to win the issue. The issues facing our country as a whole, and our state in particular, are getting more and more complex as our discourse gets more and more polarizing and simplistic. The purpose of this blog is not to feed the negative aspects of the political debate, but to offer a forum that indulges the positive aspects of a policy discussion.

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Center on Budget launches redesigned website

by | March 24th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, OK Policy | Comments (0)

Many of you who have followed the work of OK Policy will know that our model for top-quality, credible, and timely research is the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington-based policy organization that works at the federal and state levels on fiscal policy and public programs that affect low- and moderate-income families and individuals. The Center has just redesigned its website and I encourage you to check it out.  The site includes a new feature, the myCenter account, which allows you to personalize the content you receive through their site and receive e-mail alerts according to your interests.

In addition to emerging research on state fiscal woes, the federal budget, cap-and-trade proposals, and other timely subjects, the Center also has an unparalleled set of papers that provide  introductory overviews of federal budget and tax policy and major safety net programs. If you’ve always wanted to know more about Section 8 housing, TANF, or the earned income tax credit but didn’t know where to look, this is the place.

Falling, falling

by | March 24th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Economy | Comments (0)

As we showed in the March edition of Numbers You Need, the number of laid-off Oklahomans receiving unemployment benefits is skyrocketing. An average of 4,881 workers filed first-time claims in January, an increase of 149 percent compared to September 2008. Continuing UI claims have increased by 80 percent over the same period, as the state’s unemployment rate jumped from 3.8 percent to 5.0 percent.

With more laid-off workers receiving UI benefits, the balance in the state’s  UI Trust Fund is starting to tumble. As you can see from the chart below, the UITF balance reached a peak in August 2008 and has been falling steadily since. Its current balance, $763 million, is a full $100 million less than in August.

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Bad banks, great journalism

by | March 21st, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Economy | Comments (0)

If you’re anything like me or most anyone I know, chances are you’ve spent a good part of the last year reading and listening to stories about “collateral debt obligations” and “credit default swaps” and “toxic assets” and “zombie banks” and the like, with only a partial and fleeting understanding of what any of these things are, much less what they all mean. A recent episode of the NPR program This American Life titled “Bad Bank” does about as good a job as anything I’ve come across in explaining the great, big hairy mess that is threatening the U.S. banking industry and the whole global economy  in straightforward, understandable, and yes, entertaining terms. From the show’s introduction:

Alex [Bloomberg] and Adam [Davidson] walk us step by step through the complications of the US government buying up bad assets from banks, and explain why, when it comes to footing the bill, the government might just prefer to not be in charge of the very banks it is having taxpayers bailout.  From a dollhouse, to a hypothetical bank worth tens of dollars, to the trillions of dollars being spent to keep banks afloat, Alex and Adam talk economy, and where we might be headed.

You can listen to the full 40-minute segment online or download it as a podcast for $0.95.

Unemployed Poor

by | March 19th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Economy, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (1)

The Oklahoman had an editorial today about the increase in the numbers of Oklahomans needing assistance to get by. Food stamp usage has reached an all time high in Oklahoma. It is a sobering editorial, but an issue that needs to be acknowledged. As I read the article, I couldn’t help but think of some of the people I spoke to during the homeless count, an event organized by the Oklahoma City Homeless Alliance. The Homeless Alliance does this process annually and the numbers will be out in a couple of weeks to show the statistical data that was collected that day and night. However, it isn’t the statistics that will stick with those of us who participated in the process. It is the real people and their stories that will stick with me. More than once that night, I spoke to people who were recently homeless – for the first time in their lives. The stories were similar. Loss of a job and mounting bills eventually lead to the need to receive assistance from the government through food stamps and then, eventually, to the loss of a home. I talked to one gentleman for a while who had only been homeless for a matter of days. He had never received assistance before this downturn. His voice and demeanor didn’t express great sorrow, or anger, or much of anything. He just seemed somewhat numb, as if he could hardly believe he had gotten to this point. He almost seemed apologetic.

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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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