In The Know: Agencies that help poor being deluged in 'perfect storm' of need

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. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that prolonged huge demand for food and housing assistance is forcing Oklahoma non-profits that help the poor into the red. The House of Representatives passed two proposals to cut the income tax, while reinstating exemptions that mean legislators would have to find more state services to cut. The OK Policy Blog shares a graph showing that state tax collections are at historic lows.

The House voted to expand the Quality Jobs tax incentive to make payments to underperforming businesses. Students not meeting new high school graduation testing requirements may be forced to turn down college scholarships. In being the only state Attorney General to file a separate settlement with the mortgage industry, Scott Pruitt turned down an estimated $10.2 million that would have gone to Oklahoma victims of unlawful or unfair foreclosure practices. Tonight at the Mayo Hotel in Tulsa, OK Policy is hosting free lectures on how the housing crisis affected Oklahoma and the racial wealth gap.

In This Land Press, Michael Bates discusses how technology is providing new tools for citizens to interact with city governments in Oklahoma. The OK Policy Blog previously discussed various trends in this movement, often called Government 2.0.

A Tulsa aircraft maintenance firm agreed to pay an $11.8 million criminal penalty for bribing officials in Mexico and Panama. The Oklahoma State Athletic Commission has suspended all  professional wrestling, mixed martial arts, and boxing events in the state due to a dispute over the right to collect taxes on pay-per-view purchases. An annual conference on race relations held at OU has grown substantially in 25 years of existence.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of jobs lost during the Great Recession that Oklahoma had recovered by 2011. In today’s Policy Note, Dean Baker explains how companies frequently break laws meant to protect labor organizing with few consequences for the employers.

In The News

Tulsa-area agencies that help poor being deluged in ‘perfect storm’ of need

Prolonged increased demand for food and housing assistance have forced some area agencies into the red. Since 2008, Iron Gate has seen a 45 percent increase in the number of people seeking assistance and the nonprofit’s yearly expenses have increased from $277,367 to $833,472. Keeping up with the increase has forced the agency to have a deficit for the first time, said Connie Cronley, executive director of the soup kitchen. “The people who come to Iron Gate have a lot of life problems – employment, health, transportation, financial. As one of our guests told us, ‘It’s hard to solve other problems if you’re hungry,’ ” she said. “I never want to hang a sign on the Iron Gate door that says, ‘Out of food. Try again tomorrow.’ We will keep scrambling to feed people.”

Read more from The Tulsa World.

House passes two income tax cutting measures

The House of Representatives passed two proposals to reduce and gradually eliminate the state’s personal income tax Wednesday, but only after restoring exemptions and deductions for retirees and veterans. Reinstating the exemptions means legislators will have to find more state services to cut. Opponents also argued that the plans would be especially harsh on low-income families and individuals. “You’re going to tear it down without knowing the outcome of the results,” said Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City. “You can’t rebuild it once you destroy it. You’re jumping off a cliff.” House Speaker Kris Steele said the plan is for lawmakers to review all the proposals, which call for reducing the personal income tax by one-half percent to as much as 3 percent next year, and to develop the best ideas from each proposal. Rep. Earl Sears, chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, told House members that legislative leaders and the governor’s office will “go to a room and hammer out a proposal.”

Read more from NewsOK.

Graph of the Day: Tax collections at historic lows

The share of income Oklahomans pay in state taxes has fallen to its lowest point in decades. In 2010, Oklahomans paid just 5.5 percent of their total income in state taxes. This includes sales tax, income tax, motor vehicle tax, excise taxes on oil and gas production, and all other state taxes. This is a major drop from the average of 6.9 percent over the past three decades, and it is well below the previous low of 6.1 percent in 1987 and 2009. As the graph shows, the share of income paid in taxes has been falling since 2006. In 2007 and 2008, collections grew but less rapidly than the state economy as the income tax cuts of the mid-2000s phased in. Once the state was hit by the recession in 2009, collections fell for two straight years, with 2010 collections coming in 15 percent below 2008. Even before the latest steep drop, Oklahoma was among the lowest tax states in the nation, ranking 40th in total state and local taxes as a share of personal income in 2009.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

House votes to expand Quality Jobs incentive, ban transferable tax credits

The House of Representatives took aim at some tax incentive programs Wednesday but also voted to expand the Quality Jobs program, the state’s most popular business incentive program. House Bill 2980, which passed 72-18, would expand a portion of the program called 21st Century Quality Jobs to “strategic industries” identified by the state Commerce Department. Sponsor David Dank, R-Oklahoma City, said the bill is designed to help key industries that have become “distressed” through circumstances beyond their control. The Quality Jobs program reimburses employers for as much as 5 percent of qualified payroll in certain sectors of the economy. The House also passed HB 2621, which in its current form outlaws all transferable tax credits. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Dennis Johnson, R-Duncan, said some transferable credits may be restored to the bill before the House sees it again in its final form.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Educators work feverishly to help Oklahoma high school seniors graduate

The deadline for this year’s Oklahoma high school seniors to pass a battery of tests to graduate is quickly approaching, and school administrators are working feverishly to help students meet the requirement. The class of 2012 is the first group of students to face the state graduation requirement created by lawmakers in 2005 as part of Achieving Classroom Excellence – or ACE – legislation. Most of the students who haven’t met the requirement by now will not walk across the stage for graduation in May or June. The reason is that end-of-instruction tests will be held in April, but results typically aren’t back until September or October, educators say. The timing issue can also mean students miss out on college scholarship opportunities, said Steve Clark, counselor at Broken Arrow High School. “Numerous students have been offered scholarships to attend college,” he said. “But if they do not meet the EOI requirement, they will be forced to decline those scholarships, which in many cases could affect their ability to obtain a college degree.”

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Oklahoma mortgage settlement filed

Oklahoma Attorney General Pruitt has filed an $18.6 million settlement with the five largest U.S. mortgage servicers to compensate Oklahoma residents who were harmed by unfair banking practices during the foreclosure crisis. Oklahoma was the only state to opt out of the $25 billion national settlement with the mortgage lenders after Pruitt said the national agreement was an attempt by the federal government to regulate the industry through litigation rather than legislation. In rejecting the federal agreement, Pruitt turned down an estimated $10.2 million that would have gone to Oklahoma victims of unlawful or unfair foreclosure practices.

Read more from NewsOK.

Government 2.0 in Oklahoma

There’s an app for Shawnee, Oklahoma. On Android-powered smartphones, on iPhone or iPad, or on a mobile web browser you can access maps of police incidents and listen live to police, fire, and EMS radio, pay a water bill or a parking ticket, search a clickable City Hall phone book, look at city job openings, get all the details on the upcoming sales tax and bond issue election, find the weather forecast and see the current weather radar, browse upcoming events, read the agenda for the next planning commission meeting, search for the minutes of the council meeting where they voted on the name for the dog park, and then watch that meeting (via YouTube). This Shawnee app has maps: city limits, active and recent emergency calls, upcoming garage sales, code violations, fire hydrants, sex offenders, dilapidated structures, and abandoned refrigerators. All of this information and more is available to interested residents via a single, free app called YouTown. The cost to the City of Shawnee to provide this app: $0.

Read more from This Land Press.

Previously: Watchdogs, code monkeys, and budget hawks: The many species of Gov 2.0 from the OK Policy Blog

Oklahoma firm fined for paying bribes in Mexico, Panama

An Oklahoma company that provides aircraft maintenance services agreed Wednesday to pay an $11.8 million criminal penalty for bribing officials in Mexico and Panama to obtain business. The Justice Department said that BizJet, a Tulsa firm, had bribed officials at four Mexican state and federal agencies and the Panama civil aviation authority. It said top officials at BizJet “orchestrated, authorized and approved” of the payoffs. The Mexican attorney general’s office issued a statement saying that the BizJet payoff occurred between 2004 and 2009, and that a BizJet sales manager had gone into hiding. The Justice Department said U.S. prosecutors would defer prosecution of BizJet executives for three years, and if the company cooperates with a probe and heightens compliance efforts, the threat of criminal charges would end.

Read more from The Bellingham Herald.

Oklahoma to suspend all pro wrestling, MMA, and boxing events over tax dispute

Effective March 31, the Oklahoma State Athletic Commission will no longer be accepting new applications for combat sport events to be held within the state. This includes professional wrestling, MMA, and boxing. Oklahoma currently taxes pay-per-view buys made by residents 4%, no matter where the events are held. UFC, operated by Dana White, says they plan to sue the Commission to stop the tax. The Commission claims that without the tax, they can’t maintain the overhead needed to provide for the public safety and for the health and safety of the athletes. The tax accounts for 2/3rds of their budget, and is responsible for 65% of the Commission’s revenue receipts. “The Oklahoma State Athletic Commission does not receive any state funding,” said Joe Miller, Executive Director of the Athletic Commission. “We are funded solely from license fees, assessment on live events, and an assessment on pay-per-view events. … For the Oklahoma Commission to survive and for Combat Sports to continue in Oklahoma it will be up to the Oklahoma legislature to come up with a solution to the funding shortfall.” Until the threat of the lawsuit is resolved, all licenses have been revoked, including for events already scheduled.

Read more from

University of Oklahoma annual conference on race relations grows over 25 years

In 1988, the University of Oklahoma established a conference to foster dialogue about campus race relations and educational access. After 25 years, organizers say that conversation is as rich as it has ever been. OU Outreach established the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education, or NCORE, as a way to discuss the inclusion of racial and ethnic minority groups in colleges and universities. The conference brings together representatives from universities across the United States and abroad, as well as experts in areas related to race relations, human rights and access to education. In the early years of the conference, it attracted about 200 participants, said James Pappas, OU’s vice president of university outreach. Today, he said, the number of participants tops 2,000.

Read more from NewsOK.

Quote of the Day

It seems to be a perfect storm. Low income, unemployed and working poor people are struggling to pay their bills and put food on their tables. More and more Tulsans need food assistance. Food costs keep climbing. Donors are being deluged with requests for funding assistance, exacerbated by government assistance cuts. We social service agencies are caught in the middle, standing on a smaller and smaller piece of dry land and calling out “Help!”
Connie Cronley, executive director of the Iron Gate soup kitchen

Number of the Day

71.6 percent

Percentage of jobs lost during the Great Recession that Oklahoma had recovered by 2011, 7th best among the states

Source: Oklahoma Department of Commerce

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Why labor organizing should be a civil right

In an environment of unrelenting employer hostility to unions, there can be little doubt that there needs to be some change in the rules if workers in the private sector are going to have chance of being able to organize successfully. As it stands, it is standard practice for employers to fire workers who are engaged in an organizing drive. While such firing is against the law, the penalties are trivial. When it gets around to hearing the case, which could take years, the National Labor Relations Board can order that a worker wrongly fired be rehired. Meanwhile, the union is shown to be impotent and the rest of the workforce conceals any possible interest in the union in order to avoid the same fate. It doesn’t help much if the organizers get rehired a year or two later. Imagine that President Obama got to jail his opponent’s campaign workers for the two months prior to the election, but had to release them the month after. That is the roughly the state of union elections in America today.

Read more from the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

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Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

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