In The Know: Air Force to cut 600-person Tinker Air Base unit

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 the U.S. Air Force is deactivating a communications unit at Tinker Air Force Base that employs about 600 people. Black students in Oklahoma’s largest school districts are less likely to be enrolled in gifted and talented programs and more likely to be suspended. Oklahomans pay the second highest car insurance premiums in the nation, in part due to a very large number of uninsured drivers who push up costs for the insured.

The Legislature is looking at a bill to establish a health care exchange, but the OK Policy Blog explains why the bill is far from meeting the requirements of federal law. The Tulsa Initiative discusses how Oklahoma is faring poorly on child well-being and how we may be poised to do even worse.

Tulsa leaders are pushing back against proposals to slash historic rehabilitation tax credits in order to fund income tax cuts. Tim Wagner writes in NewsOK that the state income tax needed for schools, infrastructure, and social services. The Tulsa World writes that “right-sizing government” is a fallacy.

The House passed a measure aimed at containing growth in prison populations, though some questioned whether it goes far enough. The Senate voted to require doctors to make audio of a fetal heartbeat available to women before ending a pregnancy. The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday tossed a $10 million jury verdict against Tyson Foods Inc., granting the company’s request for a new trial based on allegations of juror misconduct.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of banks in Oklahoma reporting earnings gains for 2011. In today’s Policy Note, The Shriver Brief explains how Oklahoma’s move to provide tax refunds in prepaid debit cards instead of paper checks could cost Oklahomans more in the long run.

In The News

Air Force to cut 600-person Tinker Air Base unit

The U.S. Air Force said Tuesday it is deactivating a communications unit at Tinker Air Force Base that employs about 600 people, a loss that U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe said will be devastating. Air Force Space Command officials said the 3rd Combat Communications Group at Tinker will be deactivated as part of overall changes within the Air Force. The unit provides communications, computer systems, navigational aids and air traffic control. “We made a deliberate decision to avoid a ‘hollow force’ by prioritizing readiness over force structure,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said. “A smaller, ready force is preferable to a larger force that is ill-prepared because it lacks adequate resources.” The Air Force statement did not say when the Tinker unit will be deactivated but indicated airmen in it will be reassigned.

Read more from the Associated Press.

Report shows racial disparity in Oklahoma’s largest school districts

Black students in Oklahoma’s largest school districts are less likely to be enrolled in gifted and talented programs and more likely to be suspended, according to a report released Tuesday by federal officials. The Civil Rights Data Collection is an extensive report that includes data about a variety of issues — early childhood education, suspensions, coursework — and compares it to race. The survey of 2009 data was released by the U.S. Education Department Office for Civil Rights. In Oklahoma City Public Schools, the state’s largest district, white and Asian students are more likely to be enrolled in gifted and talented programs than blacks, Hispanics and Indians. They also were less likely to be suspended or expelled.

Read more from NewsOK.

Oklahomans pay second highest car insurance in nation

For the third year in a row, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Michigan ranked the highest for average auto insurance premium. Agents say the economies in their states have made it difficult for drivers to afford insurance. Twenty-four percent of drivers in Oklahoma are uninsured, according to the report. On the other hand, Maine has the lowest premium ($889) of all the states, and only 4.5 percent of its drivers are uninsured. In January, a Consumer Federation of America-backed report, called “Lower-Income Households and the Auto Insurance Marketplace: Challenges and Opportunities,” argued auto insurers disproportionately hit low and middle-income consumers with high-priced policies that make it difficult for them to afford coverage. Drivers without insurance ultimately drive up costs for insured drivers, as the burden falls on them to cover costs for accidents and injuries.

Read more from Business Insider.

Stuck at the drawing board: Legislature tries again on federal health law

Following a year of open defiance and several months of interim study, the Oklahoma Legislature now appears poised to take action on a major requirement of the new federal health care law, the Affordable Care Act. States are required by the law to have web-based health insurance marketplaces, known as exchanges, up and running by 2014. If Oklahoma does not act to establish an exchange during this legislative session, the federal government will take over the process and establish and maintain an exchange on the state’s behalf. Last week, legislation to establish an exchange authored by Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman was introduced and passed in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. SB 1629 creates the ‘Health Insurance Private Marketplace Network Trust’ and broadly outlines the rudimentary functions of a new ‘marketplace network’ – or, insurance exchange. If this bill is intended to establish an exchange that will satisfy the requirements of the health law and preempt federal intervention, it seems they’ve missed the mark.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

The Child Well-Being Index and Oklahoma

Earlier this year, the Foundation for Child Development and Annie E. Casey Foundation released a series of reports on the child well-being index (CWI) for states. Study authors note that national information for child well-being does not help us understand how children are doing, since there is so much state variation and since states have responsibility for so many of the programs that support children and their families. As is often the case with ranking documents, the news is not good for Oklahoma. In this very broad measure of how children fare (including 25 separate measures), Oklahoma children rank 43rd, with an index value of -0.56. New Jersey children are best off, with an index of 0.85, and New Mexico’s are worst off, with an index of -0.96. Perhaps most disturbing of all, we were in the bottom 10 states on five of the seven “domains” that were measured.

Read more from The Tulsa Initiative Blog.

Tulsa leaders say “not so fast” on income tax cuts

In an effort to move Oklahoma toward a lower and possibly eliminated state income tax, the State Legislature is trying to figure out a way to balance the budget without its largest source of revenue. Last spring, Governor Mary Fallin appointed two legislative task forces (one focused on tax credits, another on the tax code) to ferret out a way to lower or eliminate Oklahoma’s income tax. The tax credit task force, led by State Rep. David Dank (R-Oklahoma City), convened for five months as the members went on a budget-chopping witch hunt through the state’s $29 million in tax credit expenditures. Early in 2012, Fallin unveiled her new income tax plan, which would dump more than 30 tax credits, including a critical incentive that’s changed the face of downtown Tulsa in recent years. At the city council’s Thursday evening meeting on Feb. 23, councilors voted 8-1 to pass an emergency resolution asking the Oklahoma Legislature to reinstate historic preservation tax credits. The resolution was supported and signed by Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr.

Read more from Urban Tulsa Weekly.

See also: State income tax needed for schools, infrastructure, social services from NewsOK; ‘Right-sizing’ government a fallacy from The Tulsa World

House passes criminal justice reform measure

After asking questions for nearly an hour, House members passed a bill Tuesday intended to reduce violent crime statewide by 10 percent in five years and provide post-prison supervision for all felons while containing growth in prison costs. House Speaker Kris Steele, author of House Bill 3052, said it’s time to change sentencing procedures in the state, noting the state incarcerates women at three times the national average and its male incarceration rate is among the nation’s highest. Despite the high incarceration rate, crime hasn’t declined, he said. The House passed the measure, 66-27. It will be sent to the Senate later this week. Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, who debated against the measure, said the legislation doesn’t go far enough to change sentencing of nonviolent offenders. He also said the bill would give too much power to district attorneys in determining who could go to drug and mental health courts.

Read more from NewsOK.

Senate OKs bill to offer fetal heartbeat

The state Senate passed a watered-down version of a bill Tuesday that would require abortion providers to make available to women who go to them for abortions the opportunity to hear the fetal heartbeat before ending the pregnancy. Sen. Dan Newberry, R-Tulsa, said his original version of the measure would have required abortion providers to make the fetal heartbeat audible to a woman before abortion. The amended version of Senate Bill 1274 requires the provider to offer a woman the opportunity to hear the heartbeat. The Senate discussed and debated the bill for an hour and a half before passing it by a vote of 34-8. It now moves to the House for consideration. Critics say the measure aims to shame, intimidate and coerce women into not aborting a pregnancy.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Okla. Supreme Court overturns $10M verdict against Tyson Foods

The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday tossed a $10 million jury verdict against Tyson Foods Inc., granting the company’s request for a new trial based on allegations of juror misconduct and a mistake on interpreting the law. Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods claimed on appeal that some prospective jurors in the trial in McCurtain County, Okla., didn’t answer questions fully or truthfully on juror questionnaires and the trial judge didn’t allow oral questions on items covered in the forms filled out by the panelists. The high court also agreed with Tyson that the growers weren’t covered by the Oklahoma Consumer Protection Act. Growers had argued that since Tyson provided them with feed and chicks, that gave them standing as consumers. In 2008, 54 growers, with Rusty Armstrong as lead plaintiff, sued Tyson, claiming that farmers who didn’t want to modernize their equipment were given inferior feed and chicks.

Read more from the Associated Press.

Quote of the Day

Is government the right size if there aren’t enough correctional officers to handle prison unrest? Is it right-sized if children are crowded into classrooms? Is it the right size if sex offenders cannot be properly supervised? Is it the right size when DHS caseloads are so high that the vulnerable slip through the cracks? Eventually Oklahomans will have to define the term “right-sizing.”
The Tulsa World

Number of the Day

65.4 percent

Percentage of banks in Oklahoma reporting earnings gains for 2011, compared to 41.7 percent for 2009

Source: FDIC

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Tax refunds issued on prepaid cards take a toll on consumers

Tax refunds may look a little different this season in some states. Instead of issuing paper checks, a number of states will require that taxpayers receive their refunds either through direct deposit or, for those who are unbanked, prepaid debit cards. While the use of direct deposit and debit cards may save states money by cutting down on printing and mailing costs, taxpayers may wind up paying more in the long run. Oklahoma recently introduced the Tax Refund Card, which will be administered by MasterCard. Although the state claims that the card is a safe, convenient, and secure alternative to the traditional refund checks, many Oklahoma taxpayers are unhappy with the decision due to the card’s ATM fees and a $1.50 inactivity fee. Free withdrawals are available at any MoneyPass ATM network, but this network has limited locations, forcing consumers to use other networks that charge fees. Additionally, due to limits on ATM withdrawal amounts, taxpayers may have to make multiple withdrawals, thereby incurring multiple fees.

Read more from The Shriver Brief.

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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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