In The Know: April 18, 2011

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 on In The Know, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol have been setting up checkpoints to catch unlicensed drivers near the Hispanic business district in south Oklahoma City. Hundreds gathered at the Oklahoma Capitol this weekend for a demonstration with the message that Latino values are Oklahoma values. A measure to freeze property tax assessments for all seniors is dead for this year. The Tulsa World reports on controversy around closing funds and attempts by Gov. Fallin to start a new closing fund in Oklahoma. The OK Policy blog previously covered the checkered history of funds in Oklahoma and Texas.

NewsOn6 reports that nearly all 42,000 Tulsa Public Schools students could be affected by district consolidation plans. Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard said the most dramatic of three consolidation options is off the table. An Oklahoma City tobacco wholesaler says the state has lost millions due to delayed enforcement against illegal tobacco sales. Fees to the state paid by Indian casinos have increased more than tenfold since 2006. The Oklahoma Ethics Commission may be allowed to keep more of the fees it collects from late filers to help offset cuts to its appropriations.

The Senate rejected a proposal to allow cities and schools to use extra money from funds for paying off lawsuits and bond issues for other purposes. Oklahoma City is considering increasing enforcement of a restriction against taxi drivers parking at metered spots. Clay Pope explains the role of partnerships between agricultural producers and the state and federal government in preventing another Dust Bowl. In honor of tax day, the OK Policy Blog imagines what it would like to have a world without taxes. In today’s Policy Note, the Center for American Progress analyzes problems with pursuing policy through tax exemptions rather than direct spending.

Read on for more.

In The News

License checkpoints on Oklahoma City’s south side raise concerns

Quick-hitting checkpoints authorities set up to catch unlicensed drivers are creating anxiety and fear among Hispanics on Oklahoma City’s south side. Oklahoma Highway Patrol Capt. Chris West said troopers often set up checkpoints from Reno Avenue on the north to SW 59 along Interstate 44 to I-35 in Oklahoma City. This includes SW 29, a major thoroughfare that cuts through the Hispanic business district of south Oklahoma City.

“We focus on areas of low compliance,” West said. “That’s the only reason. We are not targeting any ethnic groups.”

Read more from this NewsOK article at

See also: Hispanics rally on Oklahoma Capitol steps from NewsOK

Measure to freeze property taxes for all seniors dies

A legislative proposal to freeze property tax assessments for senior citizens is dead for the year. A second proposal to limit assessment hikes for all homeowners to 3 percent has run into some difficulties but remains alive. Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City, author of both proposals, says there is still time to get both proposed changes to the state Constitution back on track for the 2012 general election. Dank’s House Joint Resolution 1001 would have frozen the assessments on homesteads in which the head of household is at least 65 years old. Currently, assessment freezes are available to senior households that meet total household income thresholds. In Tulsa County, the cap is $59,300.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Some want closing fund for luring business to Oklahoma

In economic development, as in many things, nothing seems to work quite like cash. This year, and for most of the past decade, chambers of commerce in the state have lobbied for a “closing fund” – a pot of money to be used at the governor’s discretion to attract businesses to Oklahoma. Such funds are extremely popular. About 30 states have them, up from just eight in 2004. The best known is the Texas Enterprise Fund, which has given out $363 million since its inception seven years ago. … House Bill 1953, which is still at least two floor votes from reaching Gov. Mary Fallin’s desk, would establish such a fund for Oklahoma. But the “Quick Action Closing Fund” would have no money in it initially, and one of its authors, state Sen. Mike Mazzei, R-Tulsa, would like to keep it that way.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Previously: A tale of two closing funds, the Chinese Communist Party, and genetically modified mice from the OK Policy Blog

TPS: Every student may be affected by shuttered schools

The historic overhaul at Tulsa Public Schools will affect every student in the district. In a special meeting Saturday the school board hammered home to families: even if your neighborhood school isn’t on the closure list, you will be affected. The big wildcard in the Project Schoolhouse proposals: transfer students. Federal law gives families some wiggle room when choosing a school. Now, all 42,000 students could be re-shuffled as the district tackles how to reassign transfer students.

Read more from NewsOn6 at

See also: Tulsa superintendent axes one of three consolidation proposals from NewsOn6

Oklahoma City tobacco wholesaler says slow response to complaints has cost state millions

Slow government response to repeated complaints of illegal tobacco sales has cost the state and legitimate distributors millions of dollars, according to longtime Oklahoma City tobacco wholesaler Alan Beck. For six years, Beck has complained to the Oklahoma Tax Commission and elected state officials that certain distributors were illegally selling huge volumes of untaxed tobacco products in Oklahoma. Beck, 53, says he never saw much response to his complaints until April 6 when a 59-count federal indictment was unsealed that accuses three Edmond men of profiting from the illegal sale of more than $3 million worth of untaxed cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Fees paid by gaming tribe continue dramatic climb

From the Chickasaw Nation’s $33 million to the $12,000 kicked in by the tiny Thlopthlocco Tribal Town’s single casino, fees paid to the state by gaming tribes have grown dramatically since compacting began six years ago. Tribes operating casinos paid the state $118 million in fees last year, up from $14 million in 2006, the first full fiscal year that gaming compacts between the tribes and the state were in effect. Records show that 33 tribes have compacted for gaming with the state since 2005.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Oklahoma Ethics Commission may get to keep more fees

The state Ethics Commission may have an added incentive to collect late fees from candidates and as a result possibly avoid furloughs to its six employees in the upcoming fiscal year. Discussions with legislative budget leaders indicate a willingness to let the commission keep an additional $10,000 of fees paid by candidates who file their campaign reports past required deadlines, Commissioner Jo Pettigrew said Friday. Legislation passed last year allowed the commission for the first time to keep the first $25,000 it collected in late fees each year. Any additional fees go to the state’s general revenue fund.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Senate rejects alternative uses for sinking funds

Efforts to allow cities and school districts to convert extra sinking fund money for other uses – an element of Tulsa’s legislative agenda – was defeated in the state Senate last week. House Bill 1992 would have allowed local governments to use extra funds in their sinking funds at the end of a fiscal year for certain other purposes. Sinking funds are financing mechanisms that some local governments use to pay off lawsuit judgments and bond issues. They are primarily funded with property taxes.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Oklahoma City council considers tougher regulations on taxicab drivers

The Oklahoma City Council is considering an ordinance prohibiting taxi drivers from parking at meters, a proposal cabdrivers criticize as an inconvenience to riders and costly to drivers. “There’s going to be a lot of people looking for cabs and they can’t get them,” cabdriver Carl Gaskins said. “They can’t just ban us from the street and everything will be fine. This is my livelihood; without the driving, I couldn’t make it.” Proponents of the change, such as Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty, say taxi drivers take spots that should be available for the public.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Clay Pope: No dust storms? Thank an agriculture producer

Oklahoma is once again facing a major drought. Articles in The Oklahoman and other news outlets have described the last four months as drier than any similar period since the Dust Bowl. Every day it seems there’s another drought-related story: wildfires, potential crop failures, no rain. Everything except massive dust storms. Why? The answer: the farmers and ranchers of Oklahoma and our surrounding states. … Oklahoma was drier in the four months following Thanksgiving than it has been in any similar time frame since 1921. We’re dust storm free, because of the work done by agriculture producers in partnership with conservation districts and the state and federal governments.

Read more from this NewsOK editorial at

A day without taxes

April 15. I’m not a fan of tax day. Who is? After several tortuous weeks of determining whether I have excess distributions from my 529 plan  and deciding how much I owe to the two states I lived in last year, I’m in line at the post office to send all these forms and too many checks to too many different governments. I’ve had it. Why can’t we make society work without taxes? I’m willing to try, I think, as I dose off… In the morning, it slowly dawns on me that I’ve awakened in a tax-free America. So far, it’s great; I didn’t need to set the alarm! No real point in taking the kids to school, if it’s even open today. I’m not wealthy, so I can’t afford one of the schools that is open five days a week, requires the teachers to have a degree, uses textbooks, and has standards about what my kids should learn during the year.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

Quote of the Day

If I could do a cartwheel I would, I’m so happy, I’m so thankful because it bring peace to my boys, they had been worried.

Latashia Pratt, on hearing that her children’s school will not be among those closed in the Tulsa Public Schools consolidation.

Number of the Day

$118 million

Potential revenue generated by eliminating the itemized deduction for state tax payments on Oklahoma returns.

Source: Oklahoma Policy Institute, Protecting Core Services: Revenue Options for a Balanced Budget

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The problem with ‘upside down’ subsidies and how to set them right

Since January, we have been counting down the country’s largest tax expenditures every week. As Tax Day approaches, we pause to review a common theme among many tax expenditures: how their “upside-down” design makes them more costly and undermines their effectiveness. Some of our largest government programs are structured as tax exclusions or tax deductions. Because marginal tax rates are higher for people who make more money, exclusions or deductions are more valuable for taxpayers in higher tax brackets. Whether the purpose is to promote homeownership, retirement savings, or investment, these programs tend to provide the largest government subsidies to those who need them the least, while providing little or no benefit to those who could use them the most.

Read more from the Center for American Progress at

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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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