In The Know: April 22, 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.

In today’s ITK, Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Keith Ballard has release his final plan for closing 14 schools and shaving $5 million from the budget. An increasing number of companies are dropping out of state tax incentive programs for failure to meet job creation and other requirements. The OK Policy Blog explains the option of using “5 percent money” in next year’s budget to help avert catastrophic cuts to core services. The New York Times reports on a ‘birther’ bill being debated in Oklahoma, despite conclusive evidence that President Obama was born in Hawaii.

Google has made a deal to buy 20 years worth of wind power from a wind farm being developed near Minco, OK. The power will be used at Google’s data center near Pryor. The Oklahoma House voted to change when state and county employees are allowed to retire with full pensions. Gov. Fallin is making a second review of hundreds of paroles signed by Gov. Henry on his last day in office. NewsOK expresses disappointment in the weakening of corrections reform but writes that the current bill is better than nothing. tells the story of a prominent public art installation in Oklahoma to show how spending on public art creates jobs and helps the economy. Data Watch looks at Oklahoma redistricting and a free tool that allows anyone to make their own redistricting maps. In today’s Policy Note, the Wall Street Journal looks at increasing pressure from states to get tougher on tax incentives for businesses that are showing uncertain success.

In The News

14 Tulsa Public Schools to close under superintendent’s final proposal

After months of meetings, forums, and surveys, Tulsa Public Schools’ Superintendent finally weighed in with his recommendations for consolidation. Superintendent Dr. Keith Ballard’s plan would close 14 schools, re-open two, eliminate approximately 6,000 empty seats and shave about $5 million from the budget. Under Ballard’s proposal, 12 elementary schools and 2 middle schools would close. The proposal also called for Houston Elementary to close as a neighborhood school and become the new home for the Bunche Early Childhood Center. Two alternative schools, Met Franklin and Met Lombard would relocate to the Bryant building.

Read more from this NewsOn6 article at

See also: Dr. Ballard’s full proposal [Word Document]

State tax break program dealing with dropouts

Policymakers are trying to decide what to do about a popular tax incentive program with a sharp increase in the number of participants who have failed to meet the terms of their agreements with the state. Oklahoma Tax Commission officials say 57 employers in 2009 did not fulfill the requirements of a program that provides up to five years of property tax exemptions for businesses meeting employment, investment and other requirements. The Legislature is considering a “do-over” of sorts. Senate Bill 935, by Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, would allow companies that missed the mark for 2009 to get back into the program if they fulfilled the requirements in 2010.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

The 5 percent solution?

After two straight years of cuts, the state’s budget situation remains dire. Despite the economic recovery and improving revenue collections, the state faces a huge shortfall for next year. The substantial non-recurring revenues that were used to balance the budget over the past two years, including federal stimulus dollars, state reserve funds, and assorted one-time revenue enhancements,  have mostly dried up. In this context, the Governor and legislative leaders are actively considering additional ongoing or one-time revenue sources that could avert truly catastrophic cuts to core services. One option being discussed is appropriating this year’s “5 percent money” for next year’s budget.  This post explains the “5 percent option” and suggests why, on balance, we think a portion of this money should be used, along with other revenue solutions.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

Evidence aside, state lawmakers debate ‘birther’ bills

Investigations have concluded that President Obama was, in fact, born in Hawaii in 1961, as he has always said. Just this week, on the news program “Good Morning America” on ABC, George Stephanopoulos produced a copy of the president’s Certification of Live Birth, causing a potential presidential aspirant, Michele Bachmann, the Republican congresswoman from Minnesota, to say that the issue appeared settled. Birther bills have foundered or fallen dormant in at least five states and are still being debated in more than a half-dozen others. In Arizona, where both legislative chambers passed one such bill, Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, vetoed it this week, calling it “a bridge too far.” But now, Oklahoma, a deeply conservative state, could be the first to put its doubts into law, through a bill that would require all candidates, from town council hopeful on up, to prove that they meet the legal requirements for office.

Read more from this New York Times article at

Google buys Oklahoma wind power

Google is blowing into Oklahoma on the strength of the state’s renowned wind resources. The search engine titan has struck a deal to buy the power from a 100.8-megawatt wind farm being developed in Grady and Caddo counties near Minco. NextEra has more than 300 wind turbines in Oklahoma capable of producing nearly 550 megawatts of electricity, enough power to serve more than 137,000 average homes. Electricity from NextEra Energy Resources’ Minco II Wind Energy Center will help power Google’s data center near Pryor, which is expected to be operational later this year.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

See also: Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain from The Official Google Blog

Oklahoma House approves pension change for state, county employees

The retirement age for state and local employees hired after Nov. 1 and state and county officials elected after that date would increase under a bill approved Thursday by the House of Representatives. The change basically prevents anyone in their 50s from drawing earnings from the Oklahoma Public Employee Retirement System. The earliest anyone could be eligible to start collection pension payments would be 60, under Senate Bill 794. A floor amendment added to SB 794 Thursday states that beginning Nov. 1, new employees must be 60 years old and their age and service must equal 90. If an employee would reach the age of 60 and didn’t have 90 points, the employee would have to continue to work until reaching age 65 or 90 points.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Hundreds of former Governor Henry’s paroles given second look

On his last day in office, Governor Brad Henry’s staff turned in hundreds of parole approvals. Some say the timing led to a lot more work for the state’s new governor, Mary Fallin. Governor Henry’s staff turned in 313 parole approvals, his final day in office, at 4 am. Many of those inmates were released a few days later. But, when the paperwork went to the Secretary of State’s office for processing, Henry was no longer in office. Fallin’s legal team, the secretary of state and attorney general decided these were attempts to parole, not completed paroles. So, Fallin and her team had to review all of them again.

Read more from this NewsOn6 article at

NewsOK: Weakened prison reform bill better than nothing at all

The state Senate didn’t neuter a prison reform bill when it removed one important piece this week, but the action indicated just how difficult it is to sell some members on the need for Oklahoma to try new approaches to corrections. The Senate voted 44-3 for House Bill 2131 by House Speaker Kris Steele, only after removal of a provision that would have reduced the prison stay for many inmates. The original bill sought to change the default sentencing structure from consecutive terms to concurrent terms in cases where a person is convicted of two or more crimes at trial.

Read more from this NewsOK editorial at

Public art in Oklahoma faces the myth of job loss and recession economics

Critics of public funding for art often compare the money spent on works of art to lost jobs, as if these two things are in contrast: how can a government purchase art when we are facing an economic recession that results in layoffs and unemployment?  In Oklahoma, a budget shortfall of $500 million is often cited as a reason to eliminate a program that cost only $55,000 in 2010. The truth is, spending money on art creates jobs and keeps more money in local economies. Part of the disconnect may be in the phrase ‘public funding for art.’ It sounds vague and erases the actual people involved. Where does this money really go? Well, it goes to artists, who use it to purchase supplies (often locally), hire professional contractors (almost always locally), and work to make their visions come to life.

Read more from this article at

Oklahoma redistricting: Draw your own maps

The Legislature has two big jobs this year: balance the state’s budget and redraw the boundary lines for Congress and the state Senate and House.So far, it’s been fairly quiet on the redistricting front, at least publicly. But behind the scenes, you can be sure there’s a lot going on.The “easy” part–Congressional redistricting–is on its way to completion. Unlike a decade ago when the state lost a seat, the congressional plan was easier this year because Oklahoma stayed at five seats. If you want to try making your own map, check out the free site, Daves Redistricting.

Read more from the Data Watch blog at

Quote of the Day

It started to get depressing. Knowing that you can go home, but you can’t because you need that signature, kind of sucks.

Debbie Basy, a former inmate who had to wait 7 months to get out of prison after being granted parole due to paperwork errors and waiting on the Governor’s approval.

Number of the Day

6.5 percent

Oklahoma’s unemployment rate, February 2011.

Source: Oklahoma Policy Institute, Numbers You Need April 2011

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

States to business: Give our cash back

To the list of those dinged by states’ budgetary woes—from Illinois vendors to Wisconsin public employees—add YUSA Corp., an auto-parts supplier in the city of Washington Court House, Ohio.YUSA received a $35,000 development grant from the state of Ohio five years ago, pledging to expand a plant and employ 816 people. It’s only at 445. Recently, Ohio sent the firm a bill, demanding $15,915 back.This was one of nearly a dozen “clawback” orders signed in two months under the state’s new Republican governor, John Kasich. Governments are attaching more strings to their offers of tax breaks, cheap rents and bond deals designed to lure business, and are getting tougher on past recipients who didn’t come through.

Read more from this Wall Street Journal article at

You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.


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.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.