In The Know: April 5, 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, NewsOn6 reports on the $100 million for extended unemployment benefits that Oklahoma is leaving on the table. OK Policy previously explained this issue here. The state Senate passed a controversial bill to cap pain and suffering damages in lawsuits. Gov. Fallin signed a bill to reinstate the aerospace engineer tax credit, which had been suspended due to the budget crisis. The credit pays up to $5,000 per year to aerospace engineers and up to $12,500 per year for each employee to the companies that hire them.

About 400 union members rallied at the state capitol to protest legislation that would disallow collective bargaining and take away other employee rights. State Treasurer Ken Miller released the most recent gross tax receipt numbers. Collections in March were about 5.9 percent higher than the same month last year. Osage County commissioners approved an ordinance to allow construction of very large wind turbines near the Tallgrass Prairie Reserve. Former Attorney General Drew Edmondson spoke with NewsOK about his new position heading up a commission on how to reduce wrongful convictions in Oklahoma.

Tulsa parents are fighting to save Chouteau Elementary, which was listed in two out of three proposals presented by the district for school consolidation. In a NewsOK editorial, Lou Barlow does the math on education budgets to show that consolidating administration costs does not take away the need to improve overall funding for Oklahoma schools. In today’s Policy Note, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities looks at how state and local government employees continue to suffer in the recession.

Read on for more.

In The News

Oklahoma lawmakers urged to accept millions of dollars to help unemployed

Oklahoma’s economy may be steadily recovering but thousands of Oklahomans are still without jobs. The unemployment rate in Oklahoma was 6.5 percent in February. Barbara Kragel never thought she’d be in this position. “I’d rather have a job frankly,” she said. “Every time I’ve had to have another job, I’ve just walked right into another one. Never had any trouble.” Kragel is 57 years old, living with her sister and unemployed. She lost her accounting job in July 2008. She says she’s applied for hundreds of jobs but finally had to file for unemployment. … David Blatt, with the Oklahoma Policy Institute, says the state needs to take advantage of an estimated $100 million offered to help the unemployed. He says it is the right thing for Oklahoma to do.

Read more from this NewsOn6 article at

See also: Oklahoma should act on new opportunities to aid the long-term jobless from the OK Policy Blog

Oklahoma Senate passes bill to limit pain and suffering damages in civil lawsuits

A bill that would cap pain and suffering damages which could be awarded in civil lawsuits is headed to Gov. Mary Fallin. After more than two hours of debate, the Senate on Monday approved House Bill 2128 by House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, and Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore. Amendments to the measure were not heard. Lawyers, injured people and doctors filled the gallery to watch the debate. Doctors wore white lab coats, while some critics of the measure donned hospital gowns to represent injured victims. The measure passed by a vote of 30-14.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

With Fallin’s signature, aerospace tax credit will be restored July 1

Today (Monday, April 4), Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed legislation that will, effective July 1, remove an aerospace industry credit from a list of tax credits put on “moratorium” last year. Fallin’s signature brings to completion a project that got a fast start early in the legislative session, when the Senate Finance Committee moved to end a moratorium on aerospace industry incentives. Enthusiasts for House Bill 1008, by Rep. Skye McNiel of Bristow and Sen. Mike Mazzei of Tulsa, say the measure will help grow the aerospace industry in Oklahoma and create jobs. At a time when many tax credits and business incentives are under critical scrutiny, the legislation received bipartisan support in both the House and Senate as it moved through the process.

Read more from this CapitolBeatOK article at

Union members rally against bills at Oklahoma capitol

Hundreds of labor union members and their supporters rallied outside the Oklahoma Capitol on Monday, urging lawmakers to defeat legislation that they claim is anti-union and would weaken bargaining and employment rights for public employees. Chanting “union power” and “workers unite,” about 400 members of various unions gathered to commemorate the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., who was fatally shot on April 4, 1968, while supporting striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn.

Read more from this Associated Press article at

Treasurer touts improvement in gross receipts, ‘relatively good pace’ of recovery

Oklahoma’s economy shows evidence of continued gradual improvement, State Treasurer Ken Miller said today (Monday, February 4) as his office issued its monthly Gross Receipts to the Treasury report. During March, receipts to the State Treasury totaled $923.26 million. That is an increase of $51.56 million or 5.9 percent over March of last year. In the past 12 months, gross collections were $9.898 billion, an increase of $492 million or 5.2 percent over the previous 12 months. “Our analysis of all major sources of revenue deposited into the Treasury through March confirms Oklahoma’s economy is expanding at a relatively good pace, which should lead to continued job growth provided external shocks do not intercede,” Miller said.

Read more from this CapitolBeatOK article at

Osage County approves ordinance on wind farm turbines

Osage County commissioners unanimously approved a wind energy ordinance on Monday, saying that regardless of whether it was enacted, companies have the right to erect the massive turbines. “The only thing we’re trying to do is to protect the county,” said District 1 Commissioner Bob Jackson. “We don’t have the legal authority to stop them from putting them up today if they wanted to.” The regulations have sparked controversy in Osage County, where two wind companies, TradeWind Energy of Lenexa, Kan. – an affiliate of Italian energy giant Enel – and Wind Capital Group of St. Louis, are hoping to build two wind farms west of Pawhuska and east of Shidler on privately owned portions of tallgrass prairie.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Drew Edmondson named chairman of commission aimed at preventing wrongful convictions

Q: How do you reconcile your long-standing support of the death penalty as a prosecutor and state attorney general with your service on a panel aimed at preventing wrongful convictions? A: No prosecutor wants to convict an innocent person. Not only would that be a travesty, it leaves an actual perpetrator unpunished and at large. There is no conflict between my historic role as a prosecutor and the work of the commission to improve our system of justice.

Read more from this NewsOK Q&A at

Tulsa parents fight to keep elementary school open

A group of Tulsa parents want to make sure the district’s historic overhaul doesn’t dismantle their school. Two out of the three consolidation plans call for Chouteau Elementary in West Tulsa to close, but parents there say they’re not giving their school up without a fight. First-grade twins Kymbree and Kyiah Street go to Chouteau Elementary, just like their three siblings before them. But this is not the school they’re supposed to attend. “We actually had to be on a waiting list to get in. And we felt really fortunate when we got in here,” Kory Street, said.

Read more from this NewsOn6 article at

Lou Barlow: Do the math on education savings

Although the state’s funding problems have made headlines recently, they are nothing new to the education community. While expenses such as utilities, insurance and security needs have increased year after year, schools have continually not received additional money to offset these rising costs. The reality is that without increased funding for operations, most school districts have already been seriously cutting back expenses for the past three to five years. … Reducing the number of superintendents or school districts will save some money but huge shortfalls will remain, and we will have altered the way of life in small cities and towns across our state.

Read more from this NewsOK editorial at

Quote of the Day

Legislators must remember that they are creating public policy that 3.7 million people in every part of this state will have to live with, rather than making a statement of principle without thinking of the consequences.

Education consultant Lou Barlow, writing about public school funding in The Oklahoman.

Number of the Day

12.1 percent

Percentage of the adult population of Oklahoma who are veterans, 2009.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

For state and local workforce, the recession’s still on

Teachers, nurses, police officers, and others who work for state and local governments are still suffering from the impact of the recession. School districts, counties, and cities cut 15,000 jobs in March, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today.  The state government workforce held steady in March but is still well below its pre-recession level.  March was the 25th out of the last 31 months that total state and local employment shrank. Why?  Because of the long and deep recession, states and localities have less revenue to pay salaries and wages.  State revenue remains 11 percent below pre-recession levels. The job cuts have been widespread.  Since state and local employment peaked in August 2008, payrolls have shrunk by 497,000.

Read more from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities 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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