In The Know: August 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.

Today you should know that the Ethics Commission is being asked to require corporations and labor unions to disclose how much they spend on state, legislative and county campaigns. The state owes local governments an estimated $36 million for its share of natural disaster aid since 2007. The Oklahoma jobless rate increased for the second straight month. OK Policy previously spoke with the chief economist for the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission on how labor force data casts doubt on the real strength of Oklahoma’s economic recovery.

Governor Fallin criticized tribal lawsuits against the state over water rights in southeastern Oklahoma. Conservatives in Oklahoma and other states are embracing an approach to incarceration that had previously been championed by liberals. The OKC Chamber of Commerce is making it a legislative priority to reform Oklahoma’s liquor laws and allow wine sales in grocery stores. A change in policy by the Housing and Urban Development agency may deplete reserve funds for the Norman Housing Authority by half.

Oklahoma is seeing an increase in people seeking help for gambling addiction. Concerns over potential damage to the building and artwork may mean an end to free use of the Oklahoma capitol building for weddings and receptions. The OK Policy Blog shares a video with interviews of Oklahomans who lived through the Dust Bowl. NewsOK writes that the state must honor its pledges to college students, local governments, and school districts but should rethink some of those promises going forward.

In today’s Policy Note, Stateline explains five ways that K-12 and college students will feel budget cuts this year. The Number of the Day is the percent increase in foreclosure filings in Oklahoma between the 1st and 2nd quarter of 2011.

In The News

Ethics Commission asked to rule on requiring disclosure of independent campaign spending by corporations, unions

Two Oklahoma City Council members, having seen an unprecedented amount of money spent in this year’s municipal elections, asked the state Ethics Commission on Friday to require corporations and labor unions to disclose how much they spend on state, legislative and county campaigns. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that allows corporations and unions to independently spend whatever they want on a campaign changed the character of this year’s Oklahoma City city council elections, Ward 4 Councilman Pete White said. Thirteen candidates, vying for four open seats, along with the groups running independent campaigns in support of candidates, raised about $1.2 million and have spent more than $1 million on the Oklahoma City Council races. The city council post pays $12,000 a year. The Ethics Commission staff proposed a rule that would require itemized disclosure of all independent expenditures that support the election or defeat of a candidate or ballot measure by any committee or individual. Commissioners will decide in January whether to propose the rule to legislators.

Read more from NewsOK at

Oklahoma owes $36 million in disaster aid to local governments

The state owes an estimated $36 million to more than 600 cities, counties, electrical cooperatives, state agencies, fire districts, schools and Indian tribes for its share of costs associated with 21 natural disasters dating back to 2007. After a presidential disaster has been declared, the Federal Emergency Management Agency reimburses local governments for 75 percent of the cost of damages to things such as roads, public buildings and public utilities. Although not required to do so, the state has traditionally paid 12.5 percent of those costs through the State Emergency Fund. Between 1981 and 2008, the state spent $60.4 million from the fund paying off natural disaster costs and the costs of infrastructure damage associated with other extraordinary events, such as National Guard mobilizations by the governor. But the emergency fund hasn’t had any state appropriations since 2008. Currently, the fund has a balance of $944.

Read more from The House Chronicle at

Oklahoma jobless rate rises for second straight month

Oklahoma’s unemployment rate edged up in July for the second straight month, and a state economist said the data raise the specter of another economic recession. The state’s jobless rate rose to 5.5 percent in July from 5.4 percent in June, according to figures released Friday by the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. The national unemployment rate for July was 9.1 percent. The number of unemployed Oklahomans has increased in each of the last two months, said Lynn Gray, chief economist for the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. “There is a possibility that we’re seeing something of a turn here,” Gray said. “It’s still early to say, but I think we have to be cognizant that that could be the case.” National manufacturing numbers issued this week by federal officials were “very ugly,” Gray said. In Oklahoma, manufacturing suffered the largest monthly loss of jobs with 1,600, although that sector had been one of the strongest for job creation in the past year, he said.

Read more from NewsOK at

Previously: Labor force data casts doubt on strength of Oklahoma’s recovery from the OK Policy Blog

Governor criticizes tribal water lawsuits

A federal lawsuit filed Thursday by the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations that seeks to halt future sales and exports of southeastern Oklahoma water without tribal approval is “not helpful” to the state, contends Gov. Mary Fallin. Fallin learned of the lawsuit while on an economic development trip to Washington, D.C., and New York. “I was surprised to learn that the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations had elected to file a lawsuit against the state of Oklahoma, especially while I was out of town promoting Oklahoma as the go-to place to do business and raise a family,” Fallin said in a news release. “This kind of action is, quite frankly, not helpful to our efforts to create a better and more prosperous home for all of our citizens. Moving forward, it is important for the state of Oklahoma that the tribes, the state and all other parties have a productive conversation about water rights outside of the courtroom.” Tribal officials said Thursday that they tried unsuccessfully for more than a decade to get state officials to negotiate water rights issues with them before filing the lawsuit to protect their interests.

Read more from NewsOK at

Conservatives embrace new approach to incarceration

“Not unless hell freezes over in Texas.” For 30 years that’s the emphatic response anyone received who dared suggest Texas should close rather than build a prison. Yet, in 10 days, for the first time in state history, a prison will cease operation – and not for remodeling or for replacement. The shuttering of the 102-year-old Central Unit, an 1,100-bed facility in Sugar Land, near Houston, occurs on the watch of Texas’ most conservative governor and arguably its most conservative Legislature, the traditional tough-on-crime crowd. Five years ago, Texas was projecting a 17,000-bed shortfall in its prison system by 2012. The issue ultimately came down to funding. If money talks, a lack of money rattles the rafters. Texas, which has faced severe revenue shortfalls, could no longer sustain one of the highest per-capita incarceration rates in the nation. Lawmakers decided that keeping more than 150,000 people in prison wasn’t exactly cutting edge public policy. Mass incarceration increasingly sapped the state money tree and the public was not significantly safer for having all those offenders behind bars. A different approach was adopted, one advocated for years by more moderate or liberal forces: Get the right people in prison and handle other nonviolent offenders a different way.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Chamber wants wine in Oklahoma grocery stores

If one of the country’s top retailers said it would bring multiple stores to Oklahoma, each employing about 200 people and paying some of the highest retail wages in the industry, most people would agree that would be great for the state’s economy. Costco, a popular warehouse store based in Issaquah, Wash., has said it would do that. But there’s a catch. The retailer, which has more than 400 stores and none in Oklahoma, said it could open six to 10 stores here by 2014 if the state’s liquor laws are changed, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber said and a Costco representative confirmed. The issue is one the chamber has made a priority, with a goal to draft legislation and get it on the ballot in November 2012.

Read more from NewsOK at

HUD policy change could deplete Norman Housing Authority funds

The Norman Housing Authority may lose a large share of its financial reserves due to national funding issues. The Housing Authority has been able to build reserves by managing its properties well and being conservative with dollars. “For the NHA, we are positioned pretty well financially,” said Karen Canavan, Norman Housing Authority executive director. “And we have money in reserves to off-set budget cuts.” Unfortunately, being good stewards will not be rewarded if a current proposal by Housing and Urban Development is approved by Congress. “HUD is looking at recapturing the reserves and only leaving six months operating expenses,” Canavan said. “I am disappointed that we will have money recaptured by HUD from our reserve account, but I understand the need by the other housing agencies.”

Read more from The Norman Transcript at

Oklahoma sees increase in people seeking help for gambling addiction

While he stole a million dollars from Oklahoma schools and gambled most of it away, Roger Q. Melson couldn’t imagine one day wearing a gray uniform stamped with “inmate” and scrubbing toilets for $7.50 a month. Oklahoma’s gambling addicts put life on line for big win Everyone thought for years that he was just a lucky gambler. “It was really tearing me up,” Melson said, sobbing into a prison phone. “I kept telling myself I would finally hit the big one — whatever that is — and it would take care of everything.” Then he decided something really could take care of his lies and the hurt he caused others. He met a man in the parking lot at his workplace at the Commissioners of the Land Office to buy a gun. “I was going to kill myself … when I was caught,” he said.

Read more from NewsOK at

Free use of Oklahoma capitol building may come to an end

The destruction of a brass railing in front of one of the four larger-than-life portraits in the fourth-floor rotunda and other close calls may lead to the end of people being able to use public areas of the state Capitol at no charge. Suzanne Tate, executive director of the Oklahoma Arts Council, said she recently saw lit candles during a wedding placed on the ledges below the portraits of Will Rogers, Sequoyah, U.S. Sen. Robert S. Kerr and Jim Thorpe. The paintings, by artist Charles Banks Wilson, are in wall niches in the rotunda and are not replaceable. The portraits and other art displayed at the Capitol are valued about $6 million, Tate said. Members of the state Capitol Preservation Commission agreed last week to look into the prospect of charging a security deposit to rent the public areas of the Capitol. They also talked about charging a fee that would pay for at least one security guard to monitor activities during the event.

Read more from NewsOK at

Watch This: Living through the Oklahoma Dust Bowl

This summer’s excessive heat and drought evoke memories of the Dust Bowl of the 1930′s.  This 5-minute video, produced by public broadcasting station KVIE, features interviews with Oklahomans who lived through the Dust Bowl.  Experts review the causes and consequences of the drought and wind erosion that caused dust storms and consecutive crop failures across the Midwest. Climatologist Gary McManus says this summer’s heat and drought conditions are comparable to the 1930s Dust Bowl, however “it is important to remember that this episode is only 10 months old whereas those droughts lasted much longer. Imagine this drought and similar summer heat for another 10 years.”

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

NewsOK: State must honor funding pledges, but reconsider those vows

Oklahoma’s Promise is the name of a taxpayer-funded scholarship program for lower- and middle-class youth. With some difficulty, the state has found a way to keep the program funded. Not so with two other programs involving a promise to local governments, including school districts. One program is supposed to reimburse school districts, counties and libraries for tax revenue “lost” due to ad valorem tax exemptions for new manufacturing plants. The other broken promise involves reimbursement for expenses associated with natural disasters, such as fighting brush fires. A state strapped for cash is at risk of breaking promises at many turns, but in both of the cases cited above the state must keep its promise. It must also consider whether these promises are sustainable.

Read more from this NewsOK editorial at

Quote of the Day

To not require disclosure … will throw us back into the dark ages of campaigns when I first started running for office 30 years ago.
OKC Councilman Pete White, who is requesting the Ethics Commission create a rule to require disclosure of independent campaign expenditures by corporations and unions.

Number of the Day

17 percent

Increase in foreclosure filings in Oklahoma between the 1st and 2nd quarter of 2011.

Source: RealtyTrac via Real Estate Investors Daily

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Five ways students will feel budget cuts

With billions of dollars cut from education budgets across the country, students are confronting some major changes as they return to school this year. Schools have been facing cuts for the past several years, but federal stimulus dollars softened the blow. Now, the federal money is dried up. Increasingly, school leaders at both the K-12 level as well as at public colleges and universities are unable to shield students from feeling the impact of budget cuts in the classrooms and in their daily lives. Here are five ways students will feel budget cuts this school year.

Read more from Stateline 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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