In The Know: August 29, 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 a poll sponsored by Oklahoma Watch found 57 percent of likely voters are “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about the effect of budget cuts on state government services. The poll also found that 51 percent endorsed some tax incentives, but a majority of those polled opposed “transferable” credits that can be sold by one taxpayer to another. Rep. David Dank, who is heading a task force to scrutinize tax exemptions, said Oklahoma’s numerous tax breaks were a runaway train. OK Policy previously made that comparison here and set out the case for and against tax breaks here. At the most recent task force meeting, Dank grilled tax break defenders for specific evidence that they had created jobs.

More than 500 days since the poultry industry pollution trial ended in U.S. District Court in Tulsa, the judge has yet to make a ruling. Though some agencies are seeking exemptions, the Department of Education is taking the lead on technology consolidation and restructuring. A special election in southeast Oklahoma will test whether recent GOP victories there were a fluke or the beginning of a lasting change.

The CEO of Girl Scouts of Western Oklahoma argues in NewsOK that to improve child well-being in Oklahoma we need better sex education to prevent teen pregnancies. The Tulsa World calls for Oklahoma to apply for a Race to the Top early learning grant.

In today’s Policy Note, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities looks at how the way states use TANF dollars has changed in the 15 years since welfare reform. Today’s Number of the Day is the median price of a single-family home in Oklahoma in the 2nd quarter of 2010.

In The News

New poll gets Oklahomans’ views on tax breaks

Legislative leaders have estimated pruning ineffective, obsolete or misused state tax breaks could generate $200 million or more in additional annual revenue for the state. Poll respondents expressed mixed feelings about what should be done with that money: 45 percent said new revenue should be used to reduce or eliminate the state income tax, while 41 percent said the money should be used to restore funding for state services. In the past three sessions, the Legislature dealt with recession-related revenue declines by reducing funding for virtually every category of state spending, including education, health, transportation and public safety. This year’s cuts totaled $255 million, according to the Oklahoma Policy Institute. In the poll, 57 percent of likely voters said they were “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about the effect of budget cuts on state government services, compared with 35 percent who said they were “not too” or “not at all” concerned.

Read more from NewsOK at

Previously: Tax breaks: Setting out the case for and against from the OK Policy Blog

Oklahoma House panel aims to eliminate excessive tax breaks

A lawmaker heading a panel that is scrutinizing tax credits and exemptions calls them a runaway train. “It is way out of proportion,” said Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City, co-chairman of a 10-member panel studying tax credits and exemptions. “It is almost cancerous. It keeps going on and on and on. You can’t stay in business if you keep giving (away) the store, and that is what we are doing.” The Task Force for the Study of State Tax Credits and Economic Incentives will make recommendations to lawmakers about which ones should be eliminated. Dank estimates the state has about $250 million in tax credits and exemptions on the books while others have put it at $500 million. “We don’t really know how many have been issued because most of them have a five-year carry forward,” Dank said. “That means they can use them up to five years after they are issued.”

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Previously: Can we stop the runaway train of tax expenditures? from the OK Policy Blog

What ruffles Dank’s feathers? What he didn’t hear at the latest tax credit reviews

“The big thing that I didn’t hear, that I asked them to tell me in my opening remarks, was where are the jobs? It’s kind of like, ‘Where’s the beef?’” That’s Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City, irritated by what he did not hear Wednesday from speakers touting venture capital tax credits, particularly those administered by the Oklahoma Capital Investment Board and programs aimed at small businesses and rural ventures. Dank co-chairs a joint task force reviewing some of the millions of dollars in tax credits Oklahoma offers to various types of businesses and industries. “I’m focused on jobs and jobs creation,” Dank said Friday. “I think jobs are what build wealth.” Dank stressed that he was not talking about jobs with an average annual wage of $24,000 or so, as outlined in economic impact reports from OCIB about the Venture Investment Program. “That triggers those people into every welfare program that we have to offer, and the federal government,” he said. “It becomes a drain on the state.”

Read more from 23rd and Lincoln at

Ex-attorney general puzzled at poultry suit ruling delay

Former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson says he’s surprised over how long it has taken a judge to issue a ruling in the state of Oklahoma’s poultry industry pollution lawsuit. It has been more than 500 days since the poultry industry pollution trial ended in U.S. District Court in Tulsa. U.S. District Judge Gregory Frizzell presided over the bench trial involving the state of Oklahoma’s allegations that several poultry production companies have polluted the Illinois River watershed with poultry waste. Edmondson filed the lawsuit June 13, 2005, against 14 poultry companies. The state of Oklahoma claimed overuse of poultry litter as crop fertilizer had caused pollution in the watershed. On Sept. 24, 2009, more than 1,500 days after being filed, the case went to a bench trial before Frizzell. The 52-day trial, spread out over a 148-day period, concluded Feb. 18, 2010.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Education Department tackles outdated technology

In May, Gov. Mary Fallin signed into law House Bill 1304, which mandated the consolidation and restructuring of the state’s technology infrastructure under the authority of the state’s chief information officer located in the Office of State Finance. Some agencies are fighting the mandate by seeking exemptions. But the Education Department dove in immediately. Oklahoma Chief Information Officer Alex Pettit, who was appointed in April 2010, said Barresi wanted to go beyond his original proposal to shore up gaps. The starting point includes a mainframe system for personnel installed in 1964, an email system that didn’t allow for saving and archiving and a student information network implemented by Tandem, which went out of business in 1997 when it was bought by another company. “Silos had formed, and there was not efficient communication – no communication with each other and with districts,” Barresi said. “It was causing districts to have duplication of information to have to input. It was the No. 1 complaint I heard from districts. There wasn’t any cross-planning.”

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Special election will test GOP gains in southeastern Oklahoma

The special state House of Representative election in heavily Democratic southeastern Oklahoma may answer a question for Democrats: Was a Republican victory for the House District 1 seat last year a fluke, or is the area finding more common ground with the GOP? Except for last year, McCurtain County voters always elected a Democrat to serve in the state House of Representatives. Rusty Farley, a Republican from Haworth, was elected last year, but died in July after suffering a pulmonary aneurysm. A special election will be held Feb. 14, a week after the legislative session starts, to fill the House District 1 seat. About the contest Eight candidates — four Republicans, two Democrats and two independents — filed last week for the post. The turnout of contenders is considered high for a House seat.

Read more from NewsOK at

Oklahoma policymakers need to combat teen pregnancy to improve child well-being

Our teen birthrate is one of the highest in the nation and we don’t seem to understand the relationship between that statistic and all others for children. Woman well-being is tied to child well-being. An educated woman has educated children. A teen mom who drops out of high school to have a baby (in Oklahoma she is more likely to have two before leaving her teen years) often doesn’t finish high school. Even if she is a married teen mom, her chances of living in poverty and struggling to support her family are extremely high. A teen mom is more likely to be a victim of domestic violence, as are her children. Currently, two-thirds of Oklahomans who live in poverty are women and children. It’s more than just a girl’s parents who aren’t protecting her — it’s also the state that chooses not to provide relevant and age-appropriate tools concerning sexual health so that girls can make better decisions than their parents.

Read more from this NewsOK editorial at

Tulsa World: Federal grant would augment states already impressive early learning programs

The federal government is in the process of seeking final applications for the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC), a state-level competition for $500 million in grants for improving early learning and development programs. Advocates believe Oklahoma is well-positioned to win a grant because of its tiered system for rating day care centers, its innovative public-private partnerships such as the Educare early learning centers, and its pre-K program, which is considered the nation’s best and most widely used public preschool system. But some state leaders, including Gov. Mary Fallin and Superintendent Janet Barresi, have raised questions about entering the competition, wondering what might happen when the funds run out. The grant program is designed so that the cutoff of funds won’t be a significant issue. Self-funding is being taken into account in the application phase, and what’s more, the grant would allow for establishing system components such as better data-collection, accountability and training, which will remain as permanent features of an improved system once the federal money runs out.

Read more from this Tulsa World editorial at

Quote of the Day

We would very much like for the judge to rule one way or the other so this case can proceed. Right now the case can’t move because the judge hasn’t moved.
Former Attorney General Drew Edmondson, speaking about the more than 500 day delay so far in receiving a judge’s ruling on the poultry litter pollution case.

Number of the Day

Median price of a single-family home in Oklahoma in the 2nd quarter of 2010, up $8,263 from the same quarter in 2007.
Source: Federal Housing Finance Agency

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

TANF at 15, part 2: How have states spent their TANF dollars?

Under the 1996 welfare law, which replaced AFDC with the TANF block grant, states receive fixed federal funding each year in exchange for greater flexibility in using that funding. Unlike AFDC, therefore, federal TANF funding does not decrease in good economic times when cash assistance caseloads fall or rise in hard economic times when cash assistance caseloads increase. Because the $16.6 billion annual federal TANF block grant was never adjusted for inflation, it has lost significant value over time. States receive 28 percent less in real (inflation-adjusted) dollars than they did in 1997, a year when the unemployment rate averaged just 4.9 percent. States have shifted their TANF funds to pay for a broad range of services, including some that Congress did not envision when it created the block grant. The declines in the TANF caseload, combined with broad state flexibility in the use of federal and state TANF funds, freed up substantial resources that states have used to fund other services. In 2009, states used just 28 percent of TANF funds to provide basic assistance, compared to 71 percent in 1997.

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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