In The Know: August 31, 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 Oklahoma’s Agriculture Secretary said this year’s drought will cause nearly $2 billion in agricultural losses. Today marks the end of the hottest summer on record in Oklahoma and possibly the nation. Oklahoma’s Comprehensive Water Plan estimates that upgrading the state’s water infrastructure over the next 50 years will cost more than $100 billion. The Army Corps of Engineers is prohibiting contact with water in some lakes and warning about others over Labor Day weekend due to continuing health risks from blue green algae.

Oklahoma Policy Institute released a new fact sheet explaining the basics of Oklahoma’s income tax. The OK Policy Blog explains why those who say Oklahoma should get rid of the income tax have a big burden. Some Oklahoma pet breeders are being reviewed after complaints were made that veterinarians gave passing marks to breeders even though their conditions did not meet state standards. A Rogers County judge ruled that dash-cam recordings made by the Claremore Police Department are not a public record. The state Corporation Commission is considering whether to continue its practice of keeping utility company annual reports confidential.

A rally and counterprotest took place in downtown Tulsa over a police officer who was suspended for two weeks for refusing to attend a police appreciation event at a local mosque. The OKC Council voted 5-4 to take $30 million out of the MAPS 3 convention center budget and put it in a contingency fund. After a recent attack that left one young offender with brain injuries, The Tulsa World writes that the lack of funding to ensure safety in Oklahoma’s juvenile detention centers is unacceptable.

In today’ Policy Note, Demos explains why Hurricane Irene shows how GDP mismeasures economic growth. Today’s Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahoma students who participate in the free and reduced school lunch and breakfast program, 4th highest in the nation in 2008.

In The News

Official says drought will cause nearly $2 billion in agricultural losses this year in Oklahoma

Oklahoma’s drought will cause nearly $2 billion in agricultural losses this year, the highest amount ever, state Agriculture Secretary Jim Reese said Tuesday. But the good news is most state producers have crop insurance to cover their losses. And periods of drought have historically been followed by periods of good moisture, so he’s optimistic about the industry’s ability to recover, Reese told a group of about 100 producers who gathered for the Drought Recovery Summit held Tuesday at the Oklahoma Farm Bureau. He estimated crop losses in Oklahoma will total more than $953 million in today’s prices; combine that number with the cattle loss, which is about $1 billion, and it will no doubt be the highest loss in a single year, he said.

Read more from NewsOK at

Wednesday marks the end of the hottest climatological summer on record for Oklahoma

Oklahomans will remember the summer of 2011 as the hottest ever in the state, because as of Wednesday, it is. In 1934, the statewide average temperature for the climatological summer — June 1 through Aug. 31 — was 85.2 degrees. With mere tenths separating many years, this summer will cruise past that mark, as evidenced by a statewide average of 86.8 degrees through Monday, according to preliminary data from the Oklahoma Mesonet weather network. “So we’re not just topping the record by a little; we’re really smashing it,” said Gary McManus, of the Oklahoma Climatological Survey. On a national level, Oklahoma will break the all-time summer record, but Texas will, as well. So it’s not clear which of the two states will have the warmest summer on record, McManus said.

Read more from NewsOK at

Water by the numbers

Policy recommendations in the draft Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan’s executive report, developed by the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, outline some significant numbers in estimates of how much it may take to upgrade the state’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructures for the next five decades: Drinking water: $37.9 billion (in 2007 dollars). Wastewater: $42.9 billion (in 2010 dollars). Those figures do not account for inflation, which the board’s financial officer recently said could add another $80 billion or so. But wait, that’s not all. With most projects in both categories designed to last about 30 years, it’s possible that infrastructure will need to be completely replaced at least once during that 50-year period, the agency notes. That does not include improvements and upgrades needed to meet new federal standards and the growing-population demands.

Read more from 23rd and Lincoln at

Blue green algae may hamper yet another summer holiday

Blue-Green Algae could ruin the holiday weekend for folks headed to local lakes. The sickening slime is making many places off-limits for swimming. At Keystone Lake’s Appalachia Bay, gate attendants Orville and Pauline Nichols are spreading the word about a spreading threat. Technically, the swimming beach is open, but the Army Corps of Engineers is prohibiting contact with the water. While all lakes remain open, the corps is prohibiting contact with water in some places, and has even closed some swim beaches. The Corps has also issued advisories for several area lakes, where contact with water isn’t prohibited, but it is discouraged.

Read more from NewsOn6 at

Why Oklahoma needs an income tax

With the Governor and legislative leaders talking about doing away with Oklahoma’s state income tax, it’s worth taking a look at how the tax affects Oklahomans and why it is important. In an OK Policy fact sheet released today, we explain the basics of how the tax works. Those who say Oklahoma should get rid of the state income tax have a big burden. They have to say what taxes they would increase or what services they would reduce to make up more than $2.5 billion in lost revenues. They should be very specific, because Oklahomans know there is no free lunch. If we’re going to seriously consider drastic changes in the state’s tax system, we owe it to everyone to have an open and honest discussion with real-life numbers and the real-life impacts on people.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

See also: Oklahoma Individual Income Tax Basics from Oklahoma Policy Institute

Some Oklahoma pet breeders reviewed after allegations of improper licensing inspections

Spot reviews of dozens of commercial pet breeders licensed by the state last month are taking place to make sure the inspections were done properly and that kennels meet regulations. The reviews are necessary after complaints were made that some veterinarians who contracted with the state Board of Commercial Pet Breeders to inspect kennels gave passing marks to breeders even though their conditions did not meet state standards, said William Brogden, the agency’s executive director. The agency plans to inspect about 30 percent of the 148 licensed breeders in the state, he said. Board members Tuesday evening changed the agency’s policy so that breeders now must contact the board for all inspections.

Read more from NewsOK at

Rogers County judge rules police dash-cam recordings not public record

A Rogers County judge wrote in an order released Tuesday that a dash-cam recording made by the Claremore Police Department is a “direct piece of evidence” and “not a public record” under the state’s Open Records Act. The five-page ruling came after Associate District Judge Sheila Condren had heard evidence Aug. 1 in a nonjury trial. Arguing for the release of the records, Oklahoma City attorney Stephen Fabian said earlier this month that audiotapes and videotapes are part of the Open Records Act. Matt Ballard, who represents the city, told the court that videotapes are evidentiary and subject to the privilege of confidentiality. Fabian won a lawsuit against the state Department of Public Safety in March 2005 after the Oklahoma Highway Patrol started denying the release of traffic arrest videos. Later that year, however, state lawmakers exempted DPS audio and video from open records requests, making it the only law enforcement agency with an exemption.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Corporation Commission weighs secrecy policy for firms’ reports

The state Corporation Commission is considering whether to continue its practice of keeping confidential certain reports submitted by utility companies. At issue is whether annual reports submitted to the commission by telecommunications companies should be shielded from public view. The commission closed the annual reports to the public in 2004. The commission’s own attorney is calling for the 2004 order to be overturned, saying the original decision to close the records is overly broad and “absurd.” Meanwhile, the state Attorney General’s Office issued an opinion stating that the commission could determine what public utility information to keep confidential so long as it protects “public utility records that it determines constitute confidential books and records or trade secrets.” The matter will be heard Thursday by a Corporation Commission administrative law judge.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Police captain’s suspension spurs rally, counterprotest in downtown Tulsa

Second Street in downtown Tulsa became a dividing line in America’s culture war Tuesday morning. On the south side of the street, across from City Hall, about 100 protesters organized by ACT! for America showed their support for Tulsa Police Capt. Paul Fields, who was suspended for refusing to order his officers to attend a police appreciation event at a Tulsa mosque. ACT! for America is a national Florida-based group that says it is dedicated to warning Americans about the dangers of radical Islam. Across the street, wearing blue “Say No to Hate” T-shirts and surgical masks, about 115 counterprotesters demonstrated their opposition to the work of ACT! for America and their support for the Tulsa Muslim community. The Say No to Hate Coalition is a loose-knit network of social justice organizations that includes Tulsa Metropolitan Ministry and the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Oklahoma City council lops $30M from convention center budget

In a split vote Tuesday the Oklahoma City Council stripped $30 million from the MAPS 3 convention center budget and set it aside in a contingency fund. The convention center budget — minus the $30 million contingency fund — now stands at $252 million. Another $17 million in contingency money is included among the various $777 million MAPS 3 projects. The $30 million contingency fund was included in one of three options a consultant presented to the council Tuesday. The option recommended by the MAPS 3 Citizen Advisory Board would have left the convention center budget at about $280 million, and the other option would have split the $30 million between the convention center and MAPS 3 urban park budget. The option with the contingency fund was the first chosen for a vote, and it passed with the support of Mayor Mick Cornett and council members Ed Shadid of Ward 2, Pete White of Ward 4, Meg Salyer of Ward 6 and Skip Kelly of Ward 7.

Read more from NewsOK at

Tulsa World: Lack of funding to ensure safety in juvenile detention centers is unacceptable

Keeping juvenile offenders and the staff that oversees them safe is an ongoing problem. The state has had litigation as well as violent and tragic incidents. (The Rader Center in Sand Springs, the state’s only juvenile maximum-security facility, soon will close.) Originally, the state had planned a new maximum-security facility to replace Rader, but plans were scuttled in light of budget cutbacks. Violent incidents in juvenile facilities are not unusual, says Gene Christian, executive director of the Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs. Christian believes that serious consideration should be given to isolating a section of an adult jail and staffing it with juvenile staff members and juvenile programs to handle violent older youths. The Legislature last session authorized OJA to add maximum-security space within existing detention centers. But here’s the catch: no funding. That’s unacceptable.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Quote of the Day

I know in the ’50s we had a bad, bad time, and in the ’80s, we had a bad time, but none of them, I don’t think, compares to this.
Burl Winters, who was born near Blair, OK in 1938 and now lives near Altus, on this summer’s record-breaking heat and drought.

Number of the Day

57 percent
Percentage of Oklahoma students who participate in the free and reduced school lunch and breakfast program, 4th highest in the nation in 2008.

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Hurricane Irene shows how GDP mismeasures growth

Hurricane Irene may not have lived up to all the media hype, but it still did billions of dollars in damage. Some analysts say cleaning up the mess will boost Gross Domestic Product for the second half of 2011. These estimates are surely correct – and remind us why GDP is such a perverse way to measure economic progress. No number is more closely watched than GDP. Americans walk with more bounce in their step when GDP is rising at a nice clip and turn gloomy when this indicator sinks. While GDP first came into use after World War II as a technical way to measure all economic activity, it has somehow morphed into the nation’s thermometer – the leading gauge of how well we are doing. Such is the dominance of GDP that we tend to forget just how crude this indicator really is – so crude that it can’t even distinguish between growth caused by a terrible event, like a hurricane, and growth tied to higher productivity or technological breakthroughs.

Read more from Demos 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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