In The Know: Bill would cut tribes out of environmental policy-making process

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 bill working its way through the state Legislature would remove tribes from the environmental policy-making process. Sen. Greg Treat, the bill’s author, said he thinks tribes have been too cooperative with the EPA. The director of Children’s Rights spoke about the organization’s successful lawsuit against Oklahoma and its hopes for child welfare in the state.

The Tulsa World examined Oklahoma’s continuing mental health crisis and some treatment success stories. The Enid News and Eagle looks at rising poverty in Garfield County and the state.

The state’s pet breeder licensing agency has been funded almost entirely by private donors. Stateline reports on how a continuing severe drought is pushing Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas to reexamine their water policies. NewsOK reports on House bills that have survived the deadline to be passed out of committee. For more on Oklahoma’s legislative process, see our 2012 Legislative Primer.

NewsOK and The Tulsa World endorsed State Treasurer Ken Miller’s recommendation that lawmakers should identify dollar for dollar what spending they would cut to pay for tax cuts. Rep. David Dank said lawmaker’s unwillingness to reform the tax credit system is endangering prospects for income tax cuts.

The Number of the Day is the average annual compensation in the manufacturing sector in Oklahoma. In today’s Policy Note, Economix shows that the main the main cause of tuition growth at public universities has been huge state funding cuts.

In The News

Oklahoma bill would cut tribes out of environmental policy-making process

A bill working its way through the state Legislature would remove tribes from the official environmental policy-making process — something one eastern Oklahoma tribe isn’t happy about. Sen. Greg Treat, who authored the bill, said “The law still allows consultation, it just does not allow tribal laws to be considered by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to increase cost on ratepayers, or tribes to block the construction or upgrades to a refinery.” White said the Osage Nation is concerned about the tone of the bill, especially because “it seems to lack a certain government-to-government respect.” “If they are going to come in here and make environmental policies that affect our land, we should have some kind of say,” he said. Tribes will still have input, Treat said, they just won’t be considered equals when it comes to time make official policy bound by state and federal laws.

Read more from NewsOK.

Children’s Rights nonprofit: DHS settlement raises hope for welfare of Oklahoma foster children

When the staff of the New York-based nonprofit Children’s Rights started making calls to child advocates in Oklahoma, there was a recurring statement. “We were asked pretty quickly, ‘What took you so long to get here?'” said founder and executive director Marcia Robinson Lowry. Those interviews backed up the data the nonprofit had gathered, and a lawsuit was filed in February 2008 on behalf of nine children. It was expanded into a class-action suit in the U.S. Northern District in March 2009. It was settled in January and received approval from U.S. District Judge Gregory Frizzell on Wednesday. “There are currents of change here, and I think there are plenty of people not happy with what the system has been,” Lowry said. “I am thrilled with what has happened in Oklahoma. We hesitated before we came into Oklahoma. We knew it was going to be very difficult and hard for us. I think what is going to happen now will be amazing.”

Read more from The Tulsa World.

The sky is (still) falling for Oklahoma mental health

Our state is sick, debilitated by staggering levels of mental illness and substance abuse that together can lower a victim’s life expectancy by 30 years. How bad is the situation? Mental disorders and the puzzling emotional and physical pain they cause are the state’s third leading cause of chronic disease, behind only pulmonary condition and hypertension. And, they are more prevalent than heart disease, diabetes, cancer and stroke, according to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Oklahoma is second in the nation in the number of adults who report experiencing “serious psychological distress” in the past year – more than 380,000 residents, accounting for more than 14 percent of adults in the state. That’s almost equal to the population of the city of Tulsa. … These are the bare-boned facts – overwhelming in their breadth and depth. What is more disheartening is the lack of means to heal the mental and physical conditions that are, and will remain, a foot on Oklahoma’s throat.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

See also: Treatment works: the success stories from The Tulsa World

An issue of poverty

The statistics can’t be denied, poverty is an issue in Garfield County. In 2010, the last year for which statistics are available, there were 3,539 children living in poverty, according to data provided by Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy. That comes out to 24.2 percent of the children in the county. While per capita income rose slightly from 2009 to 2010, from $23,094 in 2009 to $23,769 in 2010, median household income dropped by more than $2,000. Poverty in Oklahoma is at a 10-year high, according U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Read more from The Enid News and Eagle.

Legislators mull future of pet breeder board

The state agency charged with regulating commercial pet breeding in the state has been financially dependent on a small group of donors since its beginning, but its top officers say it can be financially independent in the future. Since the agency started in July 2010, it has received more than $600,000 in contributions, including almost $466,000 from the family foundation of board member Sue Ann Hamm, according to records the Tulsa World obtained under the Oklahoma Open Records Act. Hamm said she also asked two Tulsa foundations – the George Kaiser Family Foundation and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation – for grants that totaled another $150,000 for the board. The agency’s 2012 budget is $310,000. In 2010, when the Legislature was considering the state’s first effort to regulate pet breeders, Hamm said she agreed to guarantee the agency’s first year finances because lawmakers weren’t willing to make any state appropriations.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

As drought lingers, states examine water policies

Governor Sam Brownback hasn’t found it easy to sell his sweeping agenda to Kansas lawmakers. Nearly two months into the legislative session, many of them have resisted the Republican governor’s proposed overhauls to Medicaid, the tax code and school financing. But on one front, there’s a bipartisan consensus. Following a year of record drought that destroyed close to $2 billion in Kansas crops, Brownback’s plan to conserve the state’s dwindling water supply is moving quickly through the legislature. Kansas isn’t the only state closely reexamining its water policies. Major changes may be on deck for Oklahoma, Kansas’ neighbor to the south, where last year’s drought brought similar losses in agriculture. And though the Texas legislature does not convene this year, followers of the issue predict a flurry of water-related proposals when lawmakers return to Austin in 2013 if that state’s record drought still lingers, as it does now in some regions.

Read more from Stateline.

House bills pass year’s first hurdle

Bills by House members and the governor to reduce and gradually eliminate the state’s personal income tax have survived their first test unscathed and now are up for consideration by the full House of Representatives. Proposals dealing with efforts to keep common cold and allergy tablets containing pseudoephedrine from getting into the hands of meth cooks and for establishing criteria for approving economic tax credits passed after some changes. Measures allowing the open carrying of handguns and requiring legislators to comply with the same open government rules as other public bodies passed easily, while a bill requiring deposits on glass bottles didn’t make it. The deadline for House bills to be passed out of committees was Thursday. Bills not heard or approved by committees are dead for the session, although their ideas may be incorporated into other measures. The deadline for House members to act on the bills that advanced is March 15.

Read more from NewsOK.

See also: 2012 Legislative Primer from Oklahoma Policy Institute

Oklahoma’s state budgeting system could use more vision

Ken Miller is state government’s top money guy. So when he talks about state revenues and tax policy, we should listen. The treasurer is concerned about the spending side in a year when fellow Republicans are focused on the revenue side, specifically tax cuts. While tax cuts shouldn’t be derided, we join Miller in saying that every dollar in tax cuts must be matched with a dollar of spending cuts or tax credit cuts. Eliminating “waste and duplication” in government, the standard stuff of tax-cutting rhetoric, won’t pay the freight.

Read more from NewsOK.

See also: State Treasurer offers tax-cutting advice from the Tulsa World

David Dank: Resistance to tax credit reforms endangering prospects for income tax cuts

The Legislature has a golden opportunity this year to reform our state’s convoluted and wasteful tax credit system and pass along the savings to individual taxpayers. Unfortunately, some lawmakers seem to be wavering under pressure from an army of special interest lobbyists who persist in defending the indefensible. The choices this year are simple: We must reform a widely abused tax credit system that dispenses special favors to the few, and then we can pass real income tax cuts for all. We cannot do the latter alone without gutting the state budget. Unfortunately, the first month of the legislative session has been less than encouraging. This session began with promises of real tax relief for all Oklahomans, but many of those promises were based on the need to reform the tax credit system. Early resistance to those reforms is already endangering the prospects for income tax cuts, and if lobbyists and special interests win the tax credit battle, ordinary taxpayers will once again suffer.

Read more from NewsOK.

Quote of the Day

We also own a lot of property — about 1.5 million acres of land, and we own the mineral rights underneath it. If they are going to come in here and make environmental policies that affect our land, we should have some kind of say.
Osage Nation spokesman Chris White, on a bill working its way through the state Legislature that would remove tribes from the environmental policy-making process.

Number of the Day

$56, 470

Average annual compensation in the manufacturing sector in Oklahoma, compared to $37,689 on average for other nonfarm sector employment

Source:  National Association of Manufacturers

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Why tuition has rocketed at state schools

As I’m sure you know, college tuitions have been skyrocketing for decades — with growth outpacing the Consumer Price Index, gasoline and even that great bugaboo of out-of-control costs, health care. There’s a lot of debate about why college costs have risen so much. Many people assume that schools are spending too much money on frivolous things like climbing walls and Jacuzzis. That’s true for a handful of elite schools, but not for a vast majority. Some of the rising cost has to do with other services schools have been adding over the last few decades, like mental health counselors and emergency alert systems. And certainly there are other inefficiencies that have crept into the system as higher education has become more things to more people. But at least at public colleges and universities — which enroll three out of every four American college students — the main cause of tuition growth has been huge state funding cuts.

Read more from Economix.

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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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