In The Know: Child welfare reform expert fees expected to reach $1.5M in first year

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 out-of-state experts hired to oversee reforms of Oklahoma’s troubled child welfare system are expected to bill the state nearly $1.5 million by the end of the first year. Oklahoma’s approximately 35,000 employees are paid an average of 19 percent less than salaries in the private labor market. To make up for budget cuts, libraries have cut hours, trimmed staff and eliminated reading and literacy programs.

The Department of Correction’s health care costs are rapidly rising due to an increasing number of elderly inmates. The Tulsa World assesses the state of the income tax debate in the Legislature. A NewsOK letter to the editor writes that eliminating the income tax would be utterly irresponsible and would shift a greater burden onto the poor. The OK Policy blog describes the dream – or the nightmare – of a day without taxes.

Several well-known incumbents chose not to seek additional terms in the Legislature. In the closing hours of an execution, attorneys engaged in a 48-hour battle which ended in an Oklahoma death row inmate avoiding lethal injection. Rev. Jesse Jackson preached at a Tulsa church on Sunday in the wake of the Good Friday shootings.

The Number of the Day is Oklahoma’s rank nationally for the share of female residents reporting that they have been raped, physically abused, or stalked by an intimate partner in their lifetime. In today’s Policy Note, Demos examines how higher education cuts are undermining the future middle class.

In The News

Experts’ fees for Oklahoma child welfare reform stir debate

Out-of-state experts hired to oversee reforms of Oklahoma’s troubled child welfare system billed the state more than $355,000 for their team’s first three months of work after a settlement was reached in a Tulsa class-action lawsuit. The cost is expected to reach nearly $1.5 million by the end of the first year. “Ungodly,” Department of Human Services Commissioner Richard DeVaughn said of the oversight fees. “That’s why I voted no and raised so much hell … Where’s that money going to come from? … It doesn’t make any sense.” Current Commission Chairman Brad Yarbrough disagreed. DHS officials, the agency’s settlement attorney, the state attorney general’s office and DHS commissioners all reviewed the appropriateness of the contract that calls for paying three out-of-state experts $315 an hour to oversee DHS child welfare reforms, he said. Under the contract, DHS also is paying for the experts’ professional and administrative staff and consultants, as well as funds to cover travel, conferences, meetings and materials. “The hourly rate that was outlined in the contract was determined to be a fair and just compensation based on comparable rates being paid to other consultants doing the same type work,” Yarbrough said.

Read more from NewsOK.

Okla. workers push market-based compensation plan

State Department of Human Services worker Cody Burns spends his workday distributing emergency food benefits to impoverished families in McClain County that are among the neediest in the state. “And then you come home and you’re kind of in that same boat,” said Burns, who has not received a pay raise since he was hired three years ago and whose salary falls below what private employers pay for comparable jobs. “Your one paycheck away from needing food benefits yourself,” Burns said. “It definitely adds stress.” Oklahoma’s approximately 35,000 employees are paid an average of 19 percent less than the competitive labor market, according to the annual compensation report for 2011 prepared by the state Office of Personnel Management. The average state worker’s salary totaled $35,440 last year compared to the market-based salary of $42,235, the report states.

Read more from The Associated Press.

Libraries suffering from budget cuts and other difficulties, but use soaring

Of Oklahoma’s 177 cities with a public library, 108 are funded only with city sales taxes and state aid, which have been slashed during the recession. Those libraries are owned by the cities and operate as a municipal department. County-funded libraries are operated as multi-branch or multi-county systems, such as in Tulsa, which has 25 branches in 10 cities. Because property taxes in Oklahoma have remained healthy during the economic crisis, these systems are doing better financially. The Oklahoma Department of Libraries has experienced a 19 percent budget cut, or $1.4 million, in the last three fiscal years. This has resulted in decreased state aid payment, the elimination of the library construction funds and reductions in grants for adult literacy programs. Libraries have cut hours, trimmed staff and eliminated or reduced programs. At the same time, demand for services is high.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

The aging of Oklahoma’s prison population

If there are two categories of people that Oklahoma likes to lock up, it is women and drug offenders. Oklahoma ranks No. 1 nationally in per-capita female incarceration and is fairly high up the ladder in the percentage of drug offenders in prison. But it is not only the number of drug offenders and female offenders that’s grown exponentially in the past few decades. Oklahoma also has had marked growth in the number of older inmates, a population that presents expensive health-care challenges. In 1980, DOC had only 85 inmates age 50 or older in its entire prison system. By 2010, that figure had grown to 3,952, and by 2013, the population is expected to reach 5,254 – a 48 percent increase. This is not favorable news for the DOC, taxpayers or older inmates. In fiscal year 2000, DOC’s total inmate health-care costs were about $34 million, which rose to more than $61 million by fiscal year 2010. A disproportionate share of that cost, by necessity, is being spent on care of older inmates.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Will Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin deliver deep income tax cuts?

The state Capitol is essentially holding its breath at this point. A lot of the sound and fury of every year’s legislative session has now been spent. We’ve played out a lot of those high-profile, high-emotion bills – think, personhood – that rally the party faithful and capture the public’s attention. But the billion-dollar question – the issue that will determine whether this year goes down as a huge victory for Gov. Mary Fallin and GOP legislative leaders – remains unanswered. The question: How much will they be able to live up to their pledge to roll back the state income tax and how much of a hit will state government services take in the process? Somewhere behind the scenes at the Capitol, the negotiations that could set the state’s fiscal course for years to come are going on.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

See also: Eliminating state income tax utterly irresponsible from NewsOK

The dream – or the nightmare – of a day without taxes

April 15. I’m not a fan of tax day. Who is? After several tortuous weeks of determining whether I have excess distributions from my 529 plan and deciding how much I owe to the two states I lived in last year, I’m in line at the post office to send all these forms and too many checks to too many different governments. I’ve had it. Why can’t we make society work without taxes? I’m willing to try, I think, as I doze off… In the morning, it slowly dawns on me that I’ve awakened in a tax-free America. So far, it’s great; I didn’t need to set the alarm! No real point in taking the kids to school, if it’s even open today. I’m not wealthy, so I can’t afford one of the schools that is open five days a week, requires the teachers to have a degree, uses textbooks, and has standards about what my kids should learn during the year. When little Heather asks about whether she can go to college, I just laugh. We can’t pay the tens of thousands of tuition for a private college. There’s no grant or loan programs and womens’ sports don’t make a profit, so there are no athletic scholarships awaiting her. Child care is risky too, since nobody determines if day care operators are qualified, safe, and not just in it to find victims for something.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Some incumbents choose not to seek re-election

Several well-known incumbents chose not to seek additional terms in the Legislature. Filing for federal and state offices was held Wednesday through Friday at the state Capitol. A total of 275 candidates signed up to run. Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre, D-Tulsa, chose not to run again because she didn’t want taxpayers to have to pay for a special election to fill an unexpired term. She could have served only two more years due to 12-year legislative term limits. Sen. Tom Adelson, D-Tulsa, also is not seeking another term. His Senate District 33 was moved in the redistricting process from midtown Tulsa to Broken Arrow. He said he plans to stay in Tulsa and pursue a private-sector job in health care. Sen. Richard Lerblance, D-Hartshorne, also chose not to seek another term. Due to term limits, he also could have only served two years. Rep. Corey Holland, R-Marlow, said he will return to education after serving four years in the House. He will become principal of Cache High School near Lawton.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Anatomy of a stay of execution

In the closing hours of an execution, attorneys engaged in a 48-hour battle which ended in a death row inmate avoiding lethal injection. An intervention would be an understatement as to what spared Garry Thomas Allen from execution last Thursday at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. A 10-judge circuit decided to review an order, just hours old, which lifted a previous stay of Allen’s execution. It was that review which put the brakes on the state of Oklahoma from carrying out the lethal injection of Allen. For two days, attorneys from the state attorney general’s office and Allen’s defense team engaged in a paper battle over the sanity of Allen, and whether a federal judge overstepped his bounds and halted the execution. Allen pled guilty to killing Gail Titsworth in 1986 and was sentenced to death. He was granted a trial concerning whether or not he was sane enough to be executed, which a jury concluded he was. The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommended clemency for Allen, but Gov. Mary Fallin denied the request. An examination of the court documents between attorneys, judges and courts show an intriguing debate, not just over the mental competency of a death row inmate, but an Oklahoma procedure which if ruled unconstitutional could seriously alter the death penalty in this state.

Read more from OK Legal News.

Rev. Jesse Jackson preaches at Tulsa church in wake of Good Friday shootings

Sounding more like a gospel preacher than one of America’s best-known civil rights leaders, the Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke from the pulpit of the historic First Baptist Church North Tulsa on Sunday morning – a pulpit shared decades ago by his mentor, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Jackson also announced that Scott and Tulsa City Councilor Jack Henderson will anchor an Oklahoma chapter of his Rainbow PUSH coalition. Keying off the Bible passage that “faith is substance of things hoped for,” Jackson said he sees a lot of Faith Baptist churches and Hope Baptist churches but never sees a “Substance” Baptist church. “What is the substance we hope for?” he asked, listing access to jobs and capital, health care, justice and other needs of the black community. “We will fight for substance,” he said, as he urged white churches to become involved in the struggle. “This is a great moment for the white church,” he said.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Quote of the Day

Ending the income tax would be an unfair burden on the poor and an unearned bonus to the rich.
-William Bennett, in a letter the editor published by NewsOK

Number of the Day


Oklahoma’s rank nationally for the share of female residents reporting that they have been raped, physically abused, or stalked by an intimate partner in their lifetime; 697,000 women in 2010.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

How higher education cuts undermine the future middle class

This report examines how state disinvestment in public higher education over the past two decades has shifted costs to students and their families. Such disinvestment has occurred alongside rapidly rising enrollments and demographic shifts that are yielding more economically, racially, and ethnically diverse student bodies. As a result students and their families now pay—or borrow—a lot more for a college degree or are getting priced out of an education that has become a requirement for getting a decent job and entering the middle class.

Read more from Demos.

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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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