In 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 email@example.com. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.
Today you should know that NewsOK spoke with Cushing residents welcoming President Obama to their town. A Senate panel voted to increase the income cap for seniors allowed to freeze their property tax valuations. Tulsa-area home construction is up 22.2 percent above the first two months of last year.
House Minority Leader Scott Inman called for an investigation by the state Auditor and Inspector into the relationship between the state Education Department and a nonprofit that paid for expenses at a 2011 education conference. Okie Funk writes that the controversy over spending on conferences is missing the real story.
The OK Policy Blog discusses why Oklahoma should adopt PAYGO, which makes sure that any tax cut or spending increase is paid for. A federal judge denied a request by the Oklahoma Libertarian Party for more time to collect signatures to get on the ballot. okc.net shares the stories of six women whose lives would be jeopardized by a Personhood Amendment.
The Number of the Day is the percentage increase in multi-family residential building permits issued in Oklahoma in 2011. In today’s Policy Note, Atlantic Cities discusses the “uninsured belt” running through much of the deep south and the Sunbelt, including Oklahoma.
In The News
Cushing is eager to welcome President Obama
Rodger Floyd often uses the sign in front of his Davis Funeral Home to send encouraging notes to his neighbors and welcome visitors. He put up a special message Tuesday morning: “Welcome Mr. President. God bless America.” “I never thought I’d be welcoming the president,” Floyd said. “I’m very pleased that the president is coming. Whether you voted for him or not, this is big for Cushing.” A community of just more than 8,000 — including about 1,000 at the local prison — Cushing is one of the smallest towns to host a presidential visit in years. Thursday’s visit also will give the community a chance to show the president, his staff and the national media the economic growth Cushing has experienced the past five years. Cushing is locally known as the “pipeline crossroads of America,” and its economy is closely tied to the oil industry, which currently has more than 40 million barrels of oil in storage tanks scattered around town. The oil is waiting to move through pipelines to refineries in southern Texas.
Property tax cut for older homeowners OK’d by Senate panel
Some older Oklahomans would pay less in property taxes under a measure passed Tuesday by a Senate panel. House Joint Resolution 1001 now heads to the Senate floor. If approved by the Legislature, the measure would go to the November ballot for voters to decide. The legislation passed the Senate Finance Committee by a 10-2 vote. Currently, assessed valuations for homeowners 65 or older who earn the median income or less in their counties can opt to have the valuation frozen. Assessed valuation is used to determine property taxes. The original measure removed the income cap on assessed valuation increases for older homeowners who want valuations frozen. Sen. John Ford, R-Bartlesville, successfully amended the measure to increase the current amount allowable to 125 percent of the median income. In Tulsa County, that means an older homeowners could qualify with an income of $74,500, an increase from $59,600. In Oklahoma County, the amount would rise to $75,750 from $60,600.
Tulsa-area builders see big jump in home starts
Charles Sanders, a builder and developer with Charles Sanders Homes Inc., didn’t encounter too many people willing to commit to building a new house last year. But, just two months into 2012, he’s already confident that this year will be different. “It seems like we’ve had a flurry since the first of this year,” he said. “I’ve had more business than I had all last year.” He’s not the only one. Home construction through February is up across the board — a 20 percent rise over January 2011 and 11.6 percent above February of last year, and altogether 22.2 percent ahead of the first two months of last year, according to figures from New Orders Weekly. According to building permit data, ground was broken for 173 homes across the metro area last month. Tulsa had the most home starts by far with 43, followed by usual No. 1 Broken Arrow, then Bixby and Jenks.
House Minority Leader calls for investigation into nonprofit’s ties to Education Department
Oklahoma Minority House Leader Scott Inman called Tuesday for an investigation by the state Auditor and Inspector into the relationship between the state Education Department and a nonprofit that paid for expenses at a 2011 education conference. “These actions mirror a similar practice by previous Education Department officials under the leadership of former state schools Superintendent Sandy Garrett, which your office investigated, then criticized,” Inman wrote. Jones said what his investigators found being done under Garrett’s administration was significantly different from what appears to have been done under Barresi’s administration after a cursory examination of documents. He said board members of the nonprofit under Garrett were not aware of the accounts, while his investigators found that under Barresi’s administration the foundation was aware of the accounts.
Okie Funk: Reports on non-profit ties to Education Department are missing the real story
The sensationalized “slush funds” and “chocolate fountain” media story about conferences held by the state Education Department under former schools Superintendent Sandy Garrett has begun to unravel, but the larger, more compelling questions remain unanswered. Just how many state agencies either have a relationship with a nonprofit board or directly accept private donations? What do those private companies and individuals get in return for their donations? How many state contracts are directed to companies that donate money to nonprofit boards associated with particular state agencies? What is the total amount of that money? Are taxpayers getting the best deal from these companies? Are there any personal kickbacks? Are companies that do business with a certain state agency expected to donate to its nonprofit affiliation? If reporters and Jones would get the answers to those questions, we might have a real story.
Pay-as-you-go is a promising approach to fiscal responsibility
As Oklahoma’s tax debate unfolds, it has been encouraging to hear a rising chorus of influential voices insist that any tax plan must be revenue neutral. Given deep cuts that state agencies have absorbed in recent years and the long-term fiscal challenges the state faces in the years ahead, eroding our revenue base with one-sided tax cuts would be hugely irresponsible and fiscally unsustainable. One promising approach to ensure that we do not bankrupt the state is for Oklahoma to adopt a pay-as-you-go, or PAYGO, requirement. PAYGO would require policymakers to pay for the cost of any reduction in revenues or expansion of services. Paying for these policy changes could take the form either of an offsetting revenue increase or cuts to other services. Regardless of how it is paid for, the goal is to maintain a responsible balance. The undesirable alternative is to cut taxes or increase services and then throw the whole budget into chaos because the money isn’t there.
Judge denies request by Oklahoma Libertarian Party for more time to get signatures
The Libertarian Party has suffered a legal setback in its attempt to get their presidential candidate on the November ballot in Oklahoma. A federal judge on Monday denied a request by the Oklahoma Libertarian Party for a preliminary injunction that would have prevented state election board officials from enforcing new election laws. The Libertarians wanted the judge to give them more time to gather signatures — or to reduce the number of signatures they’re required to collect — to put their presidential candidate on the Nov. 6 general election ballot. A new election law approved by the Legislature moved up the filing period and primary election dates, cutting short by two months the amount of time political parties have to gather signatures to put their candidates on the ballot. The law was changed to comply with federal election law and to give military and overseas voters more time to vote and have their ballots counted. Linger said the group submitted about 57,000 signatures to the Oklahoma State Election Board, which will validate the signatures and determine if they meet the threshold of 51,739 to place their candidate on the November ballot. Linger said he will wait to see the outcome of that validation process before deciding how the lawsuit will proceed.
A tale of six women: Op-ed against the Personhood Amendment
Oklahoma SB 1433, also referred to as the “Personhood Amendment” would establish in the Oklahoma State Constitution that “Life begins at conception,” thereby opening the door to criminalizing abortions, contraception, and fertility treatments. While there have been a surprising number of supporters who are against this cause, that this type of legislation was introduced in the first place should come as no surprise to anyone in this state. Oklahoma has long history of backing conservative politics and politicians (Rick Santorum’s recent Primary victory is one example), and with this being an election year, most Republican (and some Democrat) legislators are following the trend of their party’s current hot-button issue. Since the men who introduced this legislation claim that they are “speaking on behalf of the unborn”, I – as a woman – would like to put a face to the real issue at stake, and share with you the tales of six women whose lives would be jeopardized by this kind of amendment had their stories taken place today.
Quote of the Day
I think it is another reduction in funding for schools at a time when schools are struggling already, not just schools but county government. I just see it as another erosion of our tax base.
–Jeff Mills, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, on the expansion of a property tax break to higher income seniors
Number of the Day
Percentage increase in multi-family residential building permits issued in Oklahoma in 2011, compared to 2010
America’s uninsured belt
As the U.S. Supreme Court readies itself to hear oral arguments over the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s “individual mandate,” a map from Gallup shows us which states have the heaviest concentrations of people without health insurance. Nationally, 17.1 percent of Americans were uninsured in 2011. But that rate is not spread equally across the country. Indeed, there is something of an “uninsured belt” running through much of the deep south and the Sunbelt. Despite the “economic miracle” that has sustained Texas throughout the crisis, more than one in four of its residents (27.6 percent) are uninsured – the highest percentage in the nation by far. More than one in five people are uninsured in roughly a dozen other states, including Mississippi (23.5 percent), Florida (22.9 percent), Oklahoma (22.1 percent), California (22.0 percent), and Nevada (21.9 percent). On the other end of the spectrum, less than five percent of Massachusetts residents were uninsured last year, the lowest rate in the nation (thanks in part to Mitt Romney’s advances in health-care, whether he likes to take credit for it or not).
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