In The Know: Dell gets third highest Quality Jobs payments while showing net loss in jobs

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 Dell Computer Co. has received Oklahoma’s third highest total of Quality Jobs Program cash since 2005– $19 million — despite posting a net loss of almost 500 jobs since its 2004 Oklahoma arrival. Direct and indirect costs addiction in Oklahoma are an estimated $7.2 billion a year.

Children’s Rights has won at least 13 settlements over state child welfare policies, but Oklahoma is the first state to reach a settlement without a federal decree. The Tulsa World spoke to local child advocates who approached Children’s Rights for help years ago. An Oklahoma prosecutor will review the probe into the death of 5-year-old Serenity Deal for any possible criminal wrongdoing by DHS employees.

Three Republican legislators from the Ardmore area spoke out against reducing the income tax. Retirees and senior citizens are complaining about tax-cutting proposals that remove retirement exemptions. The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs wants to pay for eliminating the income tax mostly by cutting appropriations to state colleges and universities and forcing poor people to pay more for health care.

Despite a defeat in the House last week, supporters of a bill to require more online merchants to collect sales tax say they haven’t given up on getting it passed this session. EMSA dropped two lawsuits against Oklahomans who were being billed even though they already pay for EMSA through a utility fee.

The Number of the Day is how many families out of every 100 living in poverty in Oklahoma that received TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) or ‘welfare’ benefits. In today’s Policy Note, the Economic Policy Institute discusses how African-Americans have faced high unemployment for most of the past 50 years.

In The News

Dell gets $19 M in Quality Jobs payments while showing net loss in jobs

Dell Computer Co. has received Oklahoma’s third highest total of Quality Jobs Program cash since 2005– $19 million — despite posting a net job loss of almost 500 since its 2004 Oklahoma arrival, Oklahoma Tax Commission records show. It was bested only by Tinker Air Force Base’s Air Logistics Center and ConocoPhillips, which received $36.9 million and $21 million respectively for the same six-year period. If a business can sustain a new jobs payroll of at least $2.5 million, the state refunds at least 5 percent of its payroll taxes in cash. Companies max out of the program in 10 years unless they form another legal entity creating new jobs, said Oklahoma Department of Commerce Program Director Richard Schwalbach. He said creation of multiple legal entities is allowable under program guidelines and can extend Quality Jobs cash reimbursements.

Read more from CapitolBeatOK.

Cost of addiction in Oklahoma estimated at $7.2 billion per year

Addiction costs Oklahoma and its residents an estimated $7.2 billion a year. That’s more than the state government’s budget of $6.7 billion. That’s roughly $1,900 for every man, woman and child in the state. It’s enough to create about 273,000 median-wage jobs, or to build nine skyscrapers like Oklahoma City’s Devon tower. It’s not just a matter of money. The abuse of street and prescription drugs, alcohol, tobacco and other addictive substances exacts a terrible toll on people’s health, well-being and quality of life. “The bottom line is, we’re witnessing this crisis, this silent cancer that is just growing,” said Darrell Weaver, director of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control. The problem is spreading through every stratum of society: poor, middle-class, wealthy; rural, urban and suburban. The direct and indirect costs are enormous. Incarceration chews up tax dollars. Business productivity plummets. Families crumble. Crime festers. Government, churches and private ventures offer a variety of treatment and recovery programs, but evidence indicates they are inadequate and overloaded.

Read more from NewsOK.

An advocacy group’s successful approach to strengthening child services nationwide

More than four-years after Children’s Rights, a New York-based non-profit, filed a law suit on behalf of nine children in Oklahoma, a settlement has been reached that will bring changes to the state’s child welfare system. “There just has not been the funding to hit some of these critical needs,” Sheree Powell, communications coordinator for the state’s Department of Human Services, said. “We don’t control the purse stings, but it was understood in federal court that we’ll make good-faith efforts to improve everything within our control.” The Oklahoma effort is not the first time the New York-based group has spearheaded such an effort. In fact, since 1995, Children’s Rights has launched legal challenges in at least 15 states around the country, seeking improvements in child welfare systems – all but two of which have proven successful. Oklahoma is the first of these states to reach a settlement without a federal decree, meaning progress will be tracked by independent monitors and not by federal officials. Yet, this is one of the most far-reaching settlements Children’s Rights has ever entered into, Lowry said.

Read more from Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.

Broken DHS system spurred local activists to ask Children’s Rights for help

Years before a New York nonprofit filed a lawsuit against the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, local advocates had been approaching out-of-state groups for help in reforming the child-welfare system. Tulsa attorneys Ann Sublett and Barbara Sears had attended an American Bar Association conference in 2007 and spent days asking about national groups with experience challenging statewide foster-care programs. “We were so angry at what we saw happening to children that we were actually out there shopping for somebody who had the expertise and resources required to begin this type of lawsuit,” Sublett said. “It is by far a misperception that an outside group came in and hijacked the process. We were looking for that.” The frustration grew from seeing overworked and poorly trained caseworkers, a lack of foster-care homes, unprepared and underserved foster families, overcrowded shelters, children moved too frequently among placements and harm coming to children in care. The attorneys say there had been countless task forces, studies, committees, reports and recommendations made about the system, but changes never occurred.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Oklahoma prosecutor to review Serenity Deal death for criminal wrongdoing by DHS workers

Prosecutors will review the results of an Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation probe into the death of a 5-year-old girl to see if there was any criminal wrongdoing on the part of Department of Human Services employees. Richard Smothermon, the district attorney for Lincoln and Pottawatomie counties, in August requested that the OSBI look at the events leading to the June 4 death of the girl, Serenity Deal, and decisions that were made while she was in the department’s custody. An autopsy report concluded that the girl died of a head injury and had suffered other injuries, including fractured ribs. Serenity died less than a month after she began living full time with her father, Sean Brooks, at the recommendation of DHS child-welfare workers, even though records show that she suffered injuries while visiting him.

Read more from the Associated Press.

Three Republican legislators speak against income tax reduction

Governor Mary Fallin’s plan to phase out the state’s income tax was a hot topic at the Ardmore Chamber of Commerce’s legislative luncheon Friday at the Ardmore Convention Center. The idea behind this is that it would give Oklahoma the lowest income tax rate in the region, besides Texas, making the state more competitive for those looking to move jobs here. However, Sen. Simpson pointed out, the difference between Oklahoma and Texas doing business has nothing to do with taxes. The first difference is Texas has better availability and access to technology and innovation. The second is access to capital. Companies move to states where they know they can access loans and other financial opportunities to help their company grow. Less than half of Rep. Ownbey’s constituents surveyed support the elimination of the state income tax. “I have yet to have a constituent come up to me and say, ‘I’m sure glad you’re getting rid of that income tax,” he said. Rep. Hardin said that he’s getting calls from his constituents telling him, “It (tax cuts) sounds good, but don’t hurt us. What happens if we have another downturn? Where do we make up for those things?”

Read more from The Ardmoreite.

Retirees raise concerns about income tax cutting proposals

Retirees and senior citizens are complaining to legislators and the governor’s office that personal income tax-cutting proposals that remove retirement exemptions will result in them paying more income taxes next year. One lawmaker already has revised his proposal to restore the exemptions and another lawmaker is expected to do the same Monday. AARP Oklahoma, which represents retired Oklahomans and claims about 445,000 members, is meeting with Gov. Mary Fallin’s staff this week to give its concerns about her proposal. “AARP Oklahoma is concerned by the possible adverse impact that an elimination of the state’s income tax and related deductions, especially those pertaining to retirement and Social Security income, may have on hundreds of thousands of Oklahoma seniors and retirees,” said Sean Voskuhl, AARP Oklahoma state director. “Under these proposals, many Oklahoma seniors and retirees will undoubtedly be subjected to a higher tax burden, including thousands of Oklahoma seniors living on fixed incomes who simply cannot afford an increase in their tax burden.”

Read more from NewsOK.

OCPA pushes for more cuts

A conservative think-tank is pushing for huge cuts in state spending that it suggests could save the state $2 billion over the next three fiscal years. The plan by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs would generate more than half of the savings by cutting appropriations to state colleges and universities, and forcing poor people to pay more for health care. The plan also eliminates funding for things like state fairs, rodeos and state-operated golf courses. The same group is pushing a plan to deeply cut and ultimately eliminate the state income tax. Democratic state Rep. Richard Morrissette describes the OCPA proposal as “voodoo budgeting” that will hurt core functions of government.

Read more from the Associated Press.

Oklahoma lawmakers still pushing for online sales tax

Although their bill was defeated in the House last week, supporters of a plan to force more online merchants to collect Oklahoma sales taxes say they haven’t given up their struggle. House Bill 2586 would change the definition of a retail presence to include companies that have people who deliver, install, assemble or perform maintenance services for the retailer. It also would include companies that use the same trademarks, service marks, or trade names in Oklahoma as they use online under a different corporate name. After a lengthy debate Wednesday, the HB 2586 failed on a 41-43 vote. Fifteen House members are recorded as “excused.” Rep. Pat Ownbey, R-Ardmore, said the measure is a matter of fundamental fairness to local businesses that compete with online retailers, and he hasn’t given up. Ownbey has until Tuesday to ask the House to reconsider the bill. It takes 50 votes to pass a measure in the House, but Ownbey pointed out that his proposal had up to 48 votes at one time before legislators who had voted for it started taking their votes off the board, not wanting to be on the side of a controversial measure that was going to fail.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

EMSA drops two lawsuits related to utility fee

Two lawsuits filed by EMSA against area residents who were paying a utility fee for ambulance service have been dismissed at the agency’s request, records show. The actions come in the wake of a Tulsa World investigation into billing practices of the Emergency Medical Services Authority. EMSA’s law firm, Works & Lentz, cited “clerical error” in a motion to vacate one of the lawsuits. In that case, EMSA garnished the wages of a Jenks woman who was caring for her critically ill mother even though Jenks residents cannot opt out of the utility fee. “My mom has cancer,” the woman states in a plea Jan. 23 for EMSA to halt attempts to garnish her paycheck. “I just got back to work and have worked only one day thus far. … I cannot afford to pay this. My mom almost died and I needed to be there.” A World investigation has found at least three cases in which people who were paying a monthly utility fee for ambulance service were sued by the agency. EMSA also instituted a clause requiring patients to provide insurance information within 60 days or they become responsible for the entire bill. The clause is not authorized under Tulsa’s city ordinance and was not approved by EMSA’s board.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Quote of the Day

 I have yet to have a constituent come up to me and say, “I’m sure glad you’re getting rid of that income tax.”
Rep. Pat Ownbey, R-Ardmore, at an Ardmore Chamber of Commerce legislative luncheon. At the same luncheon, Sen. Frank Simpson, R-Springer, said the difference between Oklahoma and Texas doing business has nothing to do with taxes.

Number of the Day


Number of families out of every 100 living in poverty in Oklahoma that received TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) or ‘welfare’ benefits, 2009

Source:  Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

For African-Americans, 50 years of high unemployment… and counting

Since the start of the Great Recession, the national unemployment rate peaked in 2010 with an annual average of 9.6 percent. Everyone would agree that 9.6 percent is a high rate of unemployment. From 2002 to 2005, however, before the Great Recession, the African-American unemployment rate was over 10 percent. Since 2008, the Black unemployment rate has exceeded 10 percent. My current projections are that the Black unemployment rate will continue to exceed 10 percent through 2015. The sad fact is that for most of the past 50 years, the Black unemployment rate has been above 10 percent. While whites have experienced short periods of high unemployment, high unemployment has been a consistent feature of African-American life. Americans should strive for an economy where everyone who wants a job can find a job. In the last 50 years, the American economy has done a fairly decent job at producing work for white Americans, but it has not done well by African-Americans. The Black unemployment rate has consistently been about twice the white rate.

Read more from the Economic Policy Institute.

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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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