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 firstname.lastname@example.org. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.
Today you should know that the EPA released a plan to reduce air pollution by requiring three Oklahoma coal plants to upgrade their technology or switch to cleaner burning fuels. Over the last 5 years, less than 4 percent of state tax filers paid use tax, which is owed in lieu of sales tax for online purchases but are collected via an honor system. OK Policy previously spoke with tax expert Michael Mazerov on how the state could increase compliance with this law.
A new report from Good Jobs First found that Oklahoma does the 6th best job of applying job standards to major tax subsidy programs, but some Oklahoma subsidies did not fare as well. CapitalBeatOK shares a letter exchange between state Superintendent Barresi and Tulsa Superintendent Ballard disputing whether Tulsa Public Schools should be required to hand over ownership of its teacher evaluation model to the state.
The 23rd and Lincoln blog explains the complex structure and responsibilities of the Grand River Dam Authority. After receiving criticism, the Emergency Medical Services Authority board approved tighter controls on spending for travel and employee retirement parties. NewsOK discuss the growing shortage of doctors in Oklahoma and what might be done about it.
The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahoma farms owned by individuals or families. In today’s Policy Note, US Attorney General Eric Holder denounced recent state laws that restrict voting and proposed that the federal government automatically register all citizens to vote.
In The News
EPA produces plan to reduce air haze
Environmental groups applauded the announcement Wednesday by federal regulators of a plan to reduce air pollution in Oklahoma, which the state’s top lawyer plans to challenge in court. The final implementation plan by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to control regional haze supplants parts of a plan proposed by the state. The federal plan would require operators of three coal-fired power plants to upgrade emissions-reduction technologies or switch to cleaner burning fuels. The goal of the regional haze rule is to reduce emissions of fine particulates, which limit visibility in national parks, and sulfur dioxide, which can harm public health. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt sued the EPA in May in an effort to block its plan. He said the regional haze rule deals only with aesthetics, not public health. The EPA, however, discusses public health in documents approving the federal plan.
Most Oklahoma tax filers don’t pay “unenforceable” use tax
When Oklahomans shop, they’re supposed to pay taxes. It’s easy in person: Brick-and-mortar retailers collect sales taxes on each purchase. But when Oklahomans order from catalogs and television networks, or click-and-buy online — they owe “use taxes.” Consumer use taxes in Oklahoma are self-levied. It’s an honor system. But most Oklahomans aren’t paying use taxes, data from the Oklahoma Tax Commission show. About 1.6 million individual income tax returns are filed each year, said commission spokeswoman Paula Ross. But over the last five years, only 55,000 taxpayers on average — less than 4 percent — declared use taxes when filing their annual income tax forms with the state, the data show.
Previously: An expert’s take on Oklahoma’s sales tax compliance law from the OK Policy Blog
Oklahoma ranked sixth in the nation for tax break safeguards, but serious gaps remain
States are spending billions of dollars per year on corporate tax credits, cash grants and other economic development subsidies that often require little if any job creation and lack wage and benefit standards covering workers at subsidized companies. These are the key findings of “Money for Something: Job Creation and Job Quality Standards in State Economic Development Subsidy Programs”, a 51-state “report card” study published today by Good Jobs First, a non-profit, non-partisan research center based in Washington, DC. Oklahoma was found to do the 6th best job of applying job standards to major subsidy programs, coming behind only Nevada, North Carolina, Vermont, Iowa, and Maryland. Among Oklahoma’s individual subsidies, the Quality Jobs and 21st Century Quality Jobs Programs earned the highest marks, with 109/100 and 95/100 points respectively. Other Oklahoma subsidies did not fare so well. The lowest performing Oklahoma program was the Investment/New Jobs Income Tax Credit, which received only 25/100 points.
See also: Oklahoma tax credit system: Could be worse, national study shows from 23rd and Lincoln
Conflict over teacher evaluation system emerges in Barresi-Ballard exchange
The teacher evaluation system used in Tulsa Public Schools has at least tentatively been selected as Oklahoma’s new model for teacher evaluation programs, as the result of a vote taken last week by the state Teacher and Leader Effectiveness (TLE) Commission. Thirteen commissioners voted for Tulsa as the state model, while Superintendent Barresi and four others voted against. The same five commissioners had supported the Marzano Causal Teacher Evaluation Model over the Tulsa model. Barresi then told Tulsa Superintendent Ballard in a letter that in order to approve Tulsa’s model, “all rights, ownership and control of the system must be transferred from TPS to the State. This means the State of Oklahoma will have the right to change the name of the framework as well as the structure and content of the framework without permission or input from TPS in order to convert the Tulsa model for statewide application.” The Barresi letter then detailed that “ownership of the framework” would include handbooks, supplements, rubrics, training materials, videos, software, manuals, source codes, research, “and any and all resources associated” with the framework. Ballard said he “cannot recommend” transfer of ownership of the evaluation system to the state, but said he was “prepared to recommend that the TPS Board license” the material to the state. Among other points, he wrote, “please advise me as to whether the representatives of the Danielson and Marzano models … must transfer ownership rights of the their models and all materials associated with their models as is being requested of Tulsa Public Schools, and when you communicated such conditions to them.”
GRDA audit, take two: The “other shoe” (It’s complicated)
The performance audit of the Grand River Dam Authority requested by Gov. Mary Fallin does more than just point out questionable activities and relationships—although it does plenty of that (See GRDA audit post of Thursday, Dec. 8). As part of the charge from Fallin, State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones contracted with Oklahoma City University’s Economic Research and Policy Institute for a study of whether GRDA’s current structure is in the state’s best interest. As Jones pointed out in a recent interview, GRDA is a complex creature, with responsibilities beyond supplying power in northeastern Oklahoma, reaching out to cover Grand Lake, Lake Hudson and activities associated with those and other natural resources, among other duties.
EMSA tightens purse strings
EMSA’s board approved tighter controls on spending for travel and employee retirement parties as well as a review process for its CEO during its meeting Wednesday. The new measures come in the wake of an investigation by the Tulsa World and The Oklahoman into spending on travel and capital items at the Emergency Medical Services Authority. EMSA is a government agency that manages ambulance service for more than 1 million people in Tulsa, Sand Springs, Jenks and Bixby as well as Oklahoma City and suburbs in that area. The agency receives about $4.8 million a year from a monthly utility bill fee paid by Tulsans and receives funds from a similar fee in Oklahoma City. Ambulance service is provided by a contractor, Paramedics Plus.
Shortage of doctors a growing concern in Oklahoma
Oklahoma must take steps to address its physician shortage or the situation will get worse in a state that already ranks among the nation’s least healthy. A recent New England Journal of Medicine article ranks Oklahoma as the state facing the most challenges in meeting medical needs. Shortage of doctors a growing concern in Oklahoma The physician shortage will worsen as more doctors retire. In Oklahoma, one in four doctors is older than 60; their average age is 54. The physicians also will be serving more people as Oklahoma’s pool of Medicaid patients swells under the new federal health care law. Two Tulsa-based schools, the OU School of Community Medicine and the OSU Center for Health Sciences, have made easing the physician shortage a primary objective. The Legislature should consider the needs of these schools when allocating money for higher education.
Quote of the Day
Burning coal is getting more expensive because the utilities no longer have a free pass to make us sick.
–Whitney Pearson, associate organizing representative with the Sierra Club
Number of the Day
Percentage of Oklahoma farms owned by individuals or families, 2007
Attorney General Holder takes aim at new state voting laws
Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. denounced recent state laws that restrict voting and, citing the long struggle to ensure voting rights for all, hinted that the Justice Department would challenge some of them in court. In a speech Tuesday at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, Holder quoted Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a veteran of the civil rights movement, as saying that voting rights were being attacked in “a deliberate and systematic attempt to prevent millions of elderly voters, young voters, students [and] minority and low-income voters from exercising their constitutional right to engage in the democratic process.” Holder proposed that the federal government automatically register all citizens to vote. “Today, the single biggest barrier to voting in this country is our antiquated registration system,” the attorney general said. “All eligible citizens can and should be automatically registered to vote.”
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