In The Know: Feb 28, 2011

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 on In The Know, the Tulsa World reports on how bills purporting to cap property taxes would benefit wealthy neighborhoods over poor and middle-class ones. Since the assessed value of the property being taxed is what is capped, only properties with values growing more than 5 percent each year would be affected. Poor and rural areas where property values are not increasing would see no change in their taxes. In rapidly growing areas, the proportion of the value of properties being taxed would decrease over time compared to other parts of the state, so that eventually wealthy property owners end up paying tax on only a fraction of the total value of their property while others continue to pay tax on the full value.

A public records request by NewsOK shows that the state has $1.2 billion in revolving funds. Revolving funds are funded by fees and sources other than general taxation, and many have restrictions on how the money can be spent. Opponents of a tort reform bill are arguing that it is unfair to insurance policyholders. The bill would deduct compensation from other sources, such as insurance, from the damages charged to a defendant.

OK Policy has an editorial in NewsOK on why Oklahoma needs sales tax reform. The full version of our recently released issue brief on the sales tax can be found at Oklahoma Watch looks a unique divergence program in Oklahoma City to help women stay out of prison. Oklahoma is accepting a $54.6 million federal grant to develop IT infrastructure for insurance exchanges, which are a cornerstone of the health care reform bill.

NewsOK cautions against changing the Board of Education as a knee-jerk reaction during a power struggle, when we should think more carefully about what its role and powers should be. The number of Oklahomans relying on food stamps is exploding in recent years, and the trend continues despite encouraging signs in other parts of the economy. Oklahomans joined protestors in all 50 states to rally in front of state capitols in support of public employee collective bargaining rights.

These stories and more below the jump.

In The News

Property valuation cap bills won’t freeze property taxes

Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel is cautioning that proposals in the state Legislature to lower the cap on property valuations would not result in a cap on property taxes. In fact, Yazel said, the proposals would benefit well-to-do neighborhoods at the expense of middle- and lower-class ones. “We do not freeze taxes or millage, we freeze taxable value,” he said of the proposals. “It’s misleading for people to get excited about this and say it’s freezing taxes, because it doesn’t.”

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

See also: OK Policy’s fact sheet on property taxes at

Oklahoma agencies have $1.2 billion stashed away in revolving funds

As Oklahoma lawmakers and Gov. Mary Fallin grapple with an estimated $500 million shortfall in the annual budget, state agencies have a combined $1.2 billion stashed away in their revolving funds. Leading the way is the Transportation Department’s revolving fund for county roads and bridges, which had more than $159 million. The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center had almost $63 million in its education and general revenue revolving fund. The boll weevil eradication revolving fund had a balance of $2 million.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Lawsuit bill attacked as unfair to insurance policyholders

Some lawyers say a lawsuit reform bill in the Senate is unfair to those who carry insurance. Senate Bill 864 would require compensation from sources independent of a defendant, such as a plaintiff’s insurance, to be subtracted from the damages recovered from the defendant. James Dunn, a lawyer in Oklahoma City, called the proposal “totally egregious.” When a person pays for life, disability or health insurance, the amount of those benefits should not be deducted from the damages that a defendant is required to pay, he said. “Why should a drunk driver or negligent person get credit?” he asked.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

See also: Some think doctors are leaving, but overall numbers are up from The Tulsa World; Teacher disfigured in surgical fire speaks out against damage caps from the Associated Press.

Why Oklahoma needs sales tax reform

Oklahoma’s tax system is broken. A well-designed tax system should raise enough revenue to sustain core public services and fairly distribute the costs. As the Oklahoma Policy Institute explains in a new issue brief, Oklahoma’s sales tax is failing on both these counts. The sales tax is designed to be a tax on consumption, but the share of purchases covered by the tax has severely declined in the last two decades. The economy has evolved toward services and online goods that are not covered by the sales tax, and the Legislature continues to grant sales tax exemptions, many with questionable economic rationale. One report found that just 35.7 percent of all purchases in Oklahoma were covered by the sales tax in 2003, compared with 52.0 percent in 1990.

Read more from this NewsOK editorial at

See also: The full Oklahoma Policy Institute issue brief at

Prison alternatives cost taxpayers less

Just blocks from the county jail in downtown Oklahoma City, women are making the choice and taking strides not to end up as prisoners. A unique program there has given women a second chance so they don’t end up like the more than 2,500 women incarcerated in the Oklahoma’s prisons. Since starting last spring, the Hope, Empowerment, Recovery and Support female diversion program at NorthCare has proven successful. Oklahoma Department of Corrections officials estimate 90 percent of women who’ve entered the female prison diversion programs in Tulsa and Oklahoma City haven’t re-entered the criminal justice system.

Read more from this Oklahoma Watch article at

See also: Speakers Steele’s prison sentencing refrom bill gaining steam from The Tulsa World.

Oklahoma to accept federal health insurance grant

Oklahoma will accept a $54.6 million federal grant to develop the information technology infrastructure to operate a health exchange even though the state has filed a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s health care law which authorized it, Gov. Mary Fallin said Friday. Fallin decided to accept the money after she worked with state agencies to ensure no unworkable federal mandates were included, according to a statement from the governor’s office.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Changes to education board should be about more than power struggle

… The first meeting under new state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi in January was a power struggle, immediately followed by a news conference and then multiple news releases mostly calling for Barresi to have more power over running the department. Some Republicans are determined to neuter the board, either by watering down its authority or changing its membership altogether. The existing structure of a statewide elected superintendent and an appointed board with veto power is awkward. It deserves legislative attention, and a change may indeed be in order. But a knee-jerk change could be rife with pitfalls, if not for this administration then some future one.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Oklahoma food stamp numbers increase dramatically

… During fiscal 2010, almost 800,000 Oklahomans received food stamps – a record-breaking year. DHS distributed $865 million in food benefits, a 46 percent increase over the previous year and double the amount distributed five years ago. What is most alarming is that the need has continued to climb so significantly, with increases for 33 straight months. The poor appear to be remaining poor despite some encouraging signs for other parts of the economy here, and there is no end in sight.

Read more from this Tulsa World editorial at

See also: The high price of poverty from Dialogic Magazine; Feb. 2011 Numbers You Need: Key Oklahoma economic and budget trends from the Oklahoma Policy Institute.

Wisconsin protests reach Oklahoma

Protesters in all 50 states rally against changes to union rights. Workers in Oklahoma came out in solidarity with the protesters in Wisconsin.  In House Bill 1593 some Oklahoma lawmakers want the state to give cities the freedom to determine whether city workers can unionize.

Watch the Fox 25 video at

Quote of the Day

That exchange will empower consumers and help individuals and small businesses to shop for and enroll in affordable, quality health insurance plans. This is a step in the right direction for Oklahoma and its citizens.

Gov. Mary Fallin, on accepting a $54.6 million federal grant for Oklahoma to develop IT infrastructure for implementing insurance exchanges, a cornerstone of the health care reform bill.

Number of the Day


Exemptions to the sales tax in Oklahoma statutes.

Source: OK Policy, Fixing the Sales Tax

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

5 things you might not know about public employees

Our brief new report on state and local workers includes some basic facts worth keeping in mind in the heated current debate over public employees. 1. Education is by far the largest category of state and local government employment. Nearly 7 million teachers, aides, and support staff work in the nation’s public elementary and secondary schools, more than twice as many as in the next largest job category (protective services, which includes police officers, fire fighters, and correctional officers). 2. Outside of education, the public workforce has shrunk as a share of the population over the last three decades. Counting education, the number of state and local workers has grown modestly relative to the overall population, from about 59 per 1,000 in 1980 to 62 per 1,000 in 2010.

Read more from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities at

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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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