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.
The first day of the legislative session started off with a Senate panel gutting the powers of the State Board of Education. The House approved rule changes to the conference committee process to prevent amendments being inserted at the end of session without members’ knowledge. They rejected an amendment that would strip committee chairs of their power to decide which bills get a hearing in committee. OK Policy Director David Blatt previewed the legislative session for KGOU’s Oklahoma Voices series.
Governor Fallin presented her budget plan, including cuts of 3 to 5 percent cuts to most state agencies, consolidation of several boards and agencies, and a few revenue proposals including increased auditing, transition to 2-year registration for car tags, and changes to sales tax collection on beer. OK Policy was there with updates on Twitter.
These stories and more below the jump.
In The News
Gov. Mary Fallin releases executive budget plan
Gov. Mary Fallin on Monday proposed a combination of budget cuts, state agency consolidations and government modernization programs to work around a $600 million budget hole and balance a $6.4 billion operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The Republican, who was sworn in for her first term last month, delivered her first executive budget plan on the opening day of the 2011 Oklahoma Legislature. The proposal is $361 million less than the $6.7 billion budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30 and reflects the austerity in state spending that Secretary of State Glenn Coffee said Oklahoma voters demanded in last year’s elections.
Read more from this Associated Press article at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-02-08/gov-mary-fallin-releases-executive-budget-plan.html.
See also: FY 2012 Executive Budget from the Oklahoma Office of State Finance
Fallin asks for workers comp reform, limits on damages for malpractice/personal injury
Gov. Mary Fallin asked legislators Monday to pass significant workers’ compensation changes and to alter the way lawsuits are treated in court cases ranging from personal injury to medical malpractice, including a $250,000 cap for noneconomic damages. Such moves will improve the state’s business climate and result in more jobs coming and staying in Oklahoma, Fallin said in her first State of the State message to lawmakers to open this year’s session. Fallin, the state’s first female governor, also challenged lawmakers to approve her ideas to streamline state government operations to help deal with an immediate revenue shortfall and to generate savings in the years to come.
Read more from this NewsOK article at http://newsok.com/gov.-fallin-asks-for-reforms-to-improve-oklahomas-business-climate/article/3539094.
See also: The prepared text of Gov. Fallin’s State of the State address on CapitolBeatOK
Oklahoma Voices: OK Policy Institute Director David Blatt
In the first of a regular series of conversations, the Oklahoma Policy Institute’s David Blatt speaks to KGOU’s Kurt Gwartney about state budget issues, the recession, and how to present economical information in a way that engages its audience.He also previews the 2011 Legislative Session, which begins Feb. 7 at noon.
Read more from KGOU at http://kgou.org/index.php?news-management&action=view_news&news_id=2230 or download the full interview at http://kgou.org/assets/mp3_files/100207_OKV_Blatt.mp3.
Senators move to shift school board’s powers to Barresi
A Senate panel passed a measure Monday effectively gutting the powers of the state Board of Education. The move comes after the board decided last month not to approve the employment of three key staff members chosen by recently elected Superintendent Janet Barresi. Senate Bill 718 by Senate Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, and Sen. John Ford, R-Bartlesville, heads to the Senate floor. Ford is the chairman of the Senate Education Committee. The measure transfers the powers of the board to Barresi.
Read more from this Tulsa World article at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=16&articleid=20110208_16_A16_OKLAHO867665.
See also: Notes from Senate Education Committee hearing on Oklahoma Watchdog
Kurt Hochenauer: Oklahoma Democrats should pick their battles more wisely
…On Monday morning, right before Fallin, pictured right, went through the typical Republican canards of tort, workers compensation and education “reform,” a Senate committee passed a bill that, if eventually approved, would strip the Oklahoma State Board of Education of any real authority. Some outspoken Democrats have rallied around the board after some members—appointed by former Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat—questioned the credentials of recent hires by newly elected state Schools Superintendent Janet Barresi, a Republican. … As I’ve written before, I didn’t support Barresi, and I’m worried about her agenda. I worry, in particular, about the overall Republican push for so-called “school choice,” which could ultimately drain public schools of funding through an expanded voucher system or some hybrid of it. This is an important issue. Education funding here is expected to take at least a 3 percent cut for next fiscal year, and this comes after other recent cuts. This is an important issue. Who Barresi picks as her chief of staff or communications director might be an administrative problem because of institutional rules that can be easily changed, but it’s not an important issue.
Read more from the Okie Funk blog at http://www.okiefunk.com/node/873.
House approves rule change on conference committee process, rejects plan to have hearing for all bills
The House of Representatives approved its rules Monday that includes changing conference committee rules to make the procedure more open to the public. … Previous House rules required House conference committee reports to be posted on the calendar at least 24 hours for review, but that rule was waived in the last two days of a session. As a result, final votes were made on changes House members weren’t aware of. … Nearly an hour was spent on an amendment by Rep. Charles Key, who said he is concerned that committee chairman exercise dictatorial control over whether a bill gets a hearing. Without discussion or vote, chairmen can arbitrarily kill any legislation they choose, said Key, R-Oklahoma City. … Key’s amendment failed, 53-42.
Read more from this NewsOK article at http://newsok.com/oklahoma-house-approves-rule-change-on-conference-committee-process/article/3539072.
Blizzard to be costly for Oklahoma Department of Transportation
The Jan. 31 blizzard was one of the three worst winter storms in Oklahoma’s history, with snow removal expected to cost the state Transportation Department between $4 million and $6 million, commissioners were told Monday. Snow removal has been exhausting for state road crews, many of whom spent several days working alternating 12-hour shifts, said Gary Evans, deputy director and chief engineer. … The Transportation Department normally budgets about $10 million a year to clean up after storms, but that’s flexible, spokeswoman Terri Angier said. The state will spend whatever amount is needed and postpone planned road projects, if necessary, she said.
Read more from this NewsOK article at http://newsok.com/blizzard-to-be-costly-for-oklahoma-transportation-department/article/3538942.
Quote of the Day
Gov Fallin talking about Land Run: “They built tent cities in the unsettled wilderness.” Unsettled? Amer Indians disagree. Story at 9.
–Fox 25 anchor Andrew Speno
Number of the Day
Percentage of Oklahoma emergency room visits for non-emergent problems in 2005.
Source: Oklahoma County Medical Society
Dean Baker: State budget cuts should start at the top
The elite media are on yet another jihad. They are determined to cut the pay and benefits of public sector workers who can still enjoy a middle-class lifestyle. … While there can be no doubt that many states face a serious budget squeeze as a result of the economic crisis, that doesn’t mean that we have to join their attack on teachers, firefighters and other public workers. Instead, we can go right to the top. Most public sector workers get paid no more than their private sector counterparts, but there are nonetheless a small number of very well paid public employees. Before we make a schoolteacher sacrifice part of the $25,000 pension that she worked for, maybe the President of Ohio State University should have his pay cut to less than $1 million. We already know the counterargument: These people will go somewhere else if they didn’t get their huge salaries. For the most part this is probably not true, but in the cases where it is, there will be little loss to the state. After all, there are plenty of extremely bright hardworking people who still consider $200,000 a good salary. Besides, aren’t the budget cutters demanding that government will have to change; what better way to start than getting rid of some overpaid prima donnas?
Read more from the Center for Economic and Policy Research at http://www.cepr.net/index.php/op-eds-&-columns/op-eds-&-columns/state-budget-cuts-starting-at-the-top.