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.
NewsOK reports that many children in Oklahoma who depend on school breakfast and lunch programs may be going hungry during the winter storms. In a new study, Oklahoma was ranked 45th in the country for children’s health, due to a high child mortality rate and lack of prevention and treatment. The National Employment Law Project finds that Oklahoma is one of 9 states not using available funds for unemployment benefits, even though they would be 100 percent federally funded.
The House Revenue and Taxation Committee has begun to scrutinize state tax credits, and an Attorney General opinion found that several already enacted credits may be unconstitutional. Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee passed a measure to reinstate early the aerospace tax credits that are under a 2-year moratorium due to the budget crisis. OK Policy examines the governor’s budget proposal, finding that while cuts are less deep than feared, it’s unclear whether the proposed savings and revenue measures will materialize.
In other news, The Lost Ogle looks at the real story behind the Janet Barresi – Board of Education fight; Tulsa questions whether the city has adequate spending for blizzard response; lawmakers seek to overturn puppy mill laws that protect animals in breeding facilities from abuse; and the state launches a new open data site.
These stories and more below the jump.
In The News
Backpacks to fill hunger gap on school snow days
Paula Clayton’s stories will stop you in your tracks. She tells about the boy who ate crayons, proclaiming they didn’t taste quite the way he imagined. Or the girl who hid in the bathroom and ate balloons. Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma donates food and drink items that are put inside backpacks and distributed to students at Prairie Queen Elementary School in south Oklahoma City each Friday. Jessica Morales, left, and Stephanie Escobar put the food into backpacks Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2011. They were hungry. Not the rumble-in-the-tummy reminder that it’s time for lunch. The kind of hungry that makes anything seem like a possible food substitute, said Clayton, programs director for the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma.
Read more from this NewsOK article at http://newsok.com/backpacks-to-fill-hunger-gap-on-school-snow-days/article/3539194.
See also: Oklahoma ranks low nationally in child health, study finds on NewsOK.
Oklahoma not using all jobless funds available
Oklahoma is not tapping up to $101 million in federal funds to provide long-term jobless residents additional benefits, according to an advocacy group. Figures from the National Employment Law Project indicate the funds would mean 13 additional weeks of jobless benefits to about 29,000 Oklahomans. The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission did not dispute the group’s figures but still declined Tuesday to comment. … Not only are the workers denied the extra weeks of benefits, the group said, but the states lose out on the economic boost those benefits would generate.
Read more from this Tulsa World article at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=16&articleid=20110209_16_A1_WSIGOk136274.
Tax credits draw scrutiny of Oklahoma lawmakers
Once again, tax credits will be a major focus for the 2011 Oklahoma Legislature.In her State of the State speech, Gov. Mary Fallin said: ” … Our course of action will be simple: only tax credits that create jobs will stay. For instance, my budget begins the process of restoring the Aerospace Engineer Tax Credit, which brings good, high tech jobs to Oklahoma. But those tax credits that do not create jobs must be eliminated.” Rep. David Dank, chairman of the House Revenue and Taxation subcommittee, held his first committee meeting Monday evening. It was delayed several hours by a contentious meeting in the House to go over new rules. “This is a very complex area,” Dank said of tax credits. “We’ve been working on it a long time and we’ll probably be working on it for a long time to come.”
Read more from Data Watch at http://blog.newsok.com/datawatch/2011/02/08/tax-credits-to-be-major-focus-in-2011-oklahoma-legislature/.
See also: Oklahoma Senate Finance Committee OKs aerospace tax credits from The Journal Record.
An initial look at Governor Fallin’s FY12 Executive Budget
On Monday, Governor Mary Fallin introduced her FY ’12 Executive Budget (click here for the full budget or here for appropriations total by agency). Although state revenues have begun to rebound from the recession, the recovery is projected to remain slow and incomplete during the year ahead. In December, the Board of Equalization certifiedavailable revenues of just over $6.1 billion for next year’s budget, which is some $600 million less than what was appropriated in the current budget year. Legislators used some $1.2 billion in non-recurring money from the federal stimulus bill, the state’s Rainy Day Fund, and assorted one-time measures to bring this year’s budget into balance. In presenting her budget, Governor Fallin tried to strike a balance between a pair of principles and priorities.
Read more from the OK Policy Blog at https://okpolicy.org/an-initial-look-at-governor-fallins-fy12-executive-budget/.
The Lost Ogle: What got left out of the Barresi/Board of Education story
On January 28th, newly elected State Superintendent Janet Barresi conducted her first meeting of the Board of Education. It did not go well. Within hours of the meeting’s adjournment, Barresi was holding a press conference flanked by the new Governor whining about the treatment she received. Later, both the Board and Barresi were demanding that the Attorney General investigate their counterpart. Now, the state legislature is moving to actually make Barresi dictator. How did things go so bad, so quickly? Based on most media reports, one would think that it is because the Board made a pregnant woman cry. … What typically gets left out when this story has been disseminated (and it made national news) is that the Board did unanimously approve the hiring of Russell. Also left out is that when one listens to the audio it is clear that the line of questioning that Senator Clark Jolley called “archaic, misogynistic and deplorable” was made in a room full of laughter.
Read more from The Lost Ogle blog at http://www.thelostogle.com/2011/02/08/barresi-vs-the-board-of-education/.
Tulsa defends its blizzard response, but officials say spending might be the only way to plow forward
…The real issue, City Councilor G.T. Bynum said, is whether it’s time for the city to begin devoting more resources to its winter weather-fighting capability. … “It’s a safety issue, but it’s also an economic development issue,” he said. “Every day people can’t get to work is a day people aren’t generating revenue. This is the worst possible scenario for the city.”… The Public Works Department asked for $1.4 million to fight winter storms, only to see the administration whittle that figure down to $75,000 for salt. The council tried to bump that figure up to $500,000 before eventually passing a budget amendment that provided $250,000, Councilor Chris Trail said.
Read more from this Urban Tulsa Weekly article at http://www.urbantulsa.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=35569.
Legislators seek to overturn “Puppy Mill” law
A storm is building at the state Capitol, and its one that is not centered around the winter weather, a blizzard expected to blanket the state with a new snowfall by Wednesday morning (February 9). The “storm” referenced here is the effort to kill the so-called “Puppy Mill” act signed into law by Gov. Brad Henry in May 2010. The law established an oversight board charged with proposing its initial guidelines. After six months of collaborating with the domestic pet breeder industry, some proposed rules have been established. The Legislature is scheduled to approve or disapprove the guidelines this month.
Read more from this CapitolBeatOK article at http://capitolbeatok.com/CustomContentRetrieve.aspx?ID=3820211.
Lawsuit-limiting bills advance in Oklahoma Legislature
A Senate panel advanced a bill Tuesday that would limit noneconomic damages in lawsuits to $250,000. But people in litigation with doctors and insurance companies said the measure to limit so-called pain and suffering damages would hurt poor and older people, widows and children. Senate Bill 863 by Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, heads to the Senate floor, along with four other measures by Sykes that advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Read more from this Tulsa World article at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=16&articleid=20110208_11_0_OKLAHO864789.
Oklahoma launches state open data site
Oklahoma today launched an open data site, a partnership between the state’s Finance Office and the OK.gov portal and powered by Socrata. Past Gov 2.0 Radio shows have featured Socrata and Oklahoma Gov 2.0 advocates including state Rep. Jason Murphey, state CIO Alex Petitt and consultant and organizer Sid Burgess. This latest state initiative was announced by Gov. Mary Fallin: “For state data to be truly open, we must provide our citizens with a platform that allows them to digest, evaluate, and consume data in a user-friendly format,” Fallin said in a release. “Data.OK.gov will provide the level of openness and interactivity with government data that our citizens deserve.”
Read more from gov2.0radio at http://gov20radio.com/oklahoma-launches-state-open-data-site/.
Quote of the Day
“I think it’s a runaway train. I think there are good things that happen, but there’s a lot of brilliant lawyers in downtown offices coming up with these credits. There’s going to be a lot of lobbying.”
– Rep. David Dank, chairman of the House Revenue and Taxation subcommittee, during a discussion of tax credits
Number of the Day
Base legislative salary for a member of the Oklahoma Legislature.
Source: OK Policy Institute, 2011 Oklahoma Legislative Overview
Probing the Depths of the ‘Submerged State’
A welter of tax credits, breaks and incentives help Americans out in ways they don’t understand or appreciate. This ignorance could have real consequences in debates about tax reform and deficit reduction. In 2009, when President Obama negotiated a stimulus bill that included $288 billion in tax cuts, his advisers decided to structure their “Making Work Pay” tax credits so that workers’ regular paychecks were a little bit bigger, and the money would flow back into circulation gradually, rather than all at once. They believed it would have a greater economic impact that way. Without running the counterfactual, it’s hard to know whether the tax credits had the desired economic impact. But one thing is clear: It was just about the worst-advertised tax cut ever. One year later, just 12 percent of respondents knew that their taxes had been reduced. Twice as many (24 percent) thought that their taxes had actually increased.
Read more from Miller-McCune at http://www.miller-mccune.com/politics/probing-the-depths-of-the-submerged-state-28031/.