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 number of Oklahomans receiving food stamps reached a record high for the seventh consecutive month. Legislative leaders predict years of consecutive state budget cuts might be ending. Oklahoma Policy Institute’s FY 2013 budget outlook shows continued challenges ahead, with minimal restoration of the funding cuts that have been absorbed over the past three years. The financial crisis for rural ambulance districts is worsening and will continue to deteriorate without a reliable funding stream.
The Oklahoma State Department of Education sanctioned 227 schools for not meeting federal and state performance requirements, more than twice as many as last year. The Oklahoma Department of Human Services is partnering with the office of faith-based initiatives to recruit church families to act as foster families. The House Pension Oversight Commission finds that recent changes to the state pension system reduced the unfunded liability for the Public Employees Retirement System by $1.7 billion.
An OK Policy Blog post points to evidence that the state’s personal income tax has very little to do with businesses’ decisions to locate in Oklahoma or elsewhere. Jerrod Shouse looks at how lobbyists, lawmakers and advocates use social media. In today’s Policy Note, a new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation finds that the Affordable Care Act will not adversely affect employer-sponsored health insurance coverage. Today’s Number of the Day is the number of school districts in Oklahoma, 9th most in the nation.
In The News
Oklahoma food stamp recipients hit all-time high
The number of Oklahomans receiving food stamps has reached an all-time high for the seventh consecutive month. The Oklahoma Department of Human Services released figures on Thursday that show more than 625,000 Oklahomans received subsidies through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program in September. More than 30 percent of all children in Oklahoma were recipients of SNAP, which was long known as DHS’ food-stamp program. DHS also says one-time funding has been identified to help maintain two low-income programs that had been targeted for cuts. DHS Director Howard Hendrick says the new funding will prevent proposed hikes in child-care subsidy co-pays and the lowering of monthly payments to families of children with developmental disabilities. Hendrick says without increased funding from the Legislature, those cuts are likely next year.
Read more from the Shawnee News Star at http://www.news-star.com/newsnow/x1839236427/Oklahoma-food-stamp-recipients-hit-all-time-high
Budget outlook improving, lawmakers tell Tulsa chamber
Years of state budget cutting might be ending, and key teacher programs could get full funding next year, top legislative leaders said Thursday. “Right now, the revenues are very good for Oklahoma,” Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman told a Tulsa Metro Chamber luncheon. Bingman said a supplemental appropriation to fund flexible benefits health care program for school teachers and $5,000 stipends for public school teachers who have national board certifications would be high on the priorities of lawmakers with any extra money. House Speaker Kris Steele said education will be a top funding priority for lawmakers this year.
Read more from the Tulsa World at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=336&articleid=20111027_336_0_Yearso592396
Several of Oklahoma’s rural ambulance services are suffering financially
The financial crisis for most ambulance districts in the state is worsening and will continue to deteriorate unless an additional reliable funding source can be found for them to stay in business, a legislative panel was told Thursday. About 60 ambulance services have gone out of business in the past 10 years. State Health Department records show 153 ambulance services operating in the state, excluding Oklahoma and Tulsa counties. The plight of rural ambulance operators has been dismal for the past decade. A governor’s task force studied the issue five years ago. After 16 months, it came up with findings similar to woes mentioned Thursday: low Medicare and insurance reimbursement rates, a growing number of Oklahomans without health insurance and the fact that although emergency medical service workers require extensive training, pay is far below other public safety professionals — making recruitment and retention difficult. Mark Newman, director of state and federal policy for the state Health Department, said estimates indicate 16 to 19 percent of Oklahomans don’t have health insurance. The uninsured reach as high as 35 percent in some parts of the state, he said.
School Improvement List doubles from last year
The Oklahoma State Department of Education on Thursday sanctioned 227 schools for not meeting federal and state performance requirements, more than doubling last year’s School Improvement List. Also, 61 districts were deemed “in need of improvement,” a 577 percent increase over last year’s total of nine. While Tulsa has been on that list for years, several suburban school districts are new this year, including Broken Arrow, Jenks, Sapulpa, Skiatook and Union. The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires schools to make “adequate yearly progress,” or AYP, in reading and math test scores, the number of students who take standardized tests and attendance or graduation rates. If schools do not make AYP in any of these categories for two consecutive years, they are named to the Oklahoma School Improvement List. Likewise, it takes two consecutive years of making AYP to be removed.
Read more from the Tulsa World at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=19&articleid=20111028_19_A1_CUTLIN615452&allcom=1
DHS Asking Green Country Churches For Help
Thousands of Oklahoma children need a home, but there aren’t enough beds to house them. So, The Oklahoma Department of Human Services is turning to the faith community to fill the gap. Dozens of church leaders met in Broken Arrow to start a new mission: provide foster homes for children in need. “I think the church has kind of shirked their responsibility. It’s really difficult to read the bible and not see what God’s heart is for these children,” said Jason Brown, Foster Parent. The Brown’s have acted as an emergency foster home for two years, caring for more than a dozen children. DHS wants more families like the Browns to get involved. The agency is partnering with the office of faith-based initiatives or Faithlinks to recruit church families to act as foster families with the 111 Project.
Read more from NewsOn6 at http://www.newson6.com/story/15894721/dhs-asking-green-country-churches-for-help
Pension Oversight Committee continues review of state retirement plans
The House’s Pension Oversight Commission continued its review of the status of the state’s retirement plans Thursday, discussing the improved funding ratios of the plans and the challenges the programs face going forward. A common theme repeated Thursday was the tremendous improvements in the plans’ funded status that had resulted from the passage and governor’s signature of HB 2132. The bill, by Rep. Kris Steele, R-Shawnee and Sen. Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, removes cost of living adjustments from the definition of “non-fiscal retirement bill” under the Oklahoma Pension Legislation Actuarial Analysis Act. The Pension Oversight Committee was informed earlier today that due to “significant improvements” to the state pension system, the unfunded liability for OK Public Employees Retirement System was cut by $1.7 billion. In a House Media release, Speaker Kris Steele expressed gratitude to state officials who worked on the 2011 pension overhaul. “I’m pleased we have leaders like Rep. Randy McDaniel, (R-Edmond), and others who plan to remain committed to this cause next session and beyond.”
It’s not the personal income tax
Why do some companies choose to locate their businesses in Texas rather than Oklahoma? During the first two meetings of the Task Force on Comprehensive Tax Reform, co-chair Representative David Dank has stated repeatedly that the absence of the personal income tax accounts for the cases where Texas wins out in relocation and investment decisions. Finding hard evidence to support his case, however, has proven elusive. At a recent Task Force meeting, Wes Stucky, CEO of the Ardmore Development Authority and a widely respected leader in the economic development field, spoke of his long-standing efforts to bring investment and jobs to Ardmore. Stucky told the Task Force: For 24 years, I’ve been conducting interviews with executives of companies that we tried to recruit to Ardmore that ended up locating elsewhere. Not once in all those years did a company that rejected Ardmore base its decisions on taxes.
Read more from the OK Policy Blog at https://okpolicy.org/its-not-the-personal-income-tax/
Do lobbyists fear social media?
National political news website POLITICO has a great article on the use of Twitter, or lack thereof, by lobbyists on Capitol Hill. While elected officials and their staffs often use Twitter , Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media tools, many lobbyists in our nation’s capitol seem to have the “Twitter jitters” and shy away from these communication platforms. According to the article, about half of the nation’s top lobbying firms have no presence on Twitter or Facebook. Here in the Sooner state, social media is a widely used tool by state legislators. Forty-one of our 48 state Senators have Facebook pages, as do 78 of 101 state Representatives. Twitter is increasing in popularity among lawmakers, too. Democratic Rep. Joe Dorman (@dorman340) and Republican Rep. Jason Murphey (@jwmurphey) are just two examples of legislators who use social media effectively. Future House Speaker T.W. Shannon (@twshannon) is a long-time twitter user. Many legislators tweet about what’s occurring during session, and it’s a great way to engage and communicate directly to constituents.
Read more from Jerrod Shouse at http://www.jerrodshouse.com/do-lobbyists-fear-social-media/
Quote of the Day
We have not done a good job of marketing ourselves. People take EMS for granted. People call, and we come.
Joe Barrett, with the Bryan County Emergency Medical Service
Number of the Day
Number of operating public school districts in Oklahoma for the 2010-2011 school year, 9th most in the nation.
Source: National Education Association
Why Employers Will Continue to Provide Health Insurance: The Impact of the Affordable Care Act
With or without the ACA, employers provide benefits to employees to the extent that the labor market demands, and to the extent that costs—when combined with wages—do not exceed employees’ worth to the firm. Traditionally, the insurance market, labor market and tax incentives work together to make workplace-based health insurance cheaper and better for employees as compared with insurance they could obtain on their own. There’s always a tradeoff, however, between wages and benefits. Rising health costs make it harder for employers to keep wages low enough to hold total compensation equal to the workers’ value to the firm, so coverage has declined, especially for low-wage workers. Decreases in ESI—driven by rising per capita health care costs—will likely continue, but implementation of the ACA will not unravel ESI coverage.
Read more from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation at http://www.rwjf.org/coverage/product.jsp?id=72971&cid=XEM_749842
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