In The Know: Governor Fallin mentioned as VP possibility

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 you should know that Gov. Fallin was mentioned as a potential vice presidential pick for Mitt Romney, and she said she would be open to the offer. Proponents of a “personhood” bill fear that the measure will not get a hearing in the House. Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board unanimously voted to recommend early parole for Patricia Spottedcrow, who is serving an eight-year prison sentence for selling $31 worth of marijuana. Gov. Fallin now has 30 days to approve or deny the parole recommendation.

The Oklahoma Regents for Higher Education discussed replacing the current college and university funding formula with one based on performance in a number of categories, including student retention and graduation rates. Gov. Fallin signed a measure to create an appeals process for students denied a high school diploma because they did not pass end-of-instruction tests. A Jenks principal said the state has left itself exposed to “potentially embarrassing and costly litigation” by implementing high-stakes testing without any meetings of the oversight board. Several superintendents of the lowest-achieving schools identified by the state Department of Education are taking issue with how the agency reviewed their performance.

Sequoyah County residents said at a town meeting that they don’t believe that phasing out the state income tax will benefit them. OK Policy Director David Blatt writes in the Journal Record that increasing educational attainment is a more proven strategy for boosting the economy than is cutting taxes. Larkin Warner writes in the Gazette that we should be extremely wary of tax cuts because we SQ 640 means we may not be able to fix it if we cut too deep. The OK Policy Blog explains why automatic triggers for tax cuts are very bad policy.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus voiced opposition to Stand Your Ground and open carry laws in the wake of Tulsa shooting deaths. The New York Times profiles the distressed Tulsa neighborhoods where the shootings occurred.

The Number of the Day is the total annual market value of agricultural products (animals and crops) sold in Oklahoma. In today’s Policy Note, the president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums explains why taxpayers should demand more cost-effective crime policies.

In The News

Governor Fallin mentioned as VP possibility

She hasn’t received the call yet, but Gov. Mary Fallin, who was mentioned Wednesday as a long-shot vice presidential possibility, said she would listen. Fallin, who served two terms in Congress before being elected in 2010 as Oklahoma’s first female governor, said she’s flattered, but her main goal is working on state issues. Fallin didn’t endorse any of the GOP presidential candidates before former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney became the presumptive Republican nominee last week. A senior political correspondent for ABC News said Wednesday that Fallin is an outside contender to be Romney’s vice presidential pick. Fallin said she’s open to discuss the possibility with the Romney campaign. “If someone called and wanted to visit about it — which no one’s contacted me at all — I would certainly be honored to receive that call,” she said.

Read more from NewsOK.

Personhood bill “showdown” doesn’t materialize; proponents fear measure sidelined

An anticipated showdown vote on Senate Bill 1433 – the “personhood” bill – didn’t happen Wednesday, and legislative leaders may be trying to stifle the issue for the year, proponents and opponents say. A spokesman for House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, said no decision has been made on whether to hear the bill this year, but personhood proponents – worried that House leaders may be trying to quietly stifle the measure – are circulating petitions urging a vote before an April 26 deadline. The measure was put on the House calendar this week, meaning it was first eligible for floor consideration Wednesday under House rules. Anticipating a vote, opponents and proponents packed the House galleries Wednesday. Proponents wore blue to symbolize their cause. Opponents came dressed in pink. But there was no vote.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommends early parole for Spottedcrow

Grassroots support may evolve into early parole for a Kingfisher mother who was handed a strict prison sentence for a first-time offense of selling $31 worth of marijuana. Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board unanimously voted Wednesday to recommend parole for Patricia Spottedcrow, who is serving an eight-year prison sentence for selling marijuana to a police informant in Kingfisher County in 2009. Spottedcrow, 26, was originally handed a 12-year sentence in a blind plea before a judge. After her story was published in the Tulsa World’s series on Women in Prison in 2011, a groundswell of support emerged. In October, a Kingfisher County judge reduced her sentence by four years. Spottedcrow’s advocates expressed concern for possible racial bias, disparate sentences for drug crimes, Oklahoma’s No. 1 female incarceration rate per capita and the effects on children growing up with incarcerated parents.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Oklahoma system of higher education looks to move to performance based funding

Officials are looking to revamp the way the Oklahoma System of Higher Education distributes certain funds to colleges and universities. At a meeting Wednesday, members of the Oklahoma Regents for Higher Education discussed a proposal to move toward a performance-based funding formula for new money. The board is scheduled to take action on the proposal Thursday. In March 2011, system Chancellor Glen Johnson appointed a task force to examine the possibility of replacing the current funding formula with one that would be based on institutions’ performance in a number of categories, including student retention and graduation rates. Under the current formula, universities receive funding based on funding levels of similar universities in other states. That formula only applies to new money, or any funding the system receives beyond its current base level, said Amanda Paliotta, vice chancellor for budget and finance. The system hasn’t been appropriated new money since 2008.

Read more from NewsOK.

Fallin signs bill to create appeals process for students denied high school diploma for not passing tests

Gov. Mary Fallin on Wednesday signed a measure that creates an appeals process for students denied a diploma because they could not pass four out of seven end-of-instruction tests. This is the first year graduating seniors must pass the exams to receive the diploma. House Bill 2970 requires the State Board of Education to create an appeals process for those students. Students would have 30 days after being denied a diploma to appeal the decision to the board. The board would have 45 days to take action on the appeal. Educators are asking the State Department of Education to act quickly so seniors who have unusual situations can receive a hearing to determine if they have earned the right to graduate and have a fighting chance for gainful employment.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Jenks educator says lack of testing oversight leaves state exposed

The state has left itself exposed to “potentially embarrassing and costly litigation” by implementing high-stakes testing without the oversight required under a 3-year-old state law, a Jenks educator said in a letter to Senate leaders. “Why do I say this?” Jenks Middle School Principal Rob Miller wrote. “Because of the fact that the state has not followed its own laws relative to oversight and governance of the Oklahoma State Testing Program – the very program that now threatens to withhold a diploma from many students across the state of Oklahoma.” In 2009, former Gov. Brad Henry signed into law a measure that established the Educational Quality and Accountability Board. The law required the independent audit entity for the state testing program to meet quarterly. Miller was appointed to the board that year by former Speaker of the House Chris Benge. Under the law, the board was charged with oversight of state testing, including setting cut scores, reviewing tests and making recommendations for improvement, and reviewing contracts with test vendors, he said. “Gentlemen, would it be a surprise to you that in nearly three years, this board has never met?” Miller wrote.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

A reluctant partnership?

As the pieces in state Superintendent Janet Barresi’s school reform mechanism begin moving, leaders of low-performing schools are expressing some trepidation over what they see as an uncertain future for their schools. The process of determining which schools are in need of significant reform via a partnership with the state Department of Education is completely different than what existed in previous years. That’s because Oklahoma’s request for a waiver from No Child Left Behind standards was granted earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Education. However, several superintendents with the lowest-achieving schools take issue with how the state agency reviewed the schools’ ability to turn their performance around and what a partnership with the state education department would look like.

Read more from the Oklahoma Gazette.

Income tax phase out gets cool reception

Sequoyah County residents don’t believe that phasing out the state income tax will benefit them, and they told that to an advocate of a conservative organization Thursday. Dave Bond, director of Oklahoma Policy Solutions, a partner organization of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA), described as a conservative think tank headquartered in Oklahoma City, spoke to about 50 at a town meeting held at the request of State Rep. John Bennett (R-Sallisaw) at the Indian Capital Technology Center. Bond explained OCPA policy calls for phasing out the state personal income tax, and believes that would give more spending money to the public. That spending would boost the state’s economy he said. But residents found that hard to believe, and questioned Bond closely about the policy. Sallisaw Mayor Shannon Vann quipped after the meeting, “This isn’t about Republicans versus Democrats. This is about urban versus rural.”

Read more from the Sequoyah County Times.

Sure path to prosperity

What is the best course for strengthening Oklahoma’s economy and providing broad-based prosperity for Oklahoma families? Proponents of cutting or eliminating the state’s personal income tax claim that doing this would boost the state’s economy. However, as University of Oklahoma economist Cynthia Rogers explained at a recent public forum in Oklahoma City, the economic research is highly inconclusive about the relationship between state taxes and economic performance. While the extent to which tax changes cause growth is not clear, the research does establish that paying for tax cuts by reducing spending on productive public goods such as infrastructure and education leads to economic decline. While there is no strong link between low taxes and economic success, there is a clear and strong correlation between the educational attainment of a state’s population and its economic well-being.

Read more from The Journal Record.

Proceed with caution

Reduction and/or elimination of the personal income tax has been a major proposal before this year’s legislative session. As we watch the continuing dialogue on this proposal, we all need to be aware of a very significant change in the state’s Constitution as a result of a vote on State Question 640. Adopted in 1992, that measure effectively declared that any “revenue bill” must be approved by “three-fourths of the membership” of both the state House and the state Senate, along with gubernatorial approval. Another way that a revenue bill can be approved is by a vote of the people at the next general election. I testified last fall before the Legislature’s Task Force on Comprehensive Tax Reform. There, I emphasized the importance of being very sure about a tax cut because in a year or so Oklahoma cannot easily turn around and say “Uh, oh. We cut too deep and need to implement a corrective increase.”

Read more from the Oklahoma Gazette.

The terrible thing about triggers

Lawmakers began the year promising large, immediate cuts to the income tax, but their hopes soon collided with budget reality. With state funding already falling behind Oklahoma’s needs in many areas, legislators have found no easy way to pay for income tax cuts, whether by eliminating tax preferences, reducing services, or raising other taxes. Meanwhile, new obligations are piling up, like the $100 million per year that will be needed to reform the child welfare system. Even so, a significant danger remains that we will find another way to cripple our state’s finances. Some legislators are pushing an automatic trigger that would ratchet down the income tax any time state revenue grows by a certain percentage. Proponents of triggers may try to sell this as a “responsible” way to cut taxes, but it’s the opposite. It’s an attempt to avoid responsibility by putting the tax system on auto-pilot. The result could be a wreck that everyone can foresee but no one can prevent.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus, the Rev. Jesse Jackson voice opposition to Oklahoma gun laws

The Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus spoke out Wednesday against violence, gun ownership in wake of Tulsa shooting deaths. Joined by the Rev. Jesse Jackson at the Capitol, caucus members spoke out against proposed legislation that would expand the state’s Stand Your Ground law and allow for the open carry of firearms. Sen. Constance Johnson, a chairwoman of the caucus, said the shooting deaths of several black Tulsa residents on Good Friday as well as the death in March of a Del City man at the hands of a police officer are reminders that violence is a pervasive and ongoing problem. “And there’s so many instances we have forgotten them,” said Johnson, D-Forest Park. “These are all policies that are going in the wrong direction when you talk about alleviating violence in society.”

Read more from NewsOK.

Death comes to the vacant lots of north Tulsa

In the minutes after a shooting spree left three of their neighbors dead and two others wounded, several residents told the police everything they had seen and heard. But only several. Abandoned properties hold no witnesses. In the largely black neighborhoods of north Tulsa where the shootings took place, dozens of homes and businesses surrounding the four locations of the attacks are empty. There are houses with plywood covering the windows on the street where Bobby Clark, 54, was shot and killed nearly two hours past midnight on Good Friday. On the streets to the south of where another victim, Dannaer Fields, 49, was found dead, there are vacant houses that have burned and partly collapsed in arson fires. And on Peoria Avenue to the north there is the largely abandoned 8.3-acre McLain Village shopping center, a shell of what it was when built in 1962.

Read more from The New York Times.

Quote of the Day

We’re trying to say this is going to be OK because the evaluation was consistently inconsistent. I’ve never heard anything like that before.
Oklahoma City Schools Superintendent Karl Springer, questioning the evaluation process for state intervention in struggling schools

Number of the Day

$5.8 billion
The total annual market value of agricultural products (animals and crops) sold in Oklahoma, 2007
Source: U.S. Census of Agriculture 

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Taxpayers should demand cost-effective crime policies

When it comes to spending on federal anti-crime programs, the answer is increasingly clear: we’re wasting millions — and the American people know it. Earlier this month, the Pew Center on the States released the results of a new poll that revealed: (1) American voters believe too many people are in prison and the nation spends too much on imprisonment; (2) voters overwhelmingly support a variety of policy changes that shift nonviolent offenders from prison to more effective, less expensive alternatives; and (3) support for sentencing and corrections reforms — including reduced prison terms — is strong across political parties, regions, age, gender and racial/ethnic groups. The sample of voters polled included more self-described conservatives than liberals. Some cost-cutting reforms, like allowing elderly and ill patients (who pose no threat to society) to leave prison early and serve out their punishment in alternate ways, are obvious and overdue. Others, like eliminating wasteful mandatory minimum sentencing laws, are being approved by cash-strapped states across the country.

Read more from The Hill.

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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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