In The Know: Insurance companies take hundreds of millions in tax credits

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 insurance companies have taken $430 million in transferable tax credits since 2004 to offset insurance premium taxes. Oklahoma is joining the Complete College America national initiative to increase the number of college degrees earned per year by two-thirds. Commerce Secretary Dave Lopez and Education Secretary Phyllis Hudecki discussed why a college degree is crucial to succeed in today’s economy.

As many as 350 school districts may join a new organization to raise funds for legal action against the state Board of Education over funding of teacher health benefits. The Healthy Start Initiative is seeking to reduce Oklahoma’s infant death rate, which is one of the highest in the nation. The Oklahoma Innocence Project at the OCU School of Law has begun work and is already receiving numerous letter from inmates who say they were wrongfully convicted.

DHS is requesting an increase of $193 million in appropriations and wants to add 485 employees, including child welfare and family support specialists and child support workers. Budget cuts have forced the agency to reduce its work force by about 1,000. DHS Commissioner Steven Dow criticized the agency for spending $6.3 million on outside attorney to defend against a class-action lawsuit without having a public vote. Texas water providers are renewing their legal action against Oklahoma to try and force the state to let them buy water.

A new report says the Tulsa and Oklahoma City metros are on track to rank among the nation’s smoggiest cities in 2011. A lawmaker is proposing to reduce the number of state legislators by 10 percent. Today’s Number of the Day is the number of SNAP (food stamp) recipients in Oklahoma in July 2011, the highest average monthly participation in the history of the state. In today’s Policy Note, Stateline reports on how 2011 has already broken the record for federal disaster declarations with 3 months left to go.

In The News

Insurance companies receive hundreds of millions of dollars in transferable tax credits since 2004

Various credits against the tax levied on insurance premiums have totaled $430 million since 2004, an amount that has taxpayers, lawmakers and lobbyists debating the value of some tax credits amid tight state budgets. Also affected have been the funding levels for three of the state’s public safety pension systems, which receive more than half of the allocations each year from the insurance premium tax. The firefighters pension system receives 34 percent of the insurance premium tax. In a three-year period from 2007 to 2009, the loss to the firefighters system from transferable tax credits used by insurance companies was more than $28 million. The police pension system lost out on about $11.6 million, while several transferable tax credits took about $5 million from the law enforcement system during that same period, the analysis found.

Read more from NewsOK at

Oklahoma will work to increase number of residents with a college degree

State and higher education leaders will work to boost the number of college degrees earned per year by 67 percent during the next 12 years, Gov. Mary Fallin announced Thursday. Last year, 30,500 students earned degrees in Oklahoma. State officials hope to increase that number to 50,900 by the year 2023. That would require adding 1,700 degrees conferred each year. There was no discussion about what this would cost or exactly how it would be funded. The plan will involve a variety of initiatives, including strengthening the rigor of high school courses, providing more support to students, revamping remedial education and developing pilot programs with local school systems. Higher education officials also will consider offering incentives to schools that confer more degrees or giving rebates to families if a student graduates on time.

Read more from NewsOK at

See also: In today’s competitive economy, college degree is crucial from NewsOK

School districts join together to pressure state Board of Education to fully fund health benefits

Oklahoma school districts have joined together to urge the state Board of Education to fully fund teachers’ health benefits as required by state law. Last week, the Oklahoma State School Boards Association and the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration sent a letter to the state’s 527 public school districts to let them know about the newly formed Schools United for Funded Health Insurance. The unincorporated organization was set up as a mechanism to raise funds for potential litigation against State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi and the state Board of Education. Sand Springs Superintendent Lloyd Snow, who has been particularly vocal on the issue, said he expects up to 350 school districts in the state will place an agenda item to join the association on their October school board agendas.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Oklahoma initiative offers help for new parents, babies

A total of 400 Oklahoma children yearly die before their first birthday. The death rate of infants in the state is 8.6 per 1,000, compared with 6.8 for the United States, says a state health report card released by the state Board of Health on Tuesday. Among black Oklahomans, the number of children who never get to celebrate their first birthday is 18 per 1,000, more than twice the infant death rate among white residents, the 2011 State of the State’s Health Report shows. The infant mortality rate for American Indians is 8.6, 6.7 for Hispanics and 7.8 for whites. As part of the state Health Department’s public education initiative, the Central Oklahoma Healthy Start Initiative offers education such as teaching parents of the dangers of smoking, eating healthy meals and child care training ranging from breast-feeding help to safe sleeping practices such as always placing the baby on his or her back to sleep without pillows around.

Read more from NewsOK at

Oklahoma Innocence Project starts work

Letters from inmates who say they were wrongfully convicted of serious crimes have been pouring in to the Oklahoma Innocence Project since the center opened about a month ago. The project is an extension of Oklahoma City University’s School of Law. Oklahoma Innocence Project Director Tiffany Murphy is working with five students at the center to identify and remedy wrongful conviction cases. Oklahoma has a relatively high incarceration rate, Murphy said, which she said has raised concerns about whether the justice system is working effectively. In Oklahoma, people who have been exonerated spent an average of 13 years in prison, according to the Innocence Project’s website. Oklahoma was one of the last states in the country to add an organization dedicated to reviewing credible claims of wrongfully convictions.

Read more from NewsOK at

DHS seeks more funds, employees

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services is seeking 37 percent more in appropriations, and additional employees. DHS’ proposed budget seeks an increase of nearly $193 million in state dollars for fiscal year 2013. It also seeks to add 485 employees, ranging from child welfare and family support specialists to child support workers. Phil Motley, DHS chief financial officer, said employees have not had raises for four to five years, and the average DHS salary is 88.7 percent of the average salary of a state employee. Recent budget cuts forced the agency to reduce its work force by about 1,000, Motley said. While the agency may be seeking the increase in state appropriations, Motley and Lange said it is unlikely lawmakers will agree to the figure. But the figure represents what the agency believes it will cost to serve its clients well, she said.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

DHS payments for outside attorneys draw criticism

DHS has paid outside attorneys more than $6.3 million to defend the agency and its governing commissioners against an ongoing class-action lawsuit even though the agency’s commissioners never publicly voted to approve the legal contracts. The federal lawsuit and hiring of private attorneys were secretly discussed only in executive sessions with the Department of Human Services commissioners. “I would think it is a decision that should be made in a public meeting with a public vote,” said DHS Commissioner Steven Dow of the contracts, given the large amount of money involved. Dow, a Yale Law School graduate, questions whether DHS violated the Open Meeting Act and another law dealing with the process for hiring outside lawyers.

Read more from NewsOK at

Texas water providers renew court battle for Oklahoma water

North central Texas water providers renewed their court battle this week to require Oklahoma to let them buy billions of gallons of stream water from southeastern Oklahoma. The water providers asked the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday to reverse its Sept. 7 decision, which upheld Oklahoma laws that restrict exportation of the state’s stream water. One of the court cases involves the Tarrant Regional Water District, which provides water to more than 1.7 million people in the rapidly growing area around Fort Worth and anticipates a shortage by 2030. The other case involves Irving, Texas, which has a contract to buy water from Hugo.

Read more from NewsOK at

Report says Tulsa, Oklahoma City on pace for high smog rank

A new report says the Tulsa and Oklahoma City metros are on track to rank among the nation’s smoggiest cities in 2011. Environment America, a coalition of environmental advocacy organizations, has released on a report on smog statistics for 2010 and for the first 9 months of 2011. The report looked at the number of days ozone pollution rose above the official level the Environmental Protection Agency considers unhealthy for children, the elderly and people with respiratory disease. The Tulsa metro area had recorded 15 smog days. Oklahoma City metro had recorded 17 smog days. Tulsa is ranked 14th on the list, while Oklahoma City is ranked 12th in 2011.

Read more from NewsOn6 at

Lawmaker proposes smaller state legislature

Rep. Gary Banz, R-Midwest City, proposes reducing the number of Oklahoma legislators by about 10 percent. Banz plans to ask fellow lawmakers next session to refer to voters a state question that would trim the size of the House of Representatives from the current 101 members to 91, and the Senate from 48 to 43. Banz believes that the size of the Legislature he envisions – 91 in the House and 43 in the Senate – is just right. But the 10 percent reduction he proposes seems more symbolic than significant. The projected $1.2 million yearly savings would amount to just 4.7 percent of the $25.8 million budgeted for the Legislature this year and it is less than a drop in the bucket compared to the state’s total annual budget, $6.5 billion this year.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Quote of the Day

The tapestry of education and economic development are woven together.
Oklahoma Commerce Secretary Dave Lopez

Number of the Day

The number of SNAP (food stamp) recipients in Oklahoma in July 2011, the highest average monthly participation in the history of the state.
Source: Department of Human Services via Oklahoma Policy Institute

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

A record year for disasters — and federal help

Last week, when President Obama named New Jersey a federal disaster area for floods that came before Hurricane Irene, he cemented 2011’s ranking as the United States’ most disaster-prone year ever. Through the third week of September, Obama had issued 83 federal disaster declarations at the request of governors. That is more declarations than in any year since the score was first kept six decades ago. And there are still three months left in 2011. Much of the reason for this year’s record, of course, is bad weather. Damage included virtually unheard of cold spells in Oklahoma, dozens of tornadoes in Alabama, rising rivers threatening towns throughout the Midwest, drought-fueled wildfires in Texas and Hurricane Irene, which soaked nearly the entire Eastern seaboard. Still, bad weather does not tell the whole story. Scholars and experts suggest many other reasons for the recent surge: Suburban sprawl is pushing people into more places, increasing the likelihood that storms will hit populated areas. A larger share of the population now lives closer to the coasts than a generation ago, increasing the damage when a hurricane comes ashore. Global warming may even play a role.

Read more from Stateline at

You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.


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.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.