In The Know: June 20, 2011

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 on In The Know, Census numbers show that as Oklahoma’s rural counties depopulate, they are also getting older, which creates a challenge to provide health care and other services for the rural elderly. The state Human Services is being questioned for keeping its committees from being subject to the state’s open meeting law and improperly voting to reduce child-care subsidies. OK Policy previously discussed how child-care cuts will affect low-income working families. Beefed up tax collections and other changes to the law expected to bring in a net of $8 million in certified revenue that lawmakers can use as emergency funding this year or appropriate in 2013.

In the 15th year of the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship, the program has grown from less than 500 students to nearly 21,000. Despite a request from the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, the Office of Juvenile Affairs says they will not delay the September 30 closing of the L.E. Rader Center. The OSU regents voted to increase tuition and fees by 4.8 percent, and the OU regents will vote on a 5 percent increase this week. The OK Policy Blog finds that even as unemployment statistics go down, the total number of jobs in Oklahoma shows only a small increase.

A fairness hearing will be held on a proposed $3.4 billion settlement of a lawsuit over federal mismanagement of the assets of half a million American Indians, including some 35,000 in Oklahoma. NewsOK calls for sentencing reform to reduce incarcerations of non-violent offenders. Tulsa World opinion editor David Averill writes that despite statements that it would be protected, education was the big loser in this year’s state budget. In today’s Policy Note, the Associated Press looks at how lawmakers across the country are attempting to collect unpaid taxes on Internet sales to close state budget gaps. OK Policy previously wrote about efforts to end the Amazon tax loophole.

These stories and more below the jump.

In The News

Older, rural counties at front lines of demographic changes

Several counties in Oklahoma are at the front lines of a demographic shift that’s playing out across the nation as the population ages and rural areas continue to depopulate. Nowhere is it more evident than the far western reaches of the state in Cimarron County. In the past decade, its population fell 21 percent to 2,475 people. That marked the state’s largest county decline in population. Cimarron County also shares another distinction: It now has the state’s highest proportion of seniors compared to working-age residents, according to an analysis of data released last month by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

DHS’ openness questioned

The state Human Services commission has been purposely keeping its committees from being subject to the state’s open meeting law, and it improperly voted Tuesday to increase child-care co-payments, according to one if its members. Commissioner Steven Dow, executive director of the Community Action Project of Tulsa County, questioned at Tuesday’s board meeting several aspects of the DHS budget proposal, which was recommended by the Budget Committee and DHS administrators. He was cut off from questioning when Commissioner Jay Dee Chase seconded a motion for approval and pushed for a vote. When Dow joined the commission last year, he asked DeVaughn to place him on the Budget Committee, but the chairman refused, saying “the committee is full,” Dow said. He was told the commission did not want more than four members at a committee meeting to keep it from falling under the open meeting law.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Previously: Child care cuts deal a blow to low-income working families and kids from the OK Policy Blog

Tax changes will bring in an additional $8 million

Changes in state laws, which among other things beef up tax collection efforts, will produce an additional $7.7 million that will be available for lawmakers when they return in session next year, a state budget board determined Friday. Legislators will be able to use the money for emergency, or supplemental, funding to agencies in danger of running out of money before the end of the next fiscal year, state Finance Director Preston Doerflinger said. Lawmakers also have the option of holding onto the money and either appropriating it to agencies for the 2013 fiscal year or depositing it in the state’s depleted savings account. Total changes to sales tax collections make up most of the projected new income, Doerflinger said.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Oklahoma’s Promise program celebrates 15 years

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the first awards. The program has grown dramatically since then. Four-hundred and sixty-nine students received the scholarship in 1996-97. Nearly 21,000 students are projected to receive the scholarship next year. Oklahoma’s Promise pays the cost of tuition and fees at the state’s public colleges and universities for qualifying students from low to middle-income families. It also will pay a portion of tuition at Oklahoma’s private schools or for courses at certain public technology centers. To qualify, students must have a family income of $50,000 or less. Students also must take certain high school courses and meet GPA requirements. In 2000, about 61 percent of Oklahoma families made $50,000 or less, Fair said. In 2009, that percentage dropped to about 48 percent, according to census data.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

No delay expected in closing Rader Center

Office of Juvenile Affairs Director Gene Christian does not anticipate delaying the Sept. 30 planned closure of the L.E. Rader Center in Sand Springs, despite a request from the Oklahoma Public Employees Association to do so. OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley appeared before the Board of Juvenile Affairs on Friday to seek a delay. The OPEA wants the agency to postpone action on closure and consider reorganizing, downsizing the property and using any proceeds from selling or leasing the land to keep Rader open and improve it, said Trish Frazier, a spokeswoman for the association. Rader is the only maximum-security juvenile facility in the state. Christian said the facility is antiquated and needs to be closed as a result of budget cuts.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

OSU regents OK 4.8 percent hike in tuition; OU vote is coming

Students at Oklahoma’s two largest public universities likely will pay about 5 percent more for tuition and mandatory fees next year. Friday, regents who govern Oklahoma State University approved a 4.8 percent increase in tuition and fees for undergraduate students on the main Stillwater campus. Wednesday, regents who govern the University of Oklahoma will vote whether to approve a 5 percent increase for undergraduate OU students, according to an agenda released Friday. If approved, in-state OU students would pay $7,125 for 30 credit hours — an increase of about $340. Nonresidents would pay $18,078.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Unemployment numbers improve but job creation remains sluggish

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released May state-level employment numbers today and the news was again good for Oklahoma. The state’s unemployment rate fell from 5.6 percent to 5.3 percent, continuing a trend that has seen the rate fall a full 1.6 percentage points in just six months. Oklahoma’s unemployment rate is now the 4th lowest in the nation, behind only North Dakota (3.2 percent), South Dakota and New Hampshire (both 4.8 percent). However, while declining unemployment is encouraging, the jobs numbers reported by the BLS were more ambiguous. There were 1,555,200 jobs in Oklahoma in May, an increase of a mere 3,500 from April. Over the past twelve months, the economy has added less than 22,000 jobs.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

Fairness hearing will discuss settlement for mismanagement of American Indian assets

A proposed $3.4 billion settlement of a 1996 class-action lawsuit would mean paydays – in some cases, huge ones – for half a million American Indians, including some 35,000 in Oklahoma. But not everyone is satisfied with the deal. Congress has already approved the settlement – the largest ever against the U.S. government – to resolve decades of mismanagement of American Indian assets, including land, oil, natural gas, timber and grazing. Ben Carnes, a Choctaw from Broken Bow, said his main concern is that the settlement ignores those responsible for the asset mismanagement. Carnes said he will ask Hogan to throw out the settlement and take a closer look at what happened to the assets over the decades. He also wants to end U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs control of the assets and grant Indians full sovereignty over their own property.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

NewsOK: State, national incarceration rates demand further action

California’s prisons are so crowded and conditions so bad, the U.S. Supreme Court said last month, that they violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The court ordered the Golden State to reduce its inmate population by more than 30,000. In Oklahoma, the 26,000 or so inmates behind bars put our prison system just shy of capacity, a capacity that has been expanded through years of retrofitting buildings to allow space to be used for double- and triple-celling of inmates. California and Oklahoma aren’t anomalies. Across the country, states are burdened by prison populations that have grown substantially the past three decades, largely as the result of policies that require inmates to serve mandatory minimum sentences for their crimes.

Read more from this NewsOK editorial at

David Averrill: Despite ‘protection,’ education is big loser

Throughout the recent legislative session, House and Senate leaders and Gov. Mary Fallin constantly repeated their ostensible intention to “protect” education and other core state services in the budget-making process. As the session neared its end last month and they crafted a $6.5 billion state budget for fiscal 2012 – $218 million less than 2011 – the leaders celebrated and proclaimed that they had accomplished just that. But the fact is, not only does the 2012 budget not protect public education, it hammers it.

Read more from this Tulsa World editorial at

Quote of the Day

It just lets them know there is something out there for them. If they want to fill out the paperwork, they can change their lives.

Jacqueline Smith, an English teacher who was one of the first group of students to receive the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship.

Number of the Day

16 percent

Percentage of the civilian population of Oklahoma without health insurance in 2009; Oklahoma ranks 34th highest nationally on percentage of the population that is uninsured

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

States look to Internet taxes to close budget gaps

State governments across the country are laying off teachers, closing public libraries and parks, and reducing health care services, but there is one place they could get $23 billion a year if they could only agree how to do it: Internet retailers such as That’s enough to pay for the salaries of more than 46,000 teachers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In California, the amount of uncollected taxes from Amazon sales alone is roughly the same amount cut from child welfare services in the current state budget. But collecting those taxes from major online retailers is difficult.

Read more from this Associated Press article at

Previously: More states push to end the Amazon tax loophole. Will Oklahoma join them? from the OK Policy Blog

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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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