In The Know: June 8, 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, Congressman Dan Boren announced yesterday that he will not run for reelection in 2012, and several Democrats and Republicans have already expressed interest in running for his seat. Insurance Commissioner John Doak requested an AG’s opinion on the constitutionality of a fee increase on driving records to help fund the Department of Public Safety. The fee is commonly paid by insurance companies to obtain records for calculating premiums. The OK Policy Blog looks at summer programs that help pick up the slack for feeding children from low-income families during summer months.

Researchers at the Oklahoma Geological Survey can’t determine the cause for the rising number of earthquakes in Oklahoma since 2009. Three Oklahoma Counties were listed among the least economically stressed as conditions improve nationwide. Oklahoma City leaders are debating how to improve the Metro Transit system, which suffers from an inadequate number of routes and buses for the large area it tries to cover. Lawmakers are calling for measures to increase the number of storm shelters in the state, and cities are struggling to pay for cleaning up debris and repairing damage from recent storms.

The Norman City Council is considering creating a Rainy Day Fund for the city. Okie Funk argues for Obama to appoint Oklahoma-native Elizabeth Warren as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In today’s Policy Note, courts are joining state budget battles as they find many states are not meeting their responsibilities to local governments, schoolchildren and prisoners.

These stories and more below the jump.

In The News

Candidates lining up to replace Boren

The rumor that Oklahoma’s 2nd Congressional District would soon be up for grabs had barely become fact on Tuesday before the line to replace Dan Boren began forming. Democrat Brad Carson, who held the seat for two terms before making an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate in 2004, was first to announce. Jamison Faught, the son of state Rep. George Faught, R-Muskogee, confirmed on his blog that his father was considering the race. A third candidate, former state Sen. Kenneth Corn, a Poteau Democrat, issued a statement Tuesday afternoon saying he would “very likely” become a candidate. Other Republicans thought to have some interest in the race include state Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate, a former member of Sen. Tom Coburn’s staff; Dr. Charles Thompson, a Hulbert veterinarian who lost to Boren in 2010; and former state Rep. Tad Jones.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

See also: Oklahoma’s U.S. Rep. Dan Boren won’t seek reelection in 2012 from NewsOK

Insurance Commissioner seeks AG opinion on driver record fee increase

Insurance Commissioner John Doak is seeking an attorney general’s opinion about whether a recent increase in the cost of driving records is legal. In 2010, the Legislature passed and Gov. Brad Henry signed Senate Bill 1556. The measure increased the cost of driving records to $25 from $10 effective July 1, 2010. The Department of Public Safety retains $5 of the total fee, spokesman Maj. Rusty Rhoades said. It will generate about $6 million for the agency to make up for cuts the agency has taken in recent years, he said. Doak said the measure is a revenue raising bill, but didn’t follow the appropriate channels to be enacted as such.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Hunger doesn’t take a summer break

The economic downturn continues to strain family food budgets and increase demand on both private charities and public programs for food assistance. Hunger issues especially affect children, and several programs focus on trying to ensure that children in economically disadvantaged families are adequately fed. The largest is the free and reduced-price school lunch program, which provides meals to children in families with income up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level. In FY ’10, 449,213 Oklahoma school children participated in the program, while 218,249 participated in the school breakfast program. What happens, though, when school lets out?

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

Oklahoma earthquake swarm: Lots of data, but few answers

Researchers at the Oklahoma Geological Survey have been cataloguing earthquakes in the state for more than 100 years, but never have they had so many to catalogue or been so baffled as to their underlying cause. According to the Geological Survey, there were a total of six earthquakes in Oklahoma County from 2000 through 2008. The uptick began in 2009, when monitoring equipment recorded 31 earthquakes in the county. Over the ensuing 15 months — January 2010 through March 2011 — Holland says there were 850 earthquakes, just in Oklahoma County. “To put that into perspective,” Holland said, “the most earthquakes we’d ever recorded in a single year in [the entire state of] Oklahoma was 167.”

Read more from this NewsOn6 article at

Three Oklahoma counties listed among least economically stressed

The nation’s economic stress fell to a two-year low in April, thanks to the strongest private-sector hiring in five years and a dip in bankruptcy filings, according to The Associated Press’ monthly analysis. The improved picture for jobs and bankruptcy filings offset a slight rise in foreclosures. The easing of stress was felt most in Midwestern and mid-Atlantic states. But conditions brightened throughout the country: More than 90 percent of the nation’s 3,141 counties were better off in April than in March. Counties with heavy concentrations of workers in farming, retail and tourism benefited in particular. By contrast, counties with many workers in education and mining suffered the sharpest increases in stress.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Oklahoma City leaders unsure how to improve outdated Metro Transit system

For four years, Tiffaney Johnson, 26, has relied on Metro Transit as her sole means of transportation to her job, home, friends, family and shopping. Surrounded by fellow passengers seeking refuge from the sun Tuesday in shaded areas at the Metro Transit transfer station downtown, Johnson said she is thankful the rides exist — but added it’s not easy relying on public transportation in Oklahoma City. “Most of the time, the buses stop running at 7 (p.m.),” Johnson, of Midwest City, said as she listened to music and awaited her eastbound bus. “What if you’ve got to be somewhere after that?” As Johnson awaited her bus, Oklahoma City Council members just a few city blocks away were acknowledging their failure in providing public transportation as they debated cutting unsuccessful routes.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Lawmakers calling for more shelters

Just two weeks after that tornado outbreak killed ten people across our state, an area lawmaker is calling for more storm shelters across Oklahoma. These days storm shelters range from about $2,000 for a residential unit to more than a million dollars for a municipal shelter. State Representative Pat Ownbey wants a legislative study on how to make shelters more affordable. “I think we’re going to put everything on the table, whether it be tax incentives for shelters, whether it be publicizing public shelters,” say Rep. Pat Ownbey. “We want to put everything out there.” Rep. Ownbey backed a bill two years ago that would have required mobile home parks to have a safety plan, but the bill died in the state Senate due to liability concerns.

Read more from this NewsOn6 article at

Oklahoma tornado damage slamming cities’ budgets

The May 24 tornadoes caused $200 million to $300 million in insured losses to private property, insurance officials report. Keli Cain, spokeswoman for the state emergency management office, said state officials are working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency this week on getting assistance for the state and local governments burdened with cleanup costs from the disaster. FEMA will pay up to 75 percent of the cleanup of public areas like roads, bridges and parks, she said. Piedmont City Manager Clark Williams said cleanup efforts by the city have been limited because there is no money in the budget for it.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Norman may create its own Rainy Day Fund

The Norman City Council discussed a proposed ordinance Tuesday that would create a Rainy Day Fund to put the force of law behind the city’s own long-held reserve policies. In order for the RDF to be tapped, an action that will require council approval, certain realities must be facing the city. One of those triggers is set off when the General Fund is “projected” to fall below 1 percent of budgeted expenditures, city documents show. At that point, to ensure that basic city services are maintained in the short term, the RDF could be tapped. A second trigger is the occurrence of a “natural or man-made disaster,” which has been declared so by the mayor of Norman and the governor of Oklahoma or the president of the United States. The RDF also could be used for a “major one-time or capital expenditure,” typically a city-owned facility or expensive equipment that can’t be easily replaced using existing General Fund revenues.

Read more from this Norman Transcript article at

Okie Funk: Warren should lead new consumer bureau

President Barack Obama should do everything in his power to appoint Oklahoma native and Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren as head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Warren, a staunch advocate for the middle-class, is the person who oversaw the Trouble Assets Relief Program (TARP) that bailed out the nation’s investment banking system, a system that has failed and will continue to fail to regulate its own corruption and biased, short-term interests. The investment banking and credit card industry in this country should be considered fundamentally unsound until consumers are empowered. Warren will empower consumers.

Read more from the Okie Funk blog at

Quote of the Day

It’s not surprising when people have a choice between car and public transit, and when we tell them we only have a bus that comes by every 40 minutes or an hour, or you have to walk a mile, you don’t see many of them choosing public transportation.

Rick Cain, director of Oklahoma City Metro Transit. OKC is debating how to improve its transit system.

Number of the Day


Total rounds of golf played in 2010 at state-owned golf courses in Oklahoma

Source: FY ‘12 Executive Budget

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Courts upend budgets as states look for savings

State budget battles — usually between governors and legislatures — are increasingly involving another branch of government, the judiciary. In recent weeks, court decisions have upended budget negotiations in California, Nevada and New Jersey, and more cases are pending in other states. Many of the recent decisions are the direct result of the economic downturn. The courts are finding that many struggling states are not meeting their responsibilities as they strive to save money.

Read more from this New York Times article at

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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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