In The Know: Lawmakers plan $45 million appropriation from Rainy Day fund for tornado relief

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

Today you should know that Oklahoma lawmakers plan to appropriate $45 million from the Rainy Day fund to help pay for tornado recovery efforts. President Obama vowed to marshal the resources of the federal government to help Oklahoma storm victims, but Senator Coburn said funds for disaster relief should be matched with more federal budget cuts. The Wall Street Journal shared the stories of people inside the Plaza Towers Elementary School during the tornado.

With officials acknowledging that two elementary schools destroyed by the tornado had no safe rooms, Rep. Joe Dorman is pressing for a $500 million bond issue to build them. The New York Times examined the costs and political culture that have contributed to a lack of safe rooms in Oklahoma. Atlantic Cities explained how Oklahoma’s clay soil makes it difficult to build underground shelters. The New York Times spoke with scientists about how climate change might impact tornadoes.

The Nation reports that federal budget cuts are endangering the National Weather Service’s storm-tracking capabilities. The IRS is extending tax deadlines and waiving penalties for Oklahomans affected by the tornado. In NewsOK, OK Policy analyst Gene Perry writes that Oklahoma’s 2014 state budget doesn’t meet the values test. Stand for Children Oklahoma Director Brian Hunt writes that it’s time to get serious about building support for education.

The Oklahoman editorial board writes that House Speaker TW Shannon’s attempt to repeal Common Core standards for schools is a triumph of irrationality against reason. Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard writes that Common Core complements the work of local educators. The Oklahoma Gazette writes that contrary to assertions by Gov. Fallin and Speaker Shannon, marriage might not be much of a solution to child poverty. The OK Policy Blog previously discussed why marriage won’t end poverty.

The John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation will host its fourth annual national Symposium on The Value of Reconciliation in Tulsa on May 29-31. OK Policy’s David Blatt and Kate Richey will speak at the symposium about closing the opportunity gap. The Number of the Day is the average age of the principal operator of an Oklahoma farm. In today’s Policy Note, The New Republic examines efforts in Washington to build a better disaster-funding system.

In The News

Oklahoma lawmakers plan $45 million appropriation from Rainy Day reserve for tornado relief

Oklahoma lawmakers Tuesday began the process of appropriating $45 million in emergency funds to help pay for recovery efforts after deadly tornadoes raked central Oklahoma. Separate committees in the state House and Senate approved a plan to dip into the state’s Rainy Day Constitutional Reserve Fund about 24 hours after a massive tornado struck Moore, killing at least 24 people. A separate tornado on Sunday left two dead in Shawnee. The money would be deposited in the State Emergency Fund to either help the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management match disaster aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or to pay costs not covered by FEMA.

Read more from the Associated Press.

Obama pledges storm aid; some in Congress talk of finding cuts to offset it

President Obama vowed Tuesday to marshal the resources of the federal government to help the victims of Oklahoma’s killer tornado as lawmakers on Capitol Hill began debating the fiscal consequences of the storm in an era of austerity. Promising to provide Oklahoma “everything that it needs right away,” Mr. Obama dispatched W. Craig Fugate, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to coordinate recovery efforts. Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, is to follow Mr. Fugate to Oklahoma on Wednesday. But although political leaders of both parties expressed sympathy for the victims, it took only hours for Washington to face off over the possible cost of repairing the devastation and how it would be paid.

Read more from the New York Times.

Long Minutes of Desperation Inside School Razed by Storm

When the tornado-warning sirens blared, Kelly Law was already in the hallway of Plaza Towers Elementary School, huddled against the wall, shielding as many students as she could with her body. Another eight or 10 teachers did the same, she said. For the long minutes it took the tornado to pass, she shut her eyes and prayed. The roof was ripped away. “It sounded like rivets being pulled out by a monster,” Ms. Law said. The beige, tile-covered wall was the only piece left standing at her end of the school. The twister left the children, ages 4 to 8, caked in mud, with gashes from flying wood and glass. Some cried. Others whimpered. But they formed a line, Ms. Law said, climbed through the rubble and started walking.

Read more from the Wall Street Journal.

Lawmakers urge more safe rooms for schools

With state officials acknowledging that two elementary schools destroyed by Monday’s tornado had no safe rooms, some lawmakers began pressing to increase the number of shelters and provide funds to build them. Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, said Tuesday he is drafting a bill that would authorize $400 million in bond financing to pay for shelters in public schools and an additional $100 million for private homes and group home facilities. Many House Republicans, including Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, have been reluctant to authorize bond financing for any purposes because it increases the state’s indebtedness. But Dorman expressed hope that the devastation caused by Monday’s tornado might outweigh those concerns.

Read more from Oklahoma Watch.

See also: Why no safe room to run to? Cost and plains culture from the New York Times; The surprising reason Oklahoma doesn’t have enough tornado shelters from Atlantic Cities

As jet stream moved north, moist air barreled into plains with deadly results

Until an outbreak of tornadoes in the past week, this year had been a relatively quiet one for twisters in the Midwest and Plains states. The reason, weather experts said, had much to do with a weather phenomenon that also caused much of the East Coast to shiver through colder-than-normal temperatures this spring: the high-altitude winds known as the jet stream brought Arctic air farther south, and for longer, than in a typical year. In the central United States, that prevented warm moist air from the Gulf of Mexico — a key ingredient in the formation of tornadoes — from moving north. The jet stream finally started shifting north this month.

Read more from the New York Times.

Budget cuts endanger agency that saved countless lives in Oklahoma

Many heroes asserted themselves in Oklahoma yesterday, from the first responders digging through the rubble for survivors, to the teachers who shielded children from the massive tornado that touched down as the school day was ending. While perhaps not as heralded, certainly the experts at the National Weather Service deserve some credit for saving lives as well. One of the best ways to prevent high body counts when tornadoes barrel through populated areas is to warn residents ahead of time—which is the job of the NWS. They did it well yesterday, issuing early warnings allowed countless people to seek shelter before mayhem arrived. But the NWS has, in recent years, suffered under serious budget restraints placed on it by deficit hawks in Congress and the White House. Far from the public view, the NWS is starting to come apart at the seams—and the full effects of the sequester haven’t even been felt yet.

Read more from The Nation.

IRS announces tax relief for Oklahoma tornado victims

As those in Oklahoma began the long process of cleaning up after the storm, the Internal Revenue Service announced tax relief to individuals and businesses to those impacted by the tragedy. Affected taxpayers in Cleveland, Lincoln, McClain, Oklahoma and Pottawatomie counties will receive special tax relief. The IRS is continuing to monitor the area and made extend relief to other locations as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) continues its work. Specifically, the relief extends certain tax filing and payment deadlines occurring after May 18, 2013. The IRS is waiving failure-to-deposit penalties for federal payroll and excise tax deposits normally due on or after May 18 through June 3 so long as the deposits are made by June 3, 2013.

Read more from Forbes.

Oklahoma fiscal 2014 budget doesn’t meet the values test

Each year, Oklahoma’s legislative session culminates with a state budget bill. The budget isn’t just numbers. It’s a demonstration of our values and a key component of our prosperity. Spending taxpayer dollars should never be taken lightly, but neither should our responsibility to educate our children, manage our common resources and look out for the least among us. Next year’s budget comes at a time when, by any reasonable account, Oklahoma’s core services have shrunk for several years.

Read more from NewsOK.

Brian Hunt: Budget must prioritize public education

This year the Oklahoma Legislature took a step in the right direction by boosting education funding by $91 million, including a nearly $17 million supplemental in part to help cover increases in health insurance cost. We will be the first to admit, we were hoping for more to fund reforms. But we remain optimistic that lawmakers, in their decision to boost funding to schools at nearly triple the rate of last year’s appropriation, understand the heavy lifting still to come around funding Oklahoma schools adequately.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Oklahoma lawmakers should resist push to repeal Common Core

IN a triumph of irrationality over reason, House Speaker T.W. Shannon abruptly announced that lawmakers might try to repeal Common Core academic standards in the legislative session’s final days. “A lot of people are becoming very concerned about its ability to open the door for kind of a federal takeover of our education system,” Shannon said last week. “We’ve already seen it in our health care system.” This comparison is legitimate only if Obamacare were a state law that Shannon, R-Lawton, voted to implement. In a call straight from the John Kerry political leadership playbook, Shannon was for Common Core before he was against it.

Read more from NewsOK.

Tulsa schools superintendent: Common Core provides common vision and standards

School is more than learning your ABCs and how to solve equations. We know that learning how to think critically, work cooperatively and solve problems creatively are among the most important skills children need to be productive in a competitive global economy. Oklahoma’s PASS standards are tougher than those in many other states, yet we are still falling short. Too many of our children leave school unprepared for college or career. In 2010, Oklahoma was among 45 states that chose to adopt the Common Core State Standards for education. These new, higher standards are the result of a state-led initiative by governors, state superintendents and teachers — many from Oklahoma.

Read more from NewsOK.

Married or bust!

Get hitched and get rich. Say “I do” and the money will roll right in. At least that’s the impression one might get from Gov. Mary Fallin and state House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, both of whom trumpeted a recently signed law designed to promote marriage to counter various social ills. But staying married might be problematic in a state where roughly half of all marriages end in divorce, a phenomenon that often sends adults and their children into a downward spiral that can often result in needing government assistance. Moreover, marriage might not be much of a solution to child poverty. Just look at 2012 stats from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, which show that 43 percent of parents living below the poverty line and caring for minor children are married.

Read more from the Oklahoma Gazette.

Previously: Marriage won’t end poverty from the OK Policy Blog

Upcoming Event: John Hope Franklin 2013 National Symposium – The Value of Reconciliation

The John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation will host its fourth annual national Symposium on The Value of Reconciliation in Tulsa on May 29-31, 2013. The Symposium will explore current academic research and community projects that address the general theme of reconciliation in America, with a special focus on the its generative value—its economic and social dimensions. Scholars, students, and community activists will find this in-depth exploration compelling and energizing. The public is encouraged to attend the two free events on Thursday, May 30 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Quote of the Day

[It’s like] when an accident is occurring and you have seconds to make a decision as to whether to turn right, or left, or slam on your brakes or whatever—but stretched out over a couple hours. That kind of feeling.

Dan Sobien, president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization, on what it’s like for National Weather Service workers deciding where and when to put tornado alerts.

Number of the Day


Average age of the principal operator of an Oklahoma farm, exactly the same as the national average in 2011

Source: National Agricultural Statistics Service

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Building a better disaster-funding system

Lots of people have been expecting Monday’s devastating tornado in Oklahoma to provoke yet another congressional debate over disaster funding. It may not happen, at least right away: It depends on how expensive the relief and rebuilding effort gets, and how quickly. But the issue of how to pay for disaster relief remains very contentious—and is already forcing Oklahoma’s two Republican senators to reckon with their own views on the virtues of austerity. In 2011, as part of the debt-ceiling deal, Congress and the president agreed to create a disaster contingency fund—in effect, to put some money aside so that the federal government could dole it out, quickly, in case of a hurricane, earthquake, and so on. The fund grows by a preset formula, based on the cost of previous disasters. And it hasn’t always been enough, because natural disasters have been more expensive—thanks to population growth, settlement along the coasts, and, maybe, climate change.

Read more from The New Republic.

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.