In The Know: March 14, 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, the Tulsa World looks at who benefits from the Oklahoma income tax cut planned for 2012, based on a report by OK Policy. See our original blog post on this issue here and NewsOK’s take on it here.

Despite some signs of economic recovery, Oklahoma faces chronic and increasing problems of serious poverty. You can see OK Policy’s presentation on Oklahoma poverty here. NewsOK reports on the damage of mental health budget cuts to Oklahoma communities and law enforcement. The Oklahoma GOP caucus is seeing splits over immigration and other issues between business interests and its most conservative members.

Sunshine Week, an initiative for open government and freedom of information, began this Sunday. In Oklahoma, open government laws are going unenforced, one lawmaker wants to apply the Open Records Act to the state legislature, and the Oklahoma Ethics Commission is showing a mixed record for transparency. About $37 million were contributed for Oklahoma state election campaigns in 2010, with lobbyists and lawyers making up the largest donor groups.

The House has been reluctant to pass bond issues this session, despite serious maintenance needs of state properties. Some Oklahomans are questioning moves to suspend the Art in Public Places Act and close state parks. A statewide water plan is expected to be released soon, with possible implications for a longtime dispute over selling water to Texas.

These stories and more below the jump.

In The News

Report: Tax cut won’t benefit most state households

Eighty percent of Oklahoma households would see little or no direct benefit from an impending quarter-percent income tax cut, according to a report issued last week by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Nearly three-quarters of the $120-million tax cut would go to the wealthiest 20 percent of households – those with earnings of more than $86,000 a year – according to an analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy for the Tulsa-based Oklahoma Policy Institute. Forty-three percent of Oklahoma households would see no tax benefit at all from the reduction, according to the report. The median benefit would be $24.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

See also: Cutting the top income tax rate: who benefits? from the OK Policy Blog; Tax policy rarely devoid of wedge-driving arguments from NewsOK

Oklahoma poverty a chronic, unaddressed problem

The economy is showing some modest signs of recovery in Oklahoma, but for a staggering number of Oklahoma families, that’s not the case. In fact, if anything, the consequences of poverty are growing worse in Oklahoma. Consider this shocking statistic: Currently about a third of Oklahoma’s population is receiving government assistance for food or health care. And that figure is expected to grow in the coming year. “Even as the economy shows signs of improvement, a large segment of Oklahoma’s population is encountering ongoing hardship,” …said David Blatt, director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, who put together an overview on Oklahoma’s poverty problems for the Oklahoma Conference of Churches Day at the Capitol last month. … As far-reaching as poverty is, there are remedies that would help alleviate the poverty problems in Oklahoma – if only there were the political will to pursue them more aggressively.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

See also: Oklahoma Families and Children in Poverty from Oklahoma Policy Institute

Budget cuts to Oklahoma’s mental health services affect communities

When the police chief knocked on the door, it opened to a difficult case that ultimately would show how mental health cuts cost his department and leave his town unprotected for hours. Chief Everett Hart tried to talk the distraught woman into taking a ride to the Anadarko hospital so she could be evaluated. She refused. “I’m going to make you kill me,” the woman said. Calls for police to help the mentally ill increased by 50 percent across the board in Oklahoma from 2009 to 2010, said Stacey Puckett, executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Chiefs of Police.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

See also: Mental health budget cuts by the numbers from NewsOK; Woman hoped for aid for addiction, received 35-year term from NewsOK

Business factions quietly battle new Oklahoma immigration laws

A quiet campaign by Oklahoma’s business community to head off tough new immigration legislation is causing an angry rift among Republicans in the Legislature, some of whom charge that voters’ desire for more action to curb illegal workers is being sabotaged. In political campaigns across Oklahoma last year, many Republican candidates vowed to target illegal immigrants, and came into office with plans to give the state the toughest anti-immigration policies in the nation. But the push for a crackdown is running headlong into another Republican priority — creating a pro-business climate that would make Oklahoma more attractive to business and industry. A sweeping immigration measure is pending in the Senate, but it has been stripped of most provisions that penalize businesses for hiring illegal workers — a key part of earlier proposals.

Read more from this NewsOn6 article at

See also: Discontent in Oklahoma House may jeopardize Steele’s agenda from The Tulsa World

Oklahoma’s open government laws are rarely enforced, expert says

Oklahoma law requires public officials to do their business in the open, but sometimes a law isn’t enough. Open government advocates complain enforcement of the law is nonexistent through much of the state, depriving citizens of their right to see how their state and local officials are making decisions and spending taxpayer money. … Although violating Oklahoma’s openness laws is a misdemeanor punishable by fine of up to $500 and a year in jail, district attorneys rarely, if ever, file criminal charges in such cases, said Joey Senat, an Oklahoma State University journalism professor and expert in open government law.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

See also: Open government laws need vigorous enforcement from the OK Policy Blog; Legislator back transparency bid from The Tulsa World; Transparency mixed at underfunded Oklahoma Ethics Commission from NewsOK

Oklahoma lawyers and lobbyists were top campaign financiers in 2010

The 2010 state election campaign was a $37 million affair that was financed by folks from all walks of life but led by lawyers and lobbyists, who accounted for one out of every six dollars given to candidates, a World analysis of campaign data indicates. Lawyers and lobbyists gave a combined $6.2 million to campaigns ranging from those running for governor to district attorney to House of Representatives. The two professions, whose job functions often overlap, were also the top givers among industry sectors during the 2008 state political campaigns.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

House trimming state bond issues

With the House showing no appetite this year for bond issues, a proposal to build more weigh stations is being scaled down, and repair needs for state buildings are being prioritized to make them more palatable to win passage. It remains an uphill task to get a bond issue approved for a new state Veterans Affairs Department building, said Rep. Earl Sears, chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee. “It’s not off the table but … it’s absolutely not our highest priority right now,” said Sears, R-Bartlesvillle. “We must know that those needs are there and we need to … continue to have a dialogue about them.” … House members last week strongly opposed a $45 million bond issue that would have generated up to $3 million a year for 15 years to pay for maintaining the Capitol and other state-owned buildings. It’s estimated nearly $200 million is needed.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

See also: House decision to suspend Art in Public Places law disappoints some Oklahomans from The Tulsa World.

Fort Smith Times Record: Oklahoma Parks Are Worth Saving

The Heavener Runestone State Park is as pretty a little state park as you will find anywhere. It doesn’t matter if you think the runestone dates from the era of Viking exploration, from the time of Robert Cavalier de la Salle or from 1920, you will find the trail to the stone enchanting at nearly any time of the year. The park is a blaze of color in the fall and a riot of rebirth in the spring. On summer’s hottest days, the little glade where the monument nestles is cool and shady, and the waterfall splashes nearby. … Why the armchair tour today? It’s because the Runestone Park is in danger of being closed. It is one of seven parks the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department has targeted for closing this summer in response to budgetary cutbacks.

Read more from this Fort Smith Times Record editorial at

Soon-to-be released statewide water plan may interest Texas, too

Ten years after Oklahoma approved a moratorium blocking water sales to Texas and other states, water officials are poised to release a statewide plan expected to guide water use and conservation for the next 50 years. The Oklahoma Water Resources Board will release the voluminous new plan this month in preparation for more public discussion scheduled to begin April 19, said Rudy Herrmann, board chairman from Tulsa. The comprehensive plan represents five years of technical analysis and public input involving the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, U.S. Corps of Engineers, Oklahoma Water Resources Research Institute and various engineering firms. After the plan is released, public input will be gathered through 13 public meetings across the state, he said.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Quote of the Day

All I can think about is my grandkids, and how silly I look sitting up here, 58 years old, in prison for drugs.

Teresa Malone, who received a 35-year sentence in 2004 after being caught with 34 grams of meth.

Number of the Day


Amount paid per person in property taxes by Oklahomans in 2007;  the national average is $1,270.

Source: Oklahoma Policy Institute

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Making open government data visualizations that matter

Every month, more open government data is available online. Local governments are becoming data suppliers. Open healthcare data is spurring better decisions. There’s a tremendous amount of activity in open data – but there’s a long road ahead for open government. At the SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas, Jeremiah Akin and Michael Castellon made a case for “why visualizing government data makes taxpayers happy.” … The utility of open government data can be quite concrete, as when live tsunami data is used to help save lives. It can also help people to understand more about the virtual lines in their towns and cities.

Read more from GovFresh 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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