In The Know: March 2, 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, a Senate committee approved a tax credit for donations to private school scholarship funds. At a time lawmakers are discussing eliminating tax credits, this one would cost up to $4.75 million.

The Oklahoma Policy Institute has a new fact sheet showing that state spending as a share of the economy is at a 30-year low. The Senate passed two more tort reform measures on Tuesday, which would allow damages of $100,000 or more to be paid by installment and would require juries be instructed that the award received by a plaintiff is not subject to federal or state income tax. An amendment to require informing the jury that defendants could write off monetary damages on their own taxes was blocked.

A credit rating agency says that OU is likely to raise tuition by 4.5 percent after fiscal 2011 to pay back investors. NewsOK reports that many Walmart deals are not offered in Oklahoma because of a 1949 law that requires stores to sell items at least 6 percent above cost. The OK Policy Blog looks at the large role of oil prices in the state’s optimistic revenue forecasts. At a forum on corrections policy, experts discussed alternatives to incarceration and encouraged Oklahoma reforms to keep nonviolent offenders out of prison.

Two incumbents won reelection and one lost in OKC Council races yesterday. All Sooner Tea Party backed candidates were defeated. A meeting of House members called by the attorney guiding the investigation of Rep. Randy Terrill was canceled when a Fox 25 television reporter showed up. According to a report by the Department of Central Services, the Oklahoma State Capitol building is in need of $84.7 million in repairs.

More below the jump.

In The News

Private school tax credit advances in Senate

A Senate panel on Tuesday advanced a measure aimed at helping public school students in poverty or attending low-performing schools go to private schools. Senate Bill 969, dubbed the “Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Act,” by Sen. Dan Newberry, R-Tulsa, would allow companies to donate as much as $100,000 to a nonprofit organization that would award the scholarship. Couples could donate up to $2,000, while individuals could donate up to $1,000. Donating parties would receive a tax credit of up to 65 percent of the donation, but it couldn’t exceed the tax liability and couldn’t be carried over to the next year, Newberry said.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Oklahoma state spending as share of the economy hits 30-year low

The Oklahoma Policy Institute contends, in a new analysis provided to CapitolBeatOK, that the Sooner State’s appropriated budget, in relation to the size of the state’s economy, has been in long-term decline. The progressive-oriented “think tank” contends this decline has “accelerated sharply in recent years.  2011 marks the lowest percentage of state appropriated spending as a share of personal earnings in thirty years.” Oklahoma’s state appropriations are projected to drop this year to a low of 4.8 percent of residents’ personal income, OK Policy concludes.  … A combination of tax cuts and the recession have contributed to the sharp decline in state spending as a share of state personal income in recent years.

Read more from CapitolBeatOK at

See also: The 1-page fact sheet and press release at

Senate passes two more tort reform measures

Two measures that passed the state Senate on Tuesday are being assailed by senators who voted against them as unfair to victims who bring lawsuits. Senate Bill 866 by Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, would allow future monetary damages to be paid out over time when the amount is equal to or more than $100,000 rather than paid in a lump sum. … The Senate also voted 30-17 for SB 865, also by Sykes. That measure would require that jury instructions in civil cases specify that no part of an award for damages for personal injury or wrongful death would be subject to federal or state income tax.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

4.5% tuition hike likely at OU, report states

OU’s tuition could increase 4.5 percent after fiscal year 2011, a major credit rating agency stated in its assessment of OU’s ability to pay back investors. Fitch Ratings, one of the top three credit rating agencies along with Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s Investor Service, reported the possible tuition increase in a Jan. 18 report evaluating OU’s credit. OU officials specified a 4.5 percent increase during conversations with Fitch analysts, said James George ,an analyst from the Fitch group.

Read more from this OU Daily article at

Walmart deals carefully exclude Oklahoma

If there’s one thing I’ve learned covering holiday shopping, it’s that consumers are hungry for a deal. A $50 gift card with purchase of an iPhone or iPod; a $20 gift card when buying a Nintendo DSi; a can of cranberry sauce or turkey gravy for under a buck — these are just a few of the offers Walmart had for holiday shoppers in 2010. But these deals weren’t available in Oklahoma. The world’s largest retailer excludes our state on offers like these due to a state law that requires stores to sell items at least 6 percent above cost.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Oil strikes back

When the Board of Equalization met last week and certified more revenue for the upcoming fiscal year, there was one word on everyone’s mind: Oil. Of the total $106 million increase in the February estimate compared to the Board’s initial estimate in late December, $64.3 million was attributable to expectations of higher oil revenues.  Higher revenue projections were based on the assumption of rising oil prices – the Tax Commission is forecasting an average FY ’12 price of $90.77 per barrel –  and increased production. If these assumptions prove true, they will continue a rather dramatic shift in Oklahoma’s since 2008 as oil production has caught up to or surpassed natural gas production as an engine of growth in the energy sector.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

Oklahoma prison problems explored during forum

Corrections experts say Oklahoma lawmakers are on the right track with proposals to prevent nonviolent offenders from costing the state millions of dollars in incarceration expenses. Speaking Tuesday at a forum on corrections policy, the experts detailed how other states have made corrections spending reductions through alternative approaches to criminal justice.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

See also: Oklahoma plans $5.2M prison fund shift from NewsOK

Two OKC council persons reelected; one gets defeated

In a striking blow to the tea party’s foray into local politics, voters elected Tuesday two incumbents and a political newcomer to seats on the Oklahoma City Council. The results, which saw incumbents Meg Salyer and Pat Ryan along with challenger David Greenwell defeat three candidates endorsed by the Sooner Tea Party, also were a blow to the local firefighter union which backed the losing candidates. … In the Ward 2 election, the two top spenders — Swinton and Shadid — will face each other in a runoff election April 5.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Oklahoma Rep. Randy Terrill investigation meeting canceled when reporter shows up

The attorney hired to guide the investigation of Rep. Randy Terrill met Tuesday in a hastily called closed meeting with House members until abruptly ending the session when a reporter showed up. Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, one of six House members who attended the meeting, said he will ask House Republicans to request House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, to open up the investigation of Terrill, who is charged in Oklahoma County District Court with bribery in what prosecutors say was part of a scheme last year to get an $80,000-per-year job for another lawmaker.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Agency says Capitol needs $84.7 million in repairs

The Department of Central Services said the nearly 100-year-old Oklahoma Capitol building is in need of $84.7 million in repairs. The agency released The State Capitol Building Historic Conditions Report Tuesday. It provides a detailed assessment of the condition of the Capitol and recommends renovations to address current needs and critical maintenance issues.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Quote of the Day

Corrections spending is a Pac Man in state budgets everywhere. It’s eating into all other priorities.

Michael Thompson, executive director of the Council on State Governments Justice Center, who spoke at a forum on alternative approaches to criminal justice.

Number of the Day


Average annual salary for a general practice family doctor in Oklahoma in 2009.

Source: Oklahoma Employment Security Commission (OESC)

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Does ‘right-to-work’ create jobs? Answers from Oklahoma

As the country strives to recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression, lawmakers in several states are being told that the key to solving their state’s unemployment woes is adopting so-called “right-to-work” statutes. … Right-to-work laws have been implemented in 22 states, predominantly in the South and Southwest, starting as far back as 1947. But what is their actual track record in spurring employment growth? And what is the likelihood that, in today’s economy, a state deciding to adopt the 23rd right-to-work statute would see its job market improve? This report examines the track record of right-to-work laws in boosting employment growth. In particular, we examine in depth the experience of Oklahoma, which in 2001 became the most recent state to adopt an RTW law.

Read more from the Economic Policy Institute 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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