In The Know: March 30, 2011

In 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, critics of immigration bills pending in the state legislature speak to lawmakers about their concerns that the bills could hurt the state’s efforts to attract and retain businesses.  An Oklahoman op-ed argues for real solutions to immigration concerns and against provisions in HB 1446 that would criminalize working immigrant families.  The OK Policy Blog reports on bills that would rescind higher education opportunities for the children of undocumented immigrants.

School officials across the state say budget cuts and a loss of stimulus dollars have forced cutbacks and school closuresTulsa parents speak out at a forum set up by the League of Women Voters about plans to close 17 local schools.  The State House, a day after Gov. Mary Fallin implored them for a quick and affirmative vote, approved two bills yesterday that change how defendants are treated in a lawsuit.  Gov. Fallin vowed to fight EPA oversight of hydraulic fracturing, a technique where sand and chemicals are injected underground to force natural gas to the surface, which some say could contaminate groundwater for drinking.

A new survey ranks Oklahoma as the second worst-funded state for government pensions.  A local pastor who has worked with sex offenders in Oklahoma for three years speaks out against a bill that would close a facility that houses more than 100 sex offenders.  Negotiations continue on a measure to allow municipalities to collect their own sales tax from local businesses.  Rep. David Dank praised the House Revenue and Taxation Committee for trading a sales tax exemption for rock quarries for one that benefits the surviving spouses of disabled veterans.

More below the jump.

In The News

Bill’s critics talk to lawmakers

Critics say the measures will hurt the state’s efforts to attract and retain businesses.  Companies considering locating in Oklahoma will cross the state off of their list of sites if they learn employers will be asked to enforce immigration laws, said Nick Probst, a commercial leasing specialist with Corporate Realty Advisors in Tulsa.  David Charney, a co-owner and managing partner with Owasso Land Trust, said several myths exist about undocumented workers.  He said they do pay taxes, but don’t claim refunds.  “They pay taxes far in excess of any burden placed on social services,” Charney said.  The undocumented take jobs legal residents will not accept, he said.  But perhaps most problematic for Charney are proposals to repeal in-state tuition for students of illegal immigrants.  Tracey Medina, a Tulsa Community College student and president of the Hispanic Student Association, said many people do not realize they are undocumented until they apply for college.  “It wasn’t their choice to come here,” Medina said. “They came with their parents.”

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Real solutions needed to tackle immigration concerns

If HB 1446 becomes law, Oklahoma will be hurt for we are all connected; illegal immigrants rent and own property, pay sales taxes, have credit cards, personal and car loans, work directly or indirectly for you, own small businesses and marry Americans.  Oklahomans are fair-minded. We conservatives like facts, not spin. Illegal immigrants pay $7 billion per year in Social Security taxes that they will never be able to reclaim and 75 percent of them are on formal payrolls.  It’s not factual to say illegal immigrants steal jobs. In 2008, the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission reported the overall unemployment rate was 3.8 percent. Economists consider full employment to be 3 percent. That means 0.8 percent were unemployed. Nobody was stealing jobs from anyone.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Dream Small: Lawmakers may rescind educational opportunities for children of undocumented immigrants

In the spring of 2003, Saul Munoz* was a Tulsa high school senior thinking seriously about his future.  Saul’s parents had moved the family to Oklahoma years earlier, leaving Mexico at a time of increasing violence and instability, and he was not a legal U.S. resident.  A member of the National Honor Society, ranked in the top ten in his class, and enrolling in extra math and science classes to graduate with a Certificate of Distinction, Saul worried constantly about what would happen after graduation.  He couldn’t enroll in college and even if he were allowed to enroll he knew his family would struggle with the tuition payments.  His teachers, unaware of his immigration status, peppered him with questions about his plans and couldn’t understand why a student so smart and so clearly driven was not more proactive about applying for admission and scholarships. In February, a few months before graduation, Saul heard about a bill making its way through the state legislature.

Read more from OK Policy Blog at

Financial woes are causing more Oklahoma districts to close schools

School officials across the state say budget cuts and a loss of stimulus dollars have tightened finances, forcing cutbacks including school closures.  This week, Tulsa Public Schools officials said they were considering plans to close as many as 17 schools in an effort to save the district money and increase efficiencies.  Last week, Lawton Public Schools officials said two elementary schools will be closed at the end of this school year.  Lawton schools spokesman Keith Mitchell said funding is decreasing at such a rate, the district had to make a move to avoid laying off teachers.  “We’re facing what we predict is a $6 million loss in operating revenue for the district,” Mitchell said. “We are taking every strategy we can.”

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Tulsa Parents Speak Out On District Consolidation Proposals

Tables were packed Tuesday night, as TPS parents got together to share their opinions of the consolidation plans.  The forum was set up by the League of Women Voters, which says until any decision is final, the conversation needs to continue.  “We’re tonight calling for volunteers who are willing to set up discussions around the community in their homes, in their churches and make sure the people of Tulsa are heard on all of these issues,” Heather Hope Hernandez said.  The League plans to meet with Superintendent Ballard and relay what parents are saying.

Read more from NewsOn6 at

State House passes lawsuit revision bills pushed by governor

A day after Gov. Mary Fallin implored them to approve measures to change how lawsuits are treated, most Republican House members followed her advice Tuesday and voted for two bills that are part of her package that the GOP governor says will bring fairness to the state’s legal system and improve Oklahoma’s business climate.  The House of Representatives, after nearly an hour of questions and debate, passed Senate Bill 862, which would eliminate joint and several liability and would make defendants liable only for their share of harm.  All but one Republican supported Senate Bill 865, which would require that juries in professional negligence cases be told that damages awarded in a case are not subject to federal or state income taxes.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Fallin, industry leaders focus on energy resources

Environmental Protection Agency regulations took a poignant hit by Fallin and industry leaders Harold Hamm, founder and CEO of Enid-based Continental Resources Inc., and Larry Nichols, co-founder and executive chairman of Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy Corp., who all said the agency’s oversight of hydraulic fracturing of wells could stonewall natural gas developments.  Before the panel, Fallin said she would fight the agency’s oversight of hydraulic fracturing, a drilling technique where large amounts of water, sand and chemicals are injected underground to crack rock and force natural gas to the surface.  Hamm said in the last two-to-three years, some have said chemicals in the technique, which he said is essential to production, could contaminate groundwater for drinking — an issue the EPA is now studying.

Read more from the Norman Transcript at:

New survey puts Oklahoma as second worst-funded state for government pensions

A new (March 24) report from The Fiscal Times lists Oklahoma as the second worst state in funding of government pensions. West Virginia was the worst of all.  The analysis was a cooperative venture between The Fiscal Times and the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.  In an overview entitled, “Special Report: Best and Worst State Funded Pensions,” Ross noted that state pension funds over several years “have undergone a major transformation, as more and more of them are cutting back the amount of money they set aside for retired workers, gambling that they can meet their obligations through investments instead of savings.”

Read more from Capitol Beat at

Hand Up Ministries: dangers of closing

Last night we told you about a bill that would close the doors on “Hand Up Ministries.”   It’s a compound for registered sex offenders. While the bill does not mention “Hand Up Ministries” by name it is clearly the target of the bill.  We’re hearing from a pastor who has worked with these sex offenders for three years and says the public is at a bigger risk if the compound shuts down.  Hand up ministries a compound housing more than 100 sex offenders could be forced to close its doors.  A bill passed the senate that would clarify a law that says sex offenders cannot live together.  If it passes hand up ministries would have to close.

Read more at Fox 25 here

Negotiations Continue On Measure To Allow Municipalities To Collect Their Own Sales Tax From Businesses

Even as Senate Bill 750 — a measure that would allow municipalities to collect their own sales tax receipts from businesses, rather than relying on the state Tax Commission to do it for them — continues to make its way through the state Legislature, efforts are continuing to bring those on both sides of the issue together.  Simonson said he is trying to bring all the key players in the issue together for a discussion of a possible legislative compromise that would avoid an all-out battle as the measure heads to the state House of Representatives for action.  “We want to sit down and do it the way it ought to be done, not exclusively through the legislative process,” he said.  Simonson said he has asked former Tulsa City Auditor Preston Doerflinger — now the director of the Office of State Finance — to mediate the issue between supporters of the bill and the Tax Commission, and he has agreed to do that. Simonson said he hopes those talks can take place sometime in the next two weeks.

Read more from Urban Tulsa at

Dank praises tax exemption tradeoff

State Rep. David Dank of Oklahoma City today (Tuesday, March 29) praised members of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee for trading a sales tax exemption he called “nonsense” for one that benefits the surviving spouses of disabled veterans.  In an unusual move, Dank successfully urged the committee he chairs to remove a 2006 sales tax exemption granted to rock quarries and replace it with one that extends an existing sales tax exemption for 100-percent disabled veterans to their surviving unmarried spouses.  “This was a victory for common sense,” Dank said. “I can’t recall a time when we tossed out one of those last-minute giveaway tax benefits that are simply nonsense and replaced it with one that makes real sense.”

Read more from Capitol Beat here

Quote of the Day

If we want to impact the environment and we want to do it with reliable sources of fuel, why in the world are we not taking this dramatic step in power generation through natural gas? Sometimes you just want to get on top of your chair and scream.

OU President David Boren speaking at an energy panel at the University of Oklahoma.

Number of the Day

8.3 percent

Percent of Oklahoma’s electricity generated through renewable sources in 2008.

Source:  U.S. Department of Energy

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Special Report: Best and Worst State Funded Pensions

The burgeoning cost of retirement programs has become a critical factor as states across the country struggle to balance their budgets. No longer able to count on dependable and substantial returns on their investments, many states are raiding their pension funds to meet obligations to retired workers, leaving them vulnerable to another financial crisis. According to 2009 data from Boston College’s public plans database (which contains the most recent data available), state public-employee pension programs are underfunded by a total of $708 billion.

Read more from The Fiscal Times at:

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