In The Know: March 4, 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.

OK Policy has a new blog post and fact sheet on who benefits from the income tax cut scheduled to go into effect next year unless the legislature acts to stop it. The numbers show that funds will go disproportionately to the wealthiest Oklahomans, with households in the bottom 60 percent receiving only 9 percent of the benefit and 43 percent of Oklahomans receiving no tax cut at all.

CapitolBeatOK makes the case for consolidating Oklahoma school districts in an analysis of small Oklahoma towns with multiple districts. The Senate passed a measure to make it more difficult to get a referendum on the ballot. Current law requires signatures equal to 15 percent of total votes cast statewide in the last gubernatorial election; the measure would change it to 15 percent in each congressional district. The House passed a bill to consolidate several agencies dealing with state personnel under the Office of State Finance. Two bills seeking to privatize CompSource, Oklahoma’s workers’ comp provider, did not make it out of committee. Comanche County Jail is over capacity, with 14 prisoners more than its legal limit of 283. Prisons are facing serious overcrowding statewide, with most filled to 95 percent or more. A measure to require prescriptions for common cold medicines like Sudafed and Claritin-D was approved by a House committee.

In blogs and editorials, M. Scott Carter says we need to stop dehumanizing immigrants, Kurt Hochenauer looks at signs that Gov. Fallin will govern from the center, and the Oklahoma Truth Council argues that the governor is trying to consolidate power in her political oppointees.

More below the jump.

In The News

Cutting the top income tax rate: Who benefits?

… From 2004 to 2006, the top income tax rate was cut from 6.65 percent to 5.5 percent. Unless the legislature acts to stop it, another state income tax cut will take effect January 1, 2012. The cut, which was triggered when the state projected that revenue will rise by more than 4 percent next year, would reduce the top rate to 5.25 percent. Oklahoma was a different place when the tax cuts were approved. The devastating national recession had yet to strike, and the state was enjoying budget surpluses. Lawmakers did not expect that the revenue trigger would be the result of what amounts to only a partial recovery from historic lows. … Another major issue is how the tax cuts are distributed. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy did an analysis for OK Policy that shows the benefits going disproportionately to the wealthiest Oklahomans.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

See also: Some joke: Income tax elimination measure advances from The Tulsa World

Education spending inefficiency: Outlining the challenge

The “c” word for “Consolidation” remains one that provokes great passion at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City. The word has been heard frequently this session when the topic is reducing the number of agencies or searching for efficiencies in Information Technology (IT) services. When it comes to common education, the “c” word is not heard as often, but it has lurked in the background of education finance discussions for many years. … CapitolBeatOK has undertaken an examination of common education spending at the district level, poring over state government records and some district data.

Read more from this CapitolBeatOK article at

See also: Why education reform is not like musical chairs from the OK Policy Blog

Senate OKs bill to alter process for changing Oklahoma constitution

The Oklahoma Senate on Thursday passed a measure that would make it more difficult for residents to get issues on the ballot. The Senate passed Senate Joint Resolution 37 by Sen. Mike Schulz, R-Altus. It would ask voters to decide whether the process for gathering signatures for initiative petitions should be changed. State law now requires that residents who propose a change to the Oklahoma Constitution collect the signatures of 15 percent of total votes cast in the last gubernatorial general election before the measure could be put on the ballot. The threshold for changes to state laws is 8 percent of the votes cast in the last general election for governor. The percentages apply statewide. Under SJR 37, residents would be required to meet those thresholds in each of the state’s five congressional districts.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Steele’s agency consolidation moves to Senate

According to House staff, in a press release to CapitolBeatOK, “Right-sizing state government took a step closer to becoming a reality. House Bill 2140, which proposes to consolidate the shared services of several of Oklahoma’s central service state agencies, passed the House of Representatives today [Thursday, March 3] and is now headed to the Senate.” … Under HB 2140, several shared functions of the Department of Central Services, Office of Personnel Management, Oklahoma Merit Protection Commission, Oklahoma State Employees Benefits Council and Oklahoma State and Education Employees Group Insurance Board would be streamlined while the policy-setting governance structures would remain intact and overseen by the Office of State Finance.

Read more from this CapitolBeatOK article at

Bills attempting to change Oklahoma workers’ comp provider do not advance

Two bills attempting to change the makeup of the state’s workers’ compensation insurance agency did not win passage by a House committee Thursday. House Bill 1406, which would have allowed the state agency to be turned into a system owned by its policyholders, or what is known as mutualization, failed by a vote of 4-7 by the state House Insurance Committee. Another measure, HB 2071, would have allowed a private company to take over a part of the claims management for CompSource Oklahoma, the state’s workers’ compensation insurer of last resort. … Neither bill will advance this session, however language in the measures could be inserted in bills that are still alive this session.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Comanche County jail is over capacity

The Comanche County jail has been over capacity for the better part of a week, a sign of larger overcrowding problems in the state’s prison system. Dale Cagle, Comanche County jail administrator, said his jail population is currently about 14 prisoners over its capacity of 283. He called state Corrections Department officials last week to pick up some prisoners, but was told they couldn’t accept anyone at the time. … Male prisoner intake at Lexington Assessment and Reception Center is at around 90 percent capacity, according to the most recent facility count. Other state prisons are at around 95 percent capacity, with some medium and minimum security prisons over capacity.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

See also: Oklahoma panel aims at cutting prison spending, overcrowding from NewsOn6

Oklahoma may require prescription for common cold medicine

A common cold medication that contains an ingredient used to make methamphetamine could soon require a prescription if the Oklahoma legislature passes a bill. The House Public Safety Committee approved a measure Wednesday that expands legislation banning store sales of medications such as Sudafed and Claritin-D that contain pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in meth. “This is just another way for government to regulate us,” said Dani Lynch with Thrifty Pharmacy. “What if a mother needs to get medicine for her baby at night and can’t get a prescription. My hands are tied if this passes.”

Read more from this NewsOn6 article at

M. Scott Carter: Plight of immigrants no laughing matter

… While Shortey can joke and laugh and talk about how the state needs walls, the fact remains that hundreds of thousands of people come here seeking a better life for themselves and their families. They aren’t here asking for handouts, nor do they seek special privileges.No, most of these people are simply trying to make ends meet. … And while you’re calling for walls and authoring legislation that seeks to turn my home into a police state, these people you’re degrading are going about their lives, working, paying taxes and taking care of their families. But you’d rather frighten them.

Read more from this Journal Record editorial at

Is Fallin moving to center?

It’s way too early to call, but for progressives there are reasons to be hopeful that Gov. Mary Fallin is going to govern from a center-right position, distancing herself from right-wing extremism in the state GOP. Of course, what “center-right” means here and what it means in, say, California, is vastly different, but here are at least a few reasons to think Fallin will be more of an “Oklahoma centrist” than ultra-conservative ideologue/

Read more from the Okie Funk blog at

Oklahoma Truth Council: Fallin working to give more power to her political appointees

Republicans were swept into absolute power in November amid the promise of smaller government. Candidates cited wasteful spending and streamlining of services. However, implementing this “smaller, sleeker Oklahoma government” is coming with an added lining for some influential Oklahomans. In unprecedented moves, Gov Mary Fallin and leadership in the Legislature have begun to consolidate agencies and “right-size” services. These moves, however, are also consolidating power into a few choice positions some elected and others not. The battles seem to be centered on a theme: Governor Fallin wants to make to sure that only her choice designates have power in the state.

Read more from the Oklahoma Truth Council blog at

Quote of the Day

Laughing at people as they seek refuge from violence is wrong. And while you might think the whole issue is a big joke now, at some point in time, perhaps you should stop and realize legislation that destroys a person’s life is not funny.

M. Scott Carter, in response to Sen. Ralph Shortey’s jokes about an Oklahoma border fence.

Number of the Day

35.7 percent

Percentage of all purchases in Oklahoma in 2003 subject to the sales tax.

Source: OK Policy, Fixing the Sales Tax

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

New ITEP Guide to State and Local Taxes

The ITEP Guide to Fair State and Local Taxes, released in March of 2011, offers citizens, activists, journalists, and policymakers a detailed primer on state and local tax policy. The guide explains the differences between progressive, flat, and regressive taxes — and why you should care. It covers the full range of taxes that states and localities can impose, including personal and corporate income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, excise taxes, and estate taxes.

Read more from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy 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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