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 firstname.lastname@example.org. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.
Today on In The Know, NewsOK finds that replacing the appointed state Education Board with the governor, attorney general, and secretary of state would make Oklahoma’s Education Board structure unlike any other in the nation. NewsOK examines superintendents across the state and finds broad range of salaries and staffing arrangements. A DOC official is warning that siphoning funds from inmate work programs to reduce furloughs could backfire, because the program helps reduce recidivism by preparing inmates for jobs once they are released. Oklahoma Watch looks at the difficulties faced by women trying to rebuild their lives after prison and avoid sinking into poverty.
Although state employees already do not have collective bargaining rights, legislators are seeking to take collective bargaining away from municipal employees. An increasing number of businesses have been shut down for not paying sales tax due to more enforcement efforts from the Oklahoma Tax Commission. Janet Pearson writes on the serious toll being taken on Oklahoma by mental health budget cuts, Rex Travis makes the conservative case against lawsuit reform, and Kurt Hochenauer calls for delaying the next income tax cut for the wealthy.
Read on for these stories and more.
In The News
Bill to remodel state Education Board would put Oklahoma in class of its own
Oklahoma would be in a class by itself if lawmakers approve a plan to remove the six appointed members of the state Education Board and replace them with statewide officials. Senate Bill 435 would eliminate the appointed positions and replace them with the governor, attorney general and secretary of state. Every state in the nation but two – Minnesota and Wisconsin – have governing boards that oversee the state’s education departments and often regulate local school districts. And while some boards are elected, some appointed and others a combination of the two, none has statewide elected officials holding the seats.
Read more from this NewsOK article at http://newsok.com/education-board-shift-eyed/article/3546101.
Oklahoma school superintendents earn more than $52 million this year
The Midwest City-Del City School District has threatened to lay off 200 teachers and plans to close two elementary schools to save money, but its superintendent earns more and has more high-paid assistants than colleagues in much bigger school systems. Mid-Del Superintendent Bill Scoggan’s total compensation of $185,623 is part of $52 million being spent this year on superintendent salaries for the more than 500 school districts and charter schools throughout the state.
Read more from this NewsOK article at http://newsok.com/oklahoma-school-superintendents-earn-more-than-52-million-this-year/article/3546337.
See also: Why education reform is not like musical chairs from the OK Policy Blog
Plan to siphon funds from inmate work program could backfire, officials say
A plan to tap the operating fund for a Department of Corrections industry and agricultural program could have unintended consequences, some warn. Last week, the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget approved a plan to allow the department to use as much as $5.3 million from Oklahoma Correctional Industries’ operating account to reduce the number of furlough days that DOC employees face during the current fiscal year. The department’s request for a $35 million supplemental appropriation was denied. … Taking $5.2 million from the program would require the closure of 17 prison factories that produce items such as office furniture, mattresses, clothing and janitorial supplies, said J.D. Colbert, Oklahoma Correctional Industries administrator. … He said inmates working for OCI have a recidivism rate of 12.7 percent, compared to 25 percent for those who don’t.
Read more from this Tulsa World article at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=12&articleid=20110306_16_A19_OKLAHO456927.
Punishments linger after prison sentence
Most women who leave prison in Oklahoma are given $50 and a bus ticket. Statistics show there’s a good chance most won’t be going back to prison any time soon, if ever. Just 14.4 percent of the women released from prison in 2007 returned within three years, according to Oklahoma Department of Corrections statistics. … Even those who never return to incarceration face a much different life, filled with new challenges. To put it in human terms, consider this: Two years after walking out of prison, at least one woman is still wearing undergarments she was issued while in prison.
Read more from Oklahoma Watch at http://www.oklahomawatch.org/story.php?sid=34.
Legislature goes after bargaining rights of Oklahoma government workers
Trish Frazier, the policy and research director for the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, said the uproar over the Wisconsin legislature’s move to repeal state workers’ collective bargaining rights has led many people to ask her if the same thing could happen in Oklahoma. “The answer, of course, is no,” Frazier said. “We don’t have collective bargaining.” State employees may not have collective bargaining rights, but many local government workers do – and that is the focus of the Republican-controlled Legislature’s efforts on this issue. In particular, the GOP is looking at repeal of a 2004 law granting collective bargaining rights to nonuniform employees of larger municipalities, and modification of binding-arbitration procedures for police and firefighters.
Read more from this Tulsa World article at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=16&articleid=20110306_16_A1_TrishF942664.
See also: Tulsans rally for collective bargaining rights on Fox 23
Oklahoma business closings increase as Oklahoma Tax Commission steps up sales tax collections
In a district that has seen dozens of bars and clubs come and go, Makers Cigar Lounge in Bricktown stood alone in being able to celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2010. … All of those memories ended last Thanksgiving weekend when Makers was shut down by the Oklahoma Tax Commission, which reported the club’s delinquency in remitting sales taxes had topped $250,000. The last trace of Maker’s was auctioned two weeks ago. Makers isn’t alone in being shut down by the Tax Commission, which is stepping up enforcement thanks to increased funding for staffing appropriated last year by Legislators. Armed with 20 percent more manpower, the Tax Commission is seeking to end the practice of some businesses delaying remittance of sales taxes to cover other expenses during tough economic times.
Read more from this NewsOK article at http://newsok.com/oklahoma-business-closings-increase-as-oklahoma-tax-commission-steps-up-sales-tax-collections/article/3546192.
See also: Fixing the sales tax: Options for reform from the Oklahoma Policy Institute
Janet Pearson: Mental health needs should be top priority
If it seems that Oklahoma’s health and social ills are a lot worse than those of other states, there’s a reason for it. Or rather, reasons. Lots of them. Consider the following: In Oklahoma, mental disorders are the third leading cause of chronic disease, behind pulmonary conditions and hypertension, and are more prevalent than heart disease, diabetes, cancer and stroke, according to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Oklahoma ranks second in the nation for “serious psychological distress” among adults. … While the numbers are surprising, even shocking, what’s not surprising in a state like Oklahoma is that most of these people will not get the help they need – especially in the wake of $25 million in departmental budget cuts in less than two years.
Read more from this Tulsa World editorial at http://www.tulsaworld.com/opinion/article.aspx?subjectid=211&articleid=20110306_211_G1_Itsest125140.
Rex Travis: Conservative case against lawsuit ‘reform’
Senate Bill 863 (now before the Legislature) would provide that a person so badly injured that their “non-economic damages” (damages other than medical bills and lost earnings) exceeding $250,000 would not be able to recover those damages from the person or company whose wrongful act injured them. It is a bad bill. The real irony is that it passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a straight party-line vote with all Republicans voting for it and Democrats voting against it. The irony results because the bill is the very opposite of the conservative principles previously advocated by the Republican Party. For example, conservatives have always advocated that people should be personally responsible for their own actions. This bill provides that lawbreakers and other wrongdoers escape personal responsibility for injury they inflict upon an innocent victim.
Read more from this Tulsa World editorial at http://www.tulsaworld.com/opinion/article.aspx?subjectid=65&articleid=20110306_222_G3_CUTLIN842097.
Kurt Hochenauer: State should delay tax cut for the rich
The income tax cut from 5.5 to 5.25 percent scheduled to take effect Jan. 1 will primarily benefit the state’s wealthiest citizens and take money away from a budget now facing a $500 million shortfall. Legislators and Gov. Mary Fallin could delay the automatic cut—it’s going into effect because revenues rose the required 4 percent—but it appears unlikely that will happen. Let’s be clear: Cutting taxes on the rich as state employees and teachers face layoffs and furloughs is not fiscally responsible and ignores the lingering impact of cuts in state government in previous years.
Read more from the Okie Funk blog at http://www.okiefunk.com/node/884.
See also: Cutting the top income tax rate: Who benefits? from the OK Policy Blog
Quote of the Day
Oklahoma’s female recidivism rate is so low because the women we are incarcerating do not belong there in the first place. They are not hardened criminals, and other states would not incarcerate them.
Number of the Day
Prisons run by for-profit corporations in Oklahoma.
The high costs of immigration enforcement
A handful of communities across the country have attempted to and in many cases successfully enacted a series of immigration controls that stoke fear in Latino and immigrant communities. But a report from the Center for American Progress found that these communities spend millions of dollars defending these unconstitutional statutes in court. This drains strained budgets, depresses local economies, and divides communities along racial and ethnic lines. … The report makes clear that these local enforcement measures come with substantial costs that quickly add up. Arizona will see a loss of $388 million in economic output due to lost conferences and business meetings over the next two to three years due to its immigration law, S.B. 1070. The state is expected to lose $133 million in lost wages over the next two to three years due to the law.
Read more from the Center for America Progress at http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2011/03/high_cost_immigration.html.
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