In The Know: May 9, 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, legislative leaders are warning that they will likely require deeper budget cuts than the Governor originally proposed, partly due to an unwillingness to adopt proposed IT reforms this year, including a $100M bond issue to pay for IT consolidation. The House redistricting map has been released with few changes from previous districts. On the Senate side, one proposal on the table would leave Tulsa Senator Tom Adelson representing people 250 miles away in Duncan. At Data Watch, Paul Monies calls for the release of more Oklahoma redistricting data.

Senate leader Brian Bingman expressed satisfaction over passing a hospital provider fee over the objections of Grover Norquist, who called it a tax increase. OK Policy previously discussed issues regarding Norquist’s anti-tax pledge here. Corrections workers are logging more overtime hours than workers in any other state agency, in part due to staffing levels of only 67 percent of the authorized limit. Allied Arts, which funds 20 different arts organizations in the OKC metro, is short of its fundraising goals by $400k.

Terri White, director of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, writes in NewsOK about the importance of funding substance abuse treatment.

The Tulsa World argues that investing more in substance abuse services would save taxpayer money and reduce incarceration. Scott Proctor discusses the impact of budget cuts on Oklahoma’s nursing homes. Organizers of The Letter Carriers Food Drive describe the serious hunger problems in Oklahoma.

In today’s Policy Note, USA Today reports that the U.S. tax burden is at its lowest level since 1958. Read on for more.

In The News

Deeper cuts feared for Oklahoma state agencies

State agencies should brace for deeper cuts than the governor called for in her budget, a key legislative budget negotiator warns. This includes higher education and public schools along with other core services of public safety, transportation and public health, said Rep. Earl Sears, chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee. Gov. Mary Fallin proposed 3 percent cuts to those priority agencies, which make up 87 percent of her $6.3 billion proposal. She called for 5 percent cuts for most of the other agencies as the state wrestles with an expected $500 million shortfall in the 2012 fiscal year, which starts July 1. Sears, R-Bartlesville, said cuts to the core agencies now appear to be in the range from upper 3 percent to upper 5 percent. House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, said other agencies could see cuts ranging from 8 to 10 percent.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Okla. Governor’s plan to consolidate IT struggling

Key pieces of Republican Gov. Mary Fallin’s ambitious proposal to consolidate the state’s fractured information technology systems have come off the rails in the Legislature, likely leading to deeper cuts to state agency budgets. Information technology systems consolidation is a central element of Fallin’s plan to save the state hundreds of millions of dollars by streamlining government functions. Facing a $500 million hole in the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, the governor proposed an immediate freeze on state spending on information technology, or IT, services and a $100 million bond issue to help pay for IT consolidation, neither of which have gained any traction in the GOP-controlled Legislature. A bill she’s endorsed to consolidate all of the state’s IT services under one coordinated system remains alive, but legislative leaders acknowledge savings from that proposal will be minimal next year.

Read more from this Associated Press article at

Oklahoma House release map of proposed new districts

A proposal to redraw the 101 districts in the House of Representatives looks like an incumbent-protection map, a political-science professor who specializes in reapportionment said Friday. “That’s a very common thing for legislatures to craft even when you’ve got a big partisan advantage,” said Keith Gaddie, a University of Oklahoma professor. “This map actually doesn’t look that different from the last map. “If you elected somebody last time and they’re not term limited, you’ll probably get to see them again,” he said.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

See also: Under redistricting plan, Tulsa Senator would represent people of Duncan from The Tulsa World; Free the Oklahoma redistricting data from Data Watch

Legislators cross swords with Grover Norquist over health-care bill

Oklahoma politicians complain about interference from Washington all the time. Pointy-headed bureaucrats, limousine liberals and condescending pundits all make popular punching bags. In the past few weeks, though, some Oklahoma Republicans have directed irritation at a different target – one of the Beltway’s most entrenched conservatives. On Friday, state Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, noted with what appeared to be some satisfaction the passage of a much-sought health-care bill last week despite the opposition of Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Previously: When lawmakers sign a pledge, who are they working for? from the OK Policy Blog

Corrections workers log many overtime hours

Oklahoma Corrections Department workers are no strangers to logging overtime. For years, employees of the understaffed department — particularly security officers — have logged hundreds of overtime hours, translating into an extra $30,000 annually for a few Corrections Department workers. “We try to limit it as much as possible,” Jerry Massie, spokesman for the department, said. “But sometimes you don’t have much choice.” Department officials don’t have much choice because Corrections is operating at 67 percent of its authorized limit for correctional security officers, Massie said. Budget restraints and limited interest in the job have prevented the agency from hiring additional officers.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Allied Arts short of fundraising goal by $400k

Frances Pitts knows how important the arts are to Oklahoma. She sees it in the faces of the children — about 3,500 each year — who are touched by the Metropolitan School of Dance. Many of those children come from underprivileged backgrounds. All qualify for reduced-price lunches. And most would never have a chance to learn ballet, tap, African or modern dance if not for the school, which teaches children as young as 3 years old. The school operates on a modest — some would say meager — annual budget of $100,000. About 30 percent of that money comes from Allied Arts and the Arts Council of Oklahoma City, which operates under the Allied Arts umbrella.

Allied Arts distributes funds to 20 metro arts organizations. Some are high profile entities such as the Oklahoma City Museum of Art and Science Museum Oklahoma. Others, including Pitts’ school and Prairie Dance Theater, are lesser known treasures. All could suffer if funding slumps.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Terri White: Investment in substance abuse treatment is one worth making

Few things are more heart-wrenching than a loved one, full of promise and potential, falling into the world of addiction. For some, this descent into darkness happens in the blink of an eye. For others, it’s a slow, progressive process taking years. The result is the same, when this disease goes untreated: death, imprisonment, car accidents, suicide, unemployment, child neglect, and other harrowing incidents that shatter lives, dreams and families. The truth is that addiction is as much a medical condition as heart disease, diabetes or cancer. Addiction has been recognized by professional medical organizations as a chronic, progressive and fatal disease of the brain. Hundreds of people are on waiting lists trying to get into substance abuse treatment in Oklahoma. They are reaching out for help — wanting a chance at treatment and recovery — and every bed in the state is full.

Read more from this NewsOK editorial at

See also: Substance abuse initiative would save taxpayer money, reduce incarceration from The Tulsa World

Scott Proctor: Legislature, Health Care Authority hold keys to senior care

More than 110 nursing homes have closed in Oklahoma since 1998, due largely to inadequate funding. We’ve seen state funding cut and cut again, only to learn this year that nursing homes may incur their deepest cuts in recent history. Legislators have a key role in protecting funding, as state Medicaid puts dollars into eldercare and ensures a 2-to-1 federal match. But it doesn’t stop there. Once approved, it awaits Fallin’s signature. Then, it’s up to Fogarty and the health care authority to appropriately allocate the funds. We ask them to consider that every time a nursing home closes, more frail residents are forced to move to another facility, usually 30 to 60 miles away; family members are forced to drive farther to pay a visit to their parents, grandparents and the people who built this state; and especially in rural communities, jobs are lost and the local economy takes another hit.

Read more from this NewsOK editorial at

Help “stamp out hunger” in Oklahoma

Statistics continue to show that Oklahoma is one of the hungriest states in our country. But it’s not just about statistics or numbers — it is about people’s lives. Six days a week, a letter carrier in Edmond buys one of his customers a hot meal from a local convenience store on his route. The customer retired early due to a back injury and now only brings home a little more than $200 a month. How can anyone pay for food, rent and utilities on $200 a month? The Edmond letter carrier helps because it’s the right thing to do. This is the kind of story the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma hears over and over again. And now, with the prices of food and fuel on the rise, and children soon to be out of school for the summer, families who were already struggling to make ends meet are quickly finding themselves on the brink of disaster.

Read more from this NewsOK editorial at

Quote of the Day

Within 10 minutes of that bill being presented on the floor of the Senate, there was a letter being circulated by a gentlemen named Grover Norquist, saying this was a tax increase. I want to commend the legislators who decided that letter, well, I’ll just say we had (almost) 40 votes.

Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, on the vote to create a hospital provider fee that will capture federal matching funds for Medicaid.

Number of the Day


Permanent standing conference committees in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, as of a 2011 rule change.

Source:  Oklahoma Policy Institute, 2011 Oklahoma Legislative Overview

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

U.S. tax burden at lowest level since ’58

Americans are paying the smallest share of their income for taxes since 1958, a reflection of tax cuts and a weak economy, a USA TODAY analysis finds. The total tax burden — for all federal, state and local taxes — dropped to 23.6% of income in the first quarter, according to Bureau of Economic Analysis data. By contrast, individuals spent roughly 27% of income on taxes in the 1970s, 1980s and the 1990s — a rate that would mean $500 billion of extra taxes annually today, one-third of the estimated $1.5 trillion federal deficit this year.

Read more from this USA Today article 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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