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Today you should know that reforms to DHS under the class-action settlement may look similar to New Jersey’s recent reforms, which included increasing subsidies for foster families, reducing the use of children’s shelters, and adding hundreds of child-welfare worker positions. The records of the independent monitors set to oversee the reforms will be kept secret.
Key proposals from the state tax-reform task force are drawing heat from members of the task force. OK Policy Director David Blatt writes in the Tulsa World about how the tax-elimination talk ignores huge state needs. Mickey Hepner writes in the Edmond Sun that when the markets are valuing education more, America is valuing education less.
House Speaker Kris Steele outlined his agenda for a final session as Speaker. Rep. Randy McDaniel plans to push changes to state pensions for firefighters and law enforcement. Sen. Jim Wilson has introduced a bill to return control over tuition increases back to the legislature. Twenty-one percent of $39.2 million in midyear state funding increases for Oklahoma school districts will go to three new charter schools.
Oklahomans will have the opportunity to view and to try out the state’s new voting machines during a mock election Monday through Thursday. The Tulsa County Community Action Project is looking for volunteer tax counselors to provide free tax preparation to 17,000 low and moderate income Tulsa families. A group studying how to improve Oklahoma’s probation system will release its recommendations this week.
A report from the conservative American Enterprise Institute finds that most foreign-born workers tend to pay more into the economy than they receive in government services and end up helping create jobs for U.S. natives. The Number of the Day is the percentage increase in initial unemployment claims in Oklahoma during December 2011. In today’s Policy Note, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains why a push to deny unemployment insurance to workers without GEDs is an appalling idea.
In The News
New Jersey may give preview of changes in store for DHS
Settlement of a federal class-action lawsuit likely signals the beginning of major changes within Oklahoma’s child-welfare agency. Oklahoma’s plan of improvement has yet to be developed by state Department of Human Services’ staff working in conjunction with DHS commissioners, the governor’s office and state lawmakers. However, Oklahomans curious about what some of the reforms could look like might want to take a look at New Jersey. That’s because two of the three most powerful people shaping the future of Oklahoma’s child-welfare system are former high-ranking administrators of the New Jersey child-welfare agency.
See also: DHS monitors’ records to be kept secret from The Tulsa World
Some members of Oklahoma tax-reform task force repudiate proposals
Key proposals from a state tax-reform task force are drawing heat – from members of the task force. One proposal – to reduce the state’s top personal income tax rate by 0.5 percent, and to pay for it by eliminating tax exemptions and credits used by thousands of low-income Oklahomans – amounts to taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich, said task force member Don Millican. Another proposal – to eliminate the personal income tax but to examine the state sales-tax base as a possible means of making up the lost state revenue – would lead to taxation of a broad range of services for the first time, an economically foolish plan, said task force member Richard Dowell. Millican and Dowell were two of the six task force members who declined to sign the report, which was released last week and is likely to be the blueprint for tax-reform plans before the Legislature this year. Fourteen members signed the report.
See also: Tax-elimination talk ignores huge state needs from The Tulsa World
Mickey Hepner: Education matters now more than ever
Despite a summer in which Congressional dysfunction crushed consumer confidence and nearly restarted the recession, the U.S. economy continues to gain strength. Not everyone, nor every group, though, is reaping the benefits of a strengthening economy. One interesting data point from this month’s job growth data is that all of that job growth came from one subgroup of the population — college graduates. Since college graduates make up only 35 percent of the U.S. labor force (and an even smaller percentage of the U.S. population), for nearly two-thirds of the work force the labor market isn’t improving at all. Generally, this is a continuation of a long-term trend in labor markets as the economy has transitioned from a goods-based economy to a knowledge-based one. On this point, there is cause for concern because at this point in history, when the markets are valuing education more, America is valuing education less.
Oklahoma House Speaker prepares for last session
A deteriorating state Capitol, working to improve DHS as part of a federal court settlement and reducing the state personal income tax rate are among the challenges facing House Speaker Kris Steele in his second and final year in the powerful leadership post. Steele, R-Shawnee, said he hopes to also build on legislation passed last year, such as pro-business issues that changed how civil lawsuits are handled and procedures in the workers’ compensation court — proposals that had been sought for years by Republicans but had evaded them until last year when the state for the first time had a GOP-controlled Legislature and a Republican governor. Steele, 38, said he also wants to expand efforts last year that significantly favored alternative sentences for nonviolent offenders, such as community-based sentencing and electronic monitoring of low-risk, nonviolent offenders and bills intended to make public schools more accountable, such as assigning a letter grade to each public school and ending social promotion in public schools. He also wants to see state government modernization and consolidation efforts continue.
Lawmaker to push more changes to state pensions
Motivated by a budget shortfall and one of the most underfunded public pension systems in the country, Oklahoma lawmakers took major steps last year to shore up the unfunded liability of the state’s major pensions by increasing the retirement age for new hires and changing how the state provides cost of living adjustments for retirees. But state Rep. Randy McDaniel, an Oklahoma City Republican who spearheaded many of the changes, said there is still more work to be done. A financial advisor and stock broker, McDaniel plans to push for even more sweeping changes in the upcoming session, including a constitutional amendment that he says will provide even more stability to the state’s retirement plans. Among the key changes McDaniel plans to pursue in the upcoming session are to the state’s three pension systems for firefighters and law enforcement personnel. While changes last year to the systems for teachers, public employees and judges increased the retirement age for new hires by an average of three years, McDaniel said a different approach was needed for the firefighter and police plans, which allow members to retire after 20 years of service.
Bill filed to return tuition decisions back to legislature
Prior to 1991, the Legislature voted on tuition and fee increases at state colleges and universities. That year, the Legislature decided to give power over tuition decisions to the State Board of Regents but under a strict cap through House Bill 1219. In 2003, however, another measure was passed to give the State Regents full reign over decisions concerning tuition hikes. Since that time, tuition has nearly doubled and mandatory fees have nearly quadrupled, which has some lawmakers like Sen. Jim Wilson wanting to take back control over such decisions. On Thursday, Wilson filed Senate Bill 1062, which would amend current law so that the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education would submit a proposal for tuition and fee increases and the Legislature would vote on it during session.
Three new charter schools to get millions in Oklahoma funds
Twenty-one percent of $39.2 million in midyear state funding increases for Oklahoma school districts will go to three new charter schools, according to figures released Friday by the Oklahoma State Department of Education. The remaining increase in state aid will be distributed to the state’s 522 school districts and 16 other charter schools. The new schools are Epic One on One, which received $5.8 million; Oklahoma Virtual Charter Academy, $1.9 million; and Cherokee Immersion Charter School, $465,179, records show. Each December, school districts statewide are notified of adjustments made to their July state aid allocations because of changes in student enrollment and other factors during the first nine weeks of the school year. Charter schools are primary or secondary schools that receive public money but are not subject to all the regulations that apply to other public schools. They are required, however, to produce specific results as outlined in their charters.
Oklahoma to have mock election to try out new voting machines
This week may be the only time state election officials encourage Oklahomans to vote early and to vote often. Oklahomans will have the opportunity to view and to try out the state’s new voting machines during a mock election Monday through Thursday. People may mark paper ballots and insert them in the new scanners. Oklahomans will have the chance this week to try out the state’s new voting devices. They will be on display at county election board offices across the state. Each of the 77 county election board officials will have the machines on display during their normal business hours. County election board hours vary. Residents don’t have to present voter or photo identification or sign in to use the machines. Names of Oklahoma personalities are on the ballots.
Volunteers needed to help community prepare taxes
“Income tax season” runs February through April, and this year, the IRS is looking for Oklahoma volunteers to learn about basic tax law and tax form preparation through the agency-sponsored “VITA program,” an acronym for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance. Free tax preparation: During tax season, the Tulsa County Community Action Project uses VITA tax counselors to provide free tax preparation to 17,000 Tulsa families with annual incomes of $50,000 or less and singles with incomes of $40,000 and less, returning $36 million to the Tulsa community. The goal of CAP’s tax program is to decrease poverty and to expand economic independence in Tulsa by increasing the participation rate and use of the Earned Income Tax Credit by eligible low- and moderate-income working people. The EITC credit is worth up to $5,665. The EITC is the nation’s largest and most important anti-poverty program, lifting more children out of poverty than all other means-tested government programs combined.
Probation supervision system gets review by lawmakers, experts
At least one in 92 adult Oklahomans is under state correctional probation or parole, according to the Pew Center on the States, a nonpartisan think tank that studies public policy. Thousands more are on probation either through a private entity or a district attorney’s office. They all pay — usually $40 a month — to be supervised, but how much they’re supervised, who supervises them and how success is defined differs greatly. Those disparities led a group of lawmakers and criminal justice experts in Oklahoma to research court-mandated supervision and determine how the state should move forward. The group will release policy recommendations to the Legislature on Wednesday.
Immigration policy changes could bolster economy, report says
Most foreign-born workers tend to pay more into the economy than they receive in government services, and end up helping create jobs for U.S. natives, a new report from the American Enterprise Institute and the Partnership for a New American Economy shows. The reports suggests an increase in the number of workers’ visas made available annually, particularly for highly skilled workers trained in advanced math and science fields. Educated immigrants tend to start up businesses, apply for patents and drive innovation, creating more jobs. Foreign-born workers often have different skills than U.S. natives, and frequently work in jobs where it’s harder to recruit native workers. Also at issue are U.S.-educated graduates who grow up living in the country, going to school here and find no sanctuary for their undocumented status when they’re ready to enter the job market, according to the report. Recently, this issue has been brought up through proposed legislation like the Dream Act, which would allow a path to residency for undocumented youths educated in the U.S., who’ve lived here a number of years and meet other criteria.
Quote of the Day
Basically, you’re taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich. I can’t support that.
–Don Millican, one of six members of the tax reform task force who has refused to endorse its proposals.
Number of the Day
Percentage increase in initial unemployment claims in Oklahoma during December 2011.
Source: U.S. Department of Labor via OESC
An appalling idea, even by Washington standards
For legislation to extend the payroll tax cut through the end of 2012, House Republicans are expected to push for a provision on unemployment insurance (UI) that is appalling even by current Washington standards. Neither President Obama nor Congress should accept any payroll-tax legislation that includes it. Here’s why: The provision, part of a full-year payroll-tax bill that the House passed in December, would deny UI benefits to any worker who lacks a high school diploma or GED and is not enrolled in classes to get one or the other — regardless of how long the person worked or whether he or she has access to adult education, which itself has been subject to significant budget cuts in the past few years and is heavily oversubscribed. The proposal would deny UI benefits to hundreds of thousands of workers — many of them middle-aged — who have worked hard, played by the rules, and effectively paid UI taxes for years and who then were laid off due to no fault of their own. This would violate the basic compact that the UI system has embodied since its creation under President Roosevelt in 1935 — that people who have amassed a sufficient record of work, and on whose behalf UI taxes have faithfully been paid, may receive UI benefits for a temporary period if they are laid off and are searching for a new job.
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