[In The Know] OKC has lowest unemployment rate among large cities

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 gperry@okpolicy.org. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that Oklahoma City once again had the lowest unemployment rate among the nation’s largest cities in August.  The number of people applying for unemployment benefits nation-wide fell sharply last week, to the lowest level since April.  Oil and gas companies defended their tax breaks before a legislative task force yesterday.  The OK Policy Blog explains why these tax breaks are not incentivizing production so much as subsidizing drilling that probably would have happened anyway.

Google will officially open its $600 million ‘server farm’ facility in Pryor today with a plugging-in ceremony.  An evaluation of the state’s child welfare system concludes Oklahoma needs to improve procedures for social workers putting child protection policies into action.  Oklahoma schools Superintendent Janet Barresi will apply for exemptions from standards set by the No Child Left Behind Act.  Increased enrollment and school consolidation means some Tulsa elementary schools are operating over-capacity.

Four Army soldiers from Ft. Sill are being charged in connection with a home invasion robbery last week in which four people were shot.  An investigation of the Capitol building found major structural deterioration, which is causing falling debris at the southeast and southwest corners.  The Number of the Day is the amount of soft drinks purchased per capita in Oklahoma in 2010.  In today’s Policy Note, the AARP released a report detailing deficiencies in states’ capacity to deliver long-term services and supports to older adults and people with disabilities.

In The News

Jobless rate falls across state as Oklahoma City continues to lead nation’s large cities

The jobless rate fell in all but one of Oklahoma’s 77 counties last month, while Oklahoma City again had the lowest unemployment rate among the nation’s largest cities.  The 5 percent unemployment rate in Oklahoma City was lowest among metropolitan areas of 1 million or more, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Wednesday.  The Tulsa metro area had an unemployment rate of 6 percent in August, down from 6.4 percent the previous month, the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission said. Lawton’s rate of 5.5 percent improved from 6.1 percent in July, the commission said.

Read more from NewsOK at http://newsok.com/jobless-rate-falls-across-state-as-oklahoma-city-continues-to-lead-nations-large-cities/article/3608633#ixzz1ZLWZf600

Fewer people applied for unemployment benefits

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell sharply last week, an encouraging sign that layoffs are easing.  The Labor Department says that weekly applications dropped 37,000 to a seasonally adjusted 391,000, the lowest level since April 2. It’s the first time applications have fallen below 400,000 since Aug. 6.  Applications typically need to fall below 375,000 to signal substantial job growth. They haven’t been that low since February.  A Labor Department spokesman said some of the drop was due to technical difficulties related to seasonally adjusting the figures. The spokesman said some states also reported higher applications in previous weeks due to Hurricane Irene.  The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell to 417,000, the first drop in six weeks.

Read more from NewsOK at http://newsok.com/fewer-people-applied-for-unemployment-benefits/article/feed/264375#ixzz1ZLaLzEgJ

Industries defend tax breaks

Insurance and oil and gas companies lined up before a joint panel Wednesday to defend tax breaks for their industries.  The credits likely are safe as the Task Force on State Credits and Economic Incentives evaluates an estimated $500 million in tax breaks for a variety of entities.  “I have no frustration with any of those tax breaks,” House Appropriations and Budget Committee Chairman Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, said of the credits for the two industries.  “All states are very competitive in terms of tax policy and inducements to companies who are able to bring the capital and innovation into their states that lead to the creation of a high volume of jobs that our industry creates,” Price said.  Sen. Tom Adelson, D-Tulsa, said the state is subsidizing behavior that would occur regardless of the subsidy for an industry that is already doing quite well.

Read more from the Tulsa World at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=336&articleid=20110929_16_A11_CUTLIN706935&rss_lnk=12

I don’t need it but I’ll take it – Revisiting oil and gas tax breaks

Oil and gas producers justify the tax breaks for various forms of drilling based on the significant risk and costs involved in these forms of production. Yet less than half of respondents said availability of a gross production tax rebate was an influential part of their decision to drill.  Much more important were estimates of recoverable reserves; the geology of the prospect; estimated cost to drill and complete the proposed well; the price of oil and natural gas as shown in the futures market, and the location of the proposed well.   Professor Agee’s study reinforces the idea that tax breaks make a difference only at the margins, motivating  production when the price of the commodity is neither so low as to make drilling unprofitable nor so high as to make drilling profitable regardless of the tax exemption.

Read more from OK Policy at https://okpolicy.org/from-the-archives-i-dont-need-it-but-ill-take-it-revisiting-oil-and-gas-tax-breaks/

Pryor awaits Google event

After years of anticipation, Google will finally activate its massive server farm in Pryor at 3 p.m. Thursday.  The Internet giant, which spent $600 million to build a pair of 30,000-square-foot buildings on an 800-acre tract of land in the Mid-America Industrial Park, is commemorating the event with a “plugging-in” ceremony featuring Gov. Mary Fallin, Google Senior Director Joe Kava and Oklahoma Secretary of Commerce Dave Lopez.  The facility employs 100 people.  The server farm houses hundreds of servers to store data from and provide access to the company’s array of Internet projects, ranging from email and search engine data to mapping and office productivity applications.

Read more from the Tulsa World at http://www.tulsaworld.com/business/article.aspx?subjectid=52&articleid=20110929_52_A10_PRYORA683615&rss_lnk=12

Evaluation finds DHS making strides but has room to improve

Oklahoma needs to shore up how social workers put child protection policies into action but has made gains in reducing family separation, according to a report released this week to the commission overseeing the state Department of Human Services.  Casey Family Programs has been evaluating the child welfare system at the request of DHS. It was in response to legislative changes made in 2009 on how decisions are made to remove children from their homes due to abuse or neglect.  The report found Oklahoma has reduced its rate of children in foster care from 13.7 per 1,000 children in 2007 to the current rate of 8.5. The national rate is about 5.4. There has been an overall decline of about 29 percent since 2005, it states.  “That drop is something to celebrate, but it is still high,” Walley said.

Read more from the Tulsa World at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=11&articleid=20110929_11_A1_Oklaho173512&rss_lnk=12

Oklahoma will apply for federal education law exemption

Oklahoma schools Superintendent Janet Barresi swore in two new members to the state Board of Education on Wednesday and then announced that Oklahoma would apply for exemptions from high standards set by the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001.  No Child Left Behind, passed in 2001 and since reauthorized, mandates that states test and report the academic performance of their students in a score known as the Academic Performance Index. According to the law, all schools must reach an API score that is proficient by 2014.  With that date looming, and many schools failing to meet their state-set standard of proficiency, the U.S. Department of Education is allowing states to apply for waivers from the law’s requirements.

Read more from NewsOK at http://newsok.com/oklahoma-will-apply-for-federal-education-law-exemption/article/3608454#ixzz1ZLUYCVXB

Parents Say Consolidation Causing Overcrowding At Tulsa Schools

Jones Elementary was on the chopping block when the district closed 14 sites last school year, but was saved at the eleventh hour.  Now it has 425 students. That’s 90 students more than the building’s recommended capacity.  “Jones definitely one of our very few situations where from a capacity standpoint we need to make some moves,” explained, TPS Deputy Superintendent, Millard House.  But Jones isn’t the only one. There are at least 8 elementary schools that are overloaded, after consolidation.  TPS had 10,000 empty seats before consolidation, which administrators say the district simply couldn’t afford anymore. Now there are 8 elementary schools over-capacity, but 38 remain under-utilized.

Read more from NewsOn6 at http://www.newson6.com/story/15574180/parents-say-crowded-tulsa-schools-are-the-result-of-consolidation

Bonds of at least $1M set for 3 soldiers charged in Oklahoma home invasion, robbery, shooting

Four soldiers from an Oklahoma Army post were being held Wednesday on charges connected with a home invasion last week in which four people were shot and wounded.  All three Fort Sill-based soldiers broke into an apartment on Sept. 20, Comanche County prosecutors contend in charging documents. The alleged getaway driver, 20-year-old Pfc. Jared Berman, was charged with being an accessory to a crime and was held on $45,000 bond.  According to affidavits filed in the case, McLaren shot the four adult victims and he, Daly and Byrd stole computers, DVDs, clothing and other items from the apartment in Lawton, which is about 80 miles southwest of Oklahoma City and is where the post is located.

Read more from the Washington Post at http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/4-oklahoma-based-soldiers-charged-in-home-invasion-in-which-4-people-were-shot/2011/09/28/gIQA9rS04K_story.html

Forensic engineering firm investigation of Capitol building finds “severe wall deterioration”

DCS reported that an investigation of the Capitol building by forensic engineering firm, ZFI, found major structural deterioration to the building which is causing falling debris at the southeast and southwest corners. DCS will be taking immediate steps to develop a plan to restore and repair damaged areas of the Capitol building, according to a release.

Read more from OETA at http://news.oeta.tv/headlines/politics/3610-forensic-engineering-firm-investigation-of-capitol-building-finds-severe-wall-deterioration.html

Quote of the Day

The incidents are investigated, but there is not a clearly defined and implemented process for using the learning from the investigation to inform changes in training and policy.

Sue Steib, senior director of strategic consulting for Casey Family Programs, on Oklahoma DHS procedures following a child death or injury

Number of the Day

69.8 gallons

Amount of soft drinks purchased per capita in Oklahoma in 2010, 8th most in nation.

Source: Department of Health and Human Services via 24/7 Wall St.

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Raising Expectations: A State Scorecard on Long-Term Services and Supports for Older Adults, People with Physical Disabilities, and Family Caregivers

This report by AARP’s Public Policy Institute, The Commonwealth Fund and The SCAN Foundation shows some states significantly out-perform others in the delivery of long-term services and supports (LTSS) to older adults and people with disabilities.  The study finds, however, that even the best performing states have a long way to go to create a high-performing system of long-term services and supports.  It shows that all states need to vastly improve in areas including home care, assisted living, nursing home care, and supports for family caregivers, and more efficiently spend the substantial funds they currently allocate to LTSS.

Read more from the AARP at http://www.aarp.org/relationships/caregiving/info-09-2011/ltss-scorecard.html

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