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 you should know that the Oklahoma Academy released its recommendations on developing the Oklahoma economy and warned against eliminating the income tax. The Enid News and Eagle writes that the promises made by proponents of eliminating the tax sound too good to be true. See more about the income tax debate on OK Policy’s tax reform information page. The OK Policy Blog shares five proven economic development ideas that are more cost-effective than tax cuts.
Tulsa area chambers of commerce warn that closing Tulsa’s mail distribution center would cost almost 1000 jobs and increase business costs, amounting to a loss of $64 million a year from the regional economy. The Oklahoma Supreme Court decided not to restrict identifying information from court records. A federal judge denied Occupy OKC’s request to continue camping overnight in Kerr Park, though Oklahoma City officials say they do not intend to immediately force the protesters from the park.
Tulsa’s Greenwood Cultural Center may close soon due to loss of state funding. i2E CEO Tom Walker writes about the need to protect the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics, which has seen a 23 percent reduction in state funding. Rep. Jason Murphey wants a state constitutional amendment to add a performance audits division to the State Auditor’s office.
The Number of the Day is Oklahoma’s rank among the states on early prenatal care. In today’s Policy Note, economist Nancy Folbre shows that since welfare reform instituted strict work requirements, the program no longer provides a safety net in times when jobs are not available.
In The News
Oklahoma Academy cautions against income tax cut
Oklahoma’s income tax should not be eliminated without further study and the development of a strategy that would not affect the overall budget, a nonpartisan public policy group suggested Monday as part of its recommendation to lawmakers on ways to improve the state’s economy. Following a forum that included input from nearly 150 invited participants, the Oklahoma Academy released a series of recommendations on this year’s topic — developing the Oklahoma economy. The group’s recommendation not to eliminate the state’s income tax contrasts with the philosophy of some Republican lawmakers who have said reducing and eliminating the tax should be one of the Legislature’s top priorities. Other tax-related recommendations from the group include changing the funding matrix for municipalities to alleviate the reliance of cities on sales taxes and developing increased oversight and transparency of state tax credits.
See also: Tax Reform Information from Oklahoma Policy Institute
Enid News and Eagle: Hold onto that plan
Some Oklahoma state lawmakers seem very serious about phasing out the state’s personal income tax. State Rep. David Derby, R-Owasso, has filed initial paperwork on legislation that would phase out Oklahoma’s personal income tax over 10 years. He said his proposal would not require raising other tax rates such as property or sales taxes, introduce any new forms of taxation or require cuts to core government services. Derby said by phasing the income tax out over 10 years, it gives state government entities ample time to make adjustments and that growth revenue would support core state services such as education, transportation, public safety and a safety net for the truly needy. It all sounds very optimistic, but it also appears to us such a proposal calls for a pretty large leap of faith in those promises. It is very hard to see into the future, and what kind of national or global economic conditions might occur that have an effect on the state’s economy. Also, federal regulations and legislation on the state’s fortunes in energy and agriculture could put a big dent in those plans.
What’s the best way to boost the economy? Hint — it’s not tax cuts
Several state leaders have taken to promoting more income tax cuts as the best way to improve Oklahoma’s economy. But is that true? We recently heard Timothy Bartik, senior economist at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, discuss the latest research on which state-level policies are most effective at boosting the economy. Bartik explained that across-the-board business tax cuts are usually not the most cost-effective tool for economic development. Because state government resources are small relative to the size of a state’s economy, we need policies with a high “bang-for- the-buck” to see meaningful increases in per capita earnings. Across-the-board cuts are not targeted enough to account for the opportunity cost of paying for them though reductions in public services or increases in other taxes. Instead, Bartik recommended five policies with proven effectiveness and high bang-for-the-buck.
Tulsa area chambers fight USPS facility closure
A week after the U.S. Postal Service announced an end to overnight delivery of local and regional mail, business and government leaders in the Tulsa area are standing together with a united voice, calling for the postal service to abandon any plans to close the mail distribution center in East Tulsa. Closing the facility would slow local mail delivery by an estimated two to three days, compared to current delivery patterns. But Monday, leaders with several Tulsa area chambers of commerce announced that in addition to the 573 employees at the mail facility who would likely lose their jobs if the plant were to close, another 400 people in the area could also lose their jobs because of the indirect impact. They also predict the overall economic impact closing the facility would have on the Tulsa area would amount to a loss of roughly $64 million a year from the regional economy.
Oklahoma Supreme Court decides not to restrict personal information from court records
The Oklahoma Supreme Court has decided not to restrict personal information from court records after all. Justices in September asked for public input on a proposal that would have kept out of court records basic personal information such as where a criminal defendant lives. Prosecutors, businesses, private investigators, the state sheriffs’ association, the news media and others strongly objected. Justices backed off the original proposal completely. Instead, they issued a new rule Monday that imposes no restrictions on criminal and traffic records. Justices also imposed no restrictions on civil, divorce and probate records and requests for victim protective orders. Justices said anyone filing documents in those types of cases “may” limit certain sensitive information but it is not required.
Federal judge denies Occupy OKC’s request to continue camping overnight in Kerr Park
A group of protesters that has been camped out at a downtown Oklahoma City park for two months will no longer be able to remain there overnight, a federal judge ruled late Monday. U.S. District Judge Timothy DeGiusti denied a request from Occupy OKC organizers for a preliminary injunction that would have prevented the city from enforcing an 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew at Kerr Park. Protesters with the group have maintained a continuous presence at the park since Oct. 11 as part of a demonstration over the disparity in wages between the working class and the wealthy and the undue influence of money in politics, among other things. But city officials late last month denied the group’s request to renew their permit for a political protest at the park, citing deteriorating conditions and problems at the park as a reason for ending overnight camping. City officials said late Monday they did not intend to immediately force the protesters from the park.
Greenwood Cultural Center may close
Tulsa’s Greenwood Cultural Center may soon close because of financial problems, officials say. “If it doesn’t get significant funding soon, it can’t continue,” said state Rep. Jabar Shumate, D-Tulsa. Shumate and Dwain Midget, a member of the center’s board of directors, said the loss of state grants and contracts have left the center struggling to survive. The staff has been cut from six full-time and two part-time employees to two full time and one part time. “We’re trying to diversify our revenue sources, but in this economy, that’s difficult. We’re exploring outside partnerships but that takes some time,” Midget said. He said the center needs about $125,000 to get through the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends June 30.
Tom Walker: Let’s protect a valuable Oklahoma resource — the School of Science and Math
Oklahoma is home to an amazing economic resource — and I’m not talking about oil. The Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics (OSSM) is a two-year public, tuition-free, residential high school created and funded by the Oklahoma Legislature. This school is open to all Oklahoma students who wish to apply during their sophomore year. OSSM students are regular kids with strong abilities who are curious and want to learn. While the decline in students seeking engineering degrees is going on in other places, OSSM is working to reverse that trend among Oklahoma’s young people. OSSM has produced 300 practicing engineers, 94 medical doctors, and 53 Ph.D.s. Ten OSSM graduates have started their own businesses in Oklahoma. Unfortunately, cuts at OSSM have been severe, with a 23 percent reduction in funding and 25 percent fewer employees than three years ago.
Rep. Jason Murphey: Oklahoma government needs a performance audit
One of the most important components of this year’s House government modernization effort will involve acting on a request from State Auditor Gary Jones. Jones has requested the Legislature to take action and allow his office to establish a performance audits division that could conduct a series of performance audits of state government entities during each year. The proposal would allow the people of Oklahoma to vote next November to place this proposal into the Oklahoma Constitution. The auditor’s proposal would not only give the auditor the authority to audit an agency but also would provide the funding mechanism to conduct the audits. This would enable the auditor’s office to conduct a series of performance audits each year instead of just the occasional audit at the request of a public official.
Quote of the Day
People are going to start seeing that their bills are coming in later, there’s less turnaround time for them to get their bills out before they have a late charge, and they’re going to have to plan ahead and mail earlier so they can get it there on time.
–Stacy Boyd, one of the workers who would be affected by the closing of Tulsa’s mail distribution center. The change would also require all Tulsa mail be shipped to Oklahoma City for sorting.
Number of the Day
Oklahoma’s rank among the states on early prenatal care – the percentage of women who receive prenatal care within the first trimester, 2011
Source: United Health Foundation
Welfare no longer provides a safety net in times of high unemployment
Fifteen years have passed since changes in welfare administration imposed tighter restrictions on poor families with children that were seeking cash assistance. Perspectives from expert contributors. Many Republicans now advocate similar restrictions and cuts in other forms of assistance to the poor on the grounds that they discourage work. Newt Gingrich asserts that janitorial employment for poor children would improve their work ethic. Yet as the chart above shows, the poverty rate among children now closely follows the unemployment rate, because many parents depend more heavily on paid employment but are unable to find it. As its name suggests, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, or TANF, established in 1996, was devised on the presumption that mothers who were willing to work would not need more than temporary help. It was never intended to function effectively under conditions of high unemployment. The program no longer provides much of a safety net at all.
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