In The Know: Oklahoma and EPA resolve dispute over Oologah coal plants

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 you should know that the Environmental Protection Agency has reached an agreement with Oklahoma and PSO to comply with federal air quality rules by phasing out two coal-fired power plants in Oologah. The House approved a non-binding personhood resolution, but anti-abortion activists vowed to keep pushing lawmakers to bring a personhood bill to the floor.

Parents and students in Tulsa Public Schools have launched a new lobbying campaign to boost school funding and fight against tax cuts. The Okie Funk blog discusses the growing backlash against tax cuts. The OK Policy Blog shows that the claim that tax revenues grew because Oklahoma cut income tax rates in the mid-2000s is not true.

News9 reports on the continuing problems with an inadequate facility, staff, and funding that is preventing the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s office from investigating many suspicious deaths. DHS is embarking on an ambitious plan to recruit hundreds of new foster parents and adoptive families, but with a four- to six-month backlog of current applicants, handling increased inquiries is expected to be a major challenge. NewsOK writes that making state employee salaries competitive with the private sector can’t be squared with tax cuts.

The Number of the Day is the annual costs to the state to implement and maintain court-mandated improvements to Oklahoma’s child welfare system. In today’s Policy Note, economist Mark Thoma shows that the US leads among developed nations for the share of workers earning low wages.

In The News

Oklahoma, EPA, and PSO end dispute over Oologah coal plants

The State of Oklahoma has reached an agreement with Public Service Company of Oklahoma and the Environmental Protection Agency that settles compliance challenges with federal air quality rules relating to PSO’s two coal-fired power plants in Oologah. In a news release on Tuesday, Governor Mary Fallin says the agreement permits PSO to comply with EPA rules, including the Regional Haze Rule and the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule, while simultaneously protecting Oklahoma consumers and ratepayers. PSO’s Bud Ground says it’s a good agreement where PSO can continue to meet new federal air quality guidelines that are becoming more stringent. Under the terms of the settlement, PSO agrees to meet specified emission rates at both coal units at PSO’s Northeastern Plant in Oologah, retire one unit in 2017, install certain emissions control equipment on one Northeastern unit in 2015 and retire the second unit in 2025 or 2026.

Read more from NewsOn6.

Anti-abortion group decries ‘personhood’ resolution

Anti-abortion activists urged House Republicans to bring a “personhood” bill to the floor for a vote and vowed on Tuesday to label any lawmaker who refuses to support the move as “pro-abortion.” A group of local religious leaders and other anti-abortion activists made the comments after the House overwhelmingly approved a non-binding resolution Tuesday that grants personhood rights at “all stages of human development.” A resolution simply expresses the will of the Legislature and is not enforceable. Rep. Steven Vaughan, the author of the resolution, quoted Scripture and began crying as he urged members to support the measure. “I’m telling you, this is our Declaration of Independence,” said Vaughan, R-Ponca City. The resolution was adopted on a 74-13 vote. Abortion rights supporters, many of whom wore pink and packed into the House gallery, said they were relieved the personhood bill has been temporarily scuttled, but were cautious about their optimism.

Read more from The Associated Press.

Students, parents lobby legislature on school funding

Both parents and students in Tulsa Public Schools are part of a new lobbying campaign to boost school funding. The parents have launched a website called “49th is Not OK”, with a companion Facebook page, and students are writing letters to lawmakers. The legislature is finalizing the state budget for next year, which for now has education getting the same amount as last year. For schools, that amounts to a smaller budget because of rising costs and the end of federal stimulus funding, meant to compensate for previous cuts in the state budget. Tulsa plans to cut 75 teaching positions, which will eliminate some programs, and increase class sizes. The district blames the legislature for keeping funding flat while costs go up – and federal funding dwindles.

Read more from NewsOn6.

Reasons mount against tax cut

The reasons for Republicans to drop plans for any type of income tax cut this legislative session continue to mount. Parents and educators in the Tulsa area, for example, have begun an effort to convince state leaders to restore school funding to 2007-2008 levels because of recent devastating budget cuts and not implement a new tax cut. The Tulsa School District, for example, is in the process of eliminating 150 positions because of budget cuts. A rally has been scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the field house at Edison Preparatory School, 2906 E. 41st St. in Tulsa. Is the GOP, including Gov. May Fallin, paying attention to the political ramifications of this grassroots movement opposed to a new income tax cut? Meanwhile, Democratic leader state Sen. Sean Burrage of Claremore and Democratic Senate Caucus leader Tom Ivester of Sayre have made powerful statements opposing tax cuts. Again, do Republicans stand to lose politically if they go ahead with a tax cut given these rational arguments?

Read more from Okie Funk.

Tax cuts of mid-2000s did not spark revenue growth

Despite frequent claims by proponents of cutting or eliminating Oklahoma’s personal income tax , it is a myth that tax revenues grew because Oklahoma cut income tax rates in the mid-2000s. Their claims are based on highly selective use of data and flawed methodology that is contradicted by more careful analysis. We can trace the myth that tax cuts sparked revenue growth to last year’s study by Arthur Laffer and his colleagues for the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. What’s missing in the Laffer analysis is a crucial and obvious detail: the four years prior to FY 2005 included the national recession of 2001-2002, while the four years following the tax cut were ones of robust economic growth nationwide. During this period of growth, Oklahoma’s economy was further lifted by high oil and gas prices: natural gas during this period averaged $6.92 per MCF, oil averaged $69 per gallon, and gross production taxes rose by at an annual average rate of 16.0 percent.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Lack of staff, space creates problems at Oklahoma ME’s office

More suspicious deaths and fewer resources. The State Medical Examiner’s office is plagued with problems as the number of homicides more than double from this time last year. News 9 got an exclusive look inside the morgue to see how a lack of staff and space is creating longer wait times for families seeking answers. The agency is approved to staff 85 workers, but can only afford 63. When our cameras arrived for a tour of the facility, we found the Chief Administrative Office of the state agency mowing the grass. We’re told each staff member, including the Chief Medical Examiner, takes a turn tending to the lawn to save the agency $500 in the budget, and that is just the beginning of what we witnessed. When Chief Eric Pfeifer arrived at the facility, he says he quickly discovered the deteriorating state of the agency. A new facility would solve only half of the problem. A lack of funding is the other issue. The chief explains the agency needs twice as many doctors to help the six who are currently responsible for the entire state.

Read more from News9.

DHS Chairman urges focus on customer service

State Department of Human Services Chairman Brad Yarbrough challenged agency employees Tuesday to focus on providing excellent customer service as the agency embarks on an ambitious plan to recruit hundreds of new foster parents and adoptive families. Starting next month, DHS plans to launch a series of television public service announcements in which Gov. Mary Fallin will urge Oklahomans to become foster or adoptive parents, Yarbrough said. The television ads are expected to add to the influx of Oklahomans who have inquired about becoming foster parents in response to February news articles in The Oklahoman and other publications, he said. Those articles described the plight of babies and other children being cared for in overcrowded state shelters because of a shortage of foster homes. Handling increased inquiries is expected to be a major challenge. The Oklahoman reported Sunday that DHS has a four- to six-month backlog of home studies that need to be completed for foster home applicants. It also was reported that Oklahoma Lawyers for Children had agreed to train and oversee volunteers to help the agency catch up on the backlog.

Read more from NewsOK.

How can competitive salaries with a reduction in taxes?

State Rep. Leslie Osborn and Sterling Zearley typically aren’t on the same side of an issue involving spending. Osborn, R-Mustang, has authored more than a few bills in recent years to shrink state government. This session she’s fighting to lower the state’s income tax. Zearley is in charge of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, which represents thousands of state workers who believe continuing cuts to state government come at a high cost to state workers and all Oklahomans. Yet there they were, appearing recently at the state Capitol touting a plan to conduct a market compensation study on state jobs and to dedicate $25 million in state employee health savings as a one-time bonus for state employees. “Those two things can work together,” Osborn said of tax decreases and a better pay system for state workers. “If we have a lower turnover rate, we have happier employees; we have better morale. We’re better serving our core functions of government without even necessarily costing the government any more by paying at a more equal structure to what the private structure does.” The latter might be true only if such a study shows state worker salaries aren’t too far off from the pay of private-sector workers. That may not be a safe assumption.

Read more from NewsOK.

Quote of the Day

Considering that those workers watch out for our children and our elderly and are charged with keeping us safe from convicts, Oklahomans don’t necessarily want the “B team” as their first line of defense.
The Oklahoman editorial board, in a column arguing that making state employee salaries competitive with the private sector doesn’t mesh with tax cuts

Number of the Day

$100 million

Annual costs to the state to implement and maintain court-mandated improvements to Oklahoma’s child welfare system.

Source: NewsOK via Oklahoma Policy Institute

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Research shows US is a low wage country

Recent research from John Schmitt of the Center for Economic Policy Research shows that the US leads developed countries in the share of workers earning low wages. The research also shows that increased wage polarization over the last several decades is one of the reasons for the large share of low wage-work in the US. The US leads among developed nations for the share of workers in low wage work, where low wage work is defined as employees earning less than 2/3 of the median wage (approximately $10 per hour or $20,000 per year). The share of employees earning low wages has increased from 22 percent in 1979 to 28 percent in 2009. Thus, we have more people at the extremes of the distribution, and fewer in the middle. The bottom line is that there are two big issues facing US labor markets. The first is getting people back to work as soon as possible. But there is also the the problem of reversing the trend toward increased wage polarization. This will require the creation of middle class jobs that are at least as good or better than jobs that existed in the past, something that is much easier said than done.

Read more from CBS Money Watch.

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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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