In The Know: Oklahoma Capitol crumbles with no repair money

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 Oklahoma Capitol building is experiencing serious structural problems with no money to fix them. The state reimbursed local governments $6.4 million for natural disaster expenses going back to 2007, but we still have a backlog of about $28 million. OK Policy analyst Gene Perry writes in NewsOK that we need a more honest discussion about possible changes to the state income tax. A divide between rural and urban legislators is emerging in the tax credit debate.

Stagnant incomes are creating huge demand at Oklahoma food banks, as many working Oklahomans still are not making enough to keep up with the price of groceries and other bills. In lawsuit filings, DHS admitted that the agency misrepresented how many children were abused and neglected in foster homes in 2009. The special needs scholarship program that sends public money to private schools will pay out at least $700,000 this year. One year into dramatic reforms at Oklahoma City’s worst-performing schools, the district is finding mixed results.

More than 5,000 incidents of domestic violence were reported in Oklahoma in 2009, and about 71 percent of women in prison have previously endured domestic abuse. Oklahoma workplace deaths rose in 2010, after a sharp decrease in 2009 partly due to high unemployment. Cleveland County Judge Tracy Schumacher is questioning Sen. Jonathan Nichols’ role in a bill that would redistrict her out of her seat. Schumacher defeated Nichols in an election for that judgeship in 2010. Meanwhile, Oklahoma’s chief justice says there is no need for the legislature to redraw any judicial districts. Oklahoma accounts for 55 percent of the nation’s consumption of 3.2 beer, but that may be changing.

Today’s Number of the Day is the total amount earned on investment by Oklahoma’s state and local public employee retirement systems in FY 2009. In today’s Policy Note, Texas’s closing fund is receiving new scrutiny after Gov. Rick Perry cited misleading job creation numbers in a Republican Presidential debate.

In The News

Oklahoma Capitol crumbles with no repair money

The state Capitol has been a symbol of Oklahoma’s history and aspirations since it opened in 1917. But 94 years later, the building reflects Oklahoma’s problems, especially its fiscal hardship. The stately structure is beginning to crumble. Yellow barriers have been erected to prevent visitors from climbing the steps of the Capitol’s south portico because mortar and pieces of limestone are falling from slabs overhead. An engineering analysis found mortar between the massive limestone panels was disintegrating, and the metal clips holding the panels have apparently corroded. Repairs, along with revamping the outmoded electrical, plumbing and other systems, could cost as much as $130 million.

Read more from this Associated Press article at

State to send $6.4 million to cities, counties and towns for natural disaster expenses

Cities, counties and towns soon will be getting $6.4 million from the state to reimburse them for responding to extreme weather events from as long as four years ago, officials said Friday. Another $2 million is going to reimburse the Oklahoma National Guard for its efforts to fight wildfires and to deliver water to communities struggling to meet water needs caused by this summer’s record-setting hot temperatures and drought. Legislators appropriated the money in 2010 for the governor’s office to transfer to the state’s emergency fund. Then-Gov. Brad Henry apparently held back on the $8.4 million to make sure enough money was on hand to deliver core state services. “He never acted on the $8.4 million,” said Alex Weintz, Gov. Mary Fallin’s communications director. The $6.4 million going to cities, towns and counties may clear ledgers only through part of 2009. The state still has a backlog of about $28 million to cities, towns and counties, along with electric cooperatives.

Read more from NewsOK at

Frank discussion needed on tax reform in Oklahoma

Gov. Mary Fallin recently announced a plan to fix Oklahoma’s crumbling bridges. This commitment is long overdue. Oklahoma has fallen behind in maintaining our infrastructure for many years. But after three years of repeated cuts to the state budget, the state has fallen behind in other areas as well: in funding teacher salaries and benefits, maintaining adequate staffing in our prisons and juvenile facilities, ensuring the safety of children at risk of abuse and neglect, and meeting our pension obligations — just to name several. Fallin proposes to fund her plan by diverting growth revenue to bridge repair. But there’s a catch: Revenue won’t grow enough to fund bridge repair and other pressing obligations if we cut or abolish the personal income tax, as the governor and other lawmakers say they want to do.

Read more from NewsOK at

Rural-urban divide seen on Oklahoma tax credit question

Weeding through the politics of the current tax credits debate can be a daunting task, especially when one must factor in lobbyists, campaign contributions, party alliances and the ever-elusive motives of political gain. Yet, there is one more factor rarely discussed — one that is shaping Oklahoma’s future. “Naturally, there is a divide of Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature,” noted former State Treasurer Scott Meacham. “But there’s an even greater divide there between rural and urban legislators.” Mike Southard, Ada Jobs Foundation president, fears the divide is becoming greater and ultimately will impact where the state invests its tax credits and incentives.

Read more from NewsOK at

Stagnant incomes, unemployment magnify food needs

Truck after truck rolls into Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma every 15 minutes throughout the week. The trucks come from a variety of charity and food distribution organizations, and the groceries are intended for families that are struggling, some with chronic unemployment, physical disabilities or strained family structures. But a growing number of groceries, according to spokeswoman Susan Tilkin, are going into the hands of working families – families who simply can’t keep up with the rising price of groceries and other bills while their incomes either haven’t grown or have shrunk. Demand at the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma has grown at a staggering rate every year. The charity’s dilemma of growing demand from the needy and lower food donation rates highlights the growing disparity between food, energy inflation and income growth.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

DHS misrepresents number of abused and neglected children in state custody

DHS officials greatly misrepresented to the public and their governing commission the number of children abused and neglected in out-of-home state custody, documents reveal. DHS misrepresents number of children abused and neglected in state custody Last December, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services issued a news release stating “99.8 percent of children in out-of-home care did not experience maltreatment while in care” during 2009. The agency proclaimed Oklahoma was one of 24 states that met a national standard of having at least 99.68 percent of children in custody not experience confirmed abuse or neglect in out-of-home care. The claims were false. DHS actually ranked among the worst states in the nation, as it has for several years, The Oklahoman has confirmed. Preliminary data for 2010 indicates the state once again will fail to meet the national standard.

Read more from NewsOK at

Special needs scholarships top $700,000

At least $700,000 in state public school funds will be paid this year to send special-education students to private schools in Oklahoma, according to state Education Department estimates. The spending is part of a new law that has drawn criticism from public-school advocates. The Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Act passed last year and has rankled many who contend it violates the Oklahoma constitution by sending public school funding to private religious schools. The $700,000 dollar figure could rise as the 2011-12 school year progresses and more parents apply for the scholarships, said department spokesman Damon Gardenhire. The application deadline for this school year is Dec. 1. Thirty-three private schools in the state are approved to accept students with Lindsey Nicole Henry scholarships. Of those, 32 are religious schools.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Oklahoma City schools report mixed results year into improvement effort

The Oklahoma City School District poured $4.4 million into three of its worst schools, pushed out about 100 teachers and added at least an hour of class time each day. But with all those reforms last school year, only one of the schools met its goals. The federal government gave $3.5 billion to the nation’s worst schools in 2009, mandating a number of drastic reforms. Perhaps most notable in Oklahoma City is the school that didn’t make progress: U.S. Grant High School. The high-profile changes at U.S. Grant included a quick and controversial dismissal of more than half of the staff. After a year with new teachers, more class time and embedded professional development, the test scores show little to no improvement. At Douglass Middle School, the reading scores improved by at least 10 percent. Students scored higher in math, too, but not enough to reach the goal set for the school. Meanwhile, F.D. Moon Elementary School improved considerably using a model of reform that was considered less severe and certainly attracted the least attention.

Read more from NewsOK at

Oklahoma officials discuss domestic violence cases

State officials say domestic violence cases are some of the most difficult situations to deal with for both victims and law enforcement. October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month. According to a report from the Office of Attorney General, Oklahoma Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board, 5,386 incidents of domestic violence were reported throughout Oklahoma County in 2009. That same year, 25 people died as a result of domestic abuse. In 2010, 21 people died from domestic violence, according to data from July 1. Prosecutor Melissa Blanton said the number includes both homicides and suicides. She said often victims see those as the only ways out of dangerous situations. According to an annual report from the state Correction Department, about 71 percent of women in prison have endured domestic abuse. About 36 percent of female inmates have been raped after the age of 18.

Read more more from NewsOK at

Oklahoma worker deaths rose in 2010

Oklahoma workplace deaths increased last year, with highway incidents still the most common type of fatality, according to a report released Thursday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. There were 91 fatal occupational injuries in 2010, up from 82 in 2009, an 11 percent increase. Highway incidents accounted for 21 deaths, a sharp decline from 2009 when 34 workers were killed on highways. While the increase in 2010 in Oklahoma was substantial, the number of fatalities was in line with 2002 through 2008 and it’s actually the sharp decline in 2009 that is unusual, said Cheryl Abbot, a regional economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Dallas. Rising unemployment was likely the cause, she explained.

Read more from NewsOK at

Judge questions senator’s role in bill

The version of a bill discovered on the state Legislature’s website would realign Cleveland County judicial posts so that one sitting district judge, Tracy Schumacher, would be ineligible to serve in her district. Last fall, Sen. Jonathan Nichols was defeated by Schumacher in a judicial race, prompting sources at the state Capitol to question whether Nichols is seeking retribution. Senate records state that Nichols had been author of Senate Bill 700, but his name was removed. Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, told Schumacher that Nichols’ name was removed so it would not give the false impression that Nichols was seeking retribution against Schumacher or anyone else. Nichols said that he had worked to create an additional judgeship for Cleveland County, but the Legislature has not funded that position yet. Schumacher agreed that the proposed bill would not “eliminate” her judge post, but it would require that future candidates live in the Moore or south Oklahoma City area. This would mean that Schumacher, who lives in Norman, could not seek re-election to her Judicial District 1 post unless she moved her residence.

Read more from this Norman Transcript article at

See also: Redrawing of judicial districts not required, chief justice says from The Tulsa World

Change may be brewing in Oklahoma beer market

Oklahoma’s official state beverage is milk, but you can drink that anywhere. The drink that is uniquely popular in the state is 3.2 beer. Last year Oklahomans consumed 76.5 million gallons of beer – 28.8 gallons for every person of legal drinking age – and more than 89 percent of that brew was the low-point variety available in grocery and convenience stores. Low-point beer is sold in six states and is only popular in one – Oklahoma. The Sooner State accounts for 55 percent of the nation’s consumption of 3.2 brew, according to the Beer Institute, the national trade group and lobbying arm of the brewing industry. But change may be brewing in Oklahoma’s beer market.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Quote of the Day

Over 40 percent of people that come to our agency do have jobs. This is not a situation where people are unemployed. A lot of people depend on overtime to pay their bills, and there are fewer overtime hours.
Susan Tilkin, spokesperson for the Eastern Oklahoma Community Food Bank

Number of the Day


Total amount earned on investment by Oklahoma’s state and local public employee retirement systems in FY 2009.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Texas closing fund under more scrutiny as Gov. Perry cites misleading job creation numbers

Gov. Rick Perry’s record of creating jobs with taxpayer money is coming under greater scrutiny because of his presidential campaign. The governor defended the cornerstone of his economic development efforts: the Enterprise Fund, the nation’s largest deal-closing fund for recruiting companies to Texas, and the Emerging Technology Fund, which gives money to tech startup companies. “I can promise you, the 54,600 jobs that have been created and the $14 billion-plus worth of investment that has come out of the Enterprise Fund in the State of Texas, those people that have jobs today in the State of Texas, they are absolutely happy that we have got a program like that,” he said during the debate. Not all those 54,600 jobs have been created yet. And some of those promised jobs might not be created for years — if ever — given Perry’s track record of amending job targets when a company falls behind.

Read more from the Austin-American Statesman 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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