In The Know: Oklahoma Democrats expected to block proposed bond issues

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 Senate Democrats said they would not support any proposed bond issues this session as long as there is a push to cut the state income tax. House Appropriations Chair Earl Sears told Oklahoma Watchdog that the legislature is considering reducing the top rate to “the high four percent” range and reducing the number of brackets. Tulsa school board members said they are losing hope for an “eleventh-hour” budget reprieve to prevent the loss of 75 teaching positions.

Chesapeake Energy’s largest shareholder urged the board to be open to buyout offers. In the OK Policy Blog, Mike Connelly discusses the questions we should be asking about criminal justice reform. OK Policy previously explained what the latest reform bill would do. Because of a drop in the state’s unemployment rate, Oklahomans will no longer be able to receive unemployment compensation beyond 60 weeks.

The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes asked a federal judge to order the release of $6.4 million that they claim was illegally frozen at the request of a Clinton bank. Medical groups are at odds over a plan to use funds to increase the size of medical schools in Tulsa, when they were originally intended to combat a shortage of doctors in rural Oklahoma.

The Number of the Day is Oklahoma’s national rank for per capita state spending on mental health. In today’s Policy Note, The Baseline Scenario explains why Social Security is still hugely important for Americans’ retirement.

In The News

Oklahoma Democrats expected to block proposed bond issues

Senate Democrats on Monday said they would not support any proposed bond issues this session as long as there is a push to cut the state income tax. But to block a bond issue, Senate Democrats would need some Republicans to vote with them. The Senate has 32 Republicans and 16 Democrats, and it takes 25 votes to get a measure passed. Officials have discussed possible bonds to pay for repairs to the state Capitol, to finish the American Indian Cultural Center in Oklahoma City and Museum and to help fund a pop culture museum in Tulsa. Senate Minority Leader Sean Burrage, D-Claremore, said increasing debt while cutting revenue is irresponsible. “It is not how the people of Oklahoma run their households, and it is not how we should run the capitol,” he said.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Sears: Legislature considering top rate cut “in the high four percent” range, reducing number of brackets

The Chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee says if there is an income tax cut this year, it will not be along the lines of the “bold” proposals set forth at the start of session that called for phasing out the income tax over ten years (see video below). Rep. Earl Sears (R-Bartlesville) says he believes any cut will still leave the state’s income tax rate “in the high four percent” range. The current top income tax rate is 5.25%. Sears says he thinks that reducing the number of tax brackets from the current seven to just three could be part of the plan this year. That is an idea that Governor Fallin had as part of her budget proposal in February.

Read more from Oklahoma Watchdog.

TPS may have to cut services to save teacher jobs

Tulsa school board members said they are losing hope for an “eleventh-hour” budget reprieve to prevent the loss of 75 teaching positions and may have to consider options such as cutting bus service for magnet school students to protect the classroom. “I think we have been hopeful that there would be some reprieve at the Legislature or we would be the beneficiaries of heroics on the part of governor and legislators who would come to the aid of public school children in the eleventh hour. Folks, we’re at the eleventh hour and we’re not getting any assistance,” Board President Gary Percefull said at a Monday meeting. Tulsa Public Schools is in the process of slashing 150 teaching positions out of its ranks for 2012-13, in part because federal stimulus funding to save teacher jobs is running out. During the last three years, TPS has cut about $23 million out of its budget, including the slashing of 130 administrative and support positions and then 225 teaching positions, engaging in an aggressive energy efficiency initiative to net utility cost savings and the closure of 13 schools in 2011.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Chesapeake should be open to buyout offers, shareholder says

Chesapeake Energy Corp. (CHK)’s biggest investor said the natural-gas supplier, battered by collapsing gas prices and investor distrust, should consider selling itself and spend less time meeting with analysts. “We urge the board to be open to any offers to acquire the whole company,” Southeastern Asset Management Inc. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer O. Mason Hawkins wrote in a letter to Chesapeake today. While the shares have declined, “we don’t want to use this large price-to-market gap as an excuse to refuse discussions with potential acquirers who would be willing to pay a price today that recognizes the longer term value of the company.” Chesapeake shares have fallen 11 percent in the past three weeks amid concern that Chairman and CEO Aubrey McClendon’s personal financial transactions conflict with his professional duties.

Read more from Bloomberg.

Guest Blog (Mike Connelly): The questions we should be asking about criminal justice reform

When there is an obvious problem, any sincere effort to address it tends to be greeted uncritically. Until this post at OK Policy Blog, I hadn’t seen a single effort by state media to critically analyze the current criminal justice reform proposal being considered by the state legislature. But there remain questions that we should ask as it goes through the legislative process and later into implementation. A policy isn’t really a policy until it’s implemented, no matter what the legislation says. In the case of this legislation, the DAs and judges responsible for the sentencing were not among those who invited the reform consultants into the state, and they have never shown interest in real reform.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Previously: Reforming criminal justice: What the latest bill does and what stands in the way from the OK Policy Blog

Long-term unemployed in Oklahoma eligible for fewer weeks of benefits

Starting Sunday, unemployed Oklahomans won’t be able to file for unemployment compensation beyond 60 weeks. Since Jan. 8, long-term unemployed Oklahomans could collect up to 13 weeks of additional federal emergency unemployment compensation — or a maximum of 73 weeks. But because of a drop in the state’s unemployment rate, workers no longer will be offered the added benefit, the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission said Monday. The federal law establishing the extra 13 weeks of “Tier 3” benefits requires states to have three-month average seasonally adjusted unemployment rates of 6 percent or higher. Oklahoma’s 5.4 percent rate in March dropped the state average below that threshold, spokesman John Carpenter said. The agency estimates the change will affect about 300 Oklahomans per week, Carpenter said. Claimants who file for Tier 3 benefits by May 12 still will be eligible for the extra 13 weeks, he said.

Read more from NewsOK.

Oklahoma’s Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes claim $6.4 million was frozen illegally by bank

The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes are asking a federal judge to order the release of roughly $6.4 million in cash assets they claim were illegally frozen at the request of a Clinton bank in late April. Lisa Liebl, a spokeswoman for the tribes, said the bank’s actions have placed its members in a precarious position. “The freeze is impairing the tribes’ ability to govern itself and provide basic services,” she said. “That’s a violation of federal law.” According to the lawsuit, the tribes claim that key governmental functions such as housing assistance and a food voucher program will be severely cut back if the funds remain frozen. Documents provided by the tribes indicate that hundreds of tribal and nontribal members could be affected if the funds aren’t freed up. Emergency medical services, firefighting units, substance abuse programs and a laundry list of other social services provided by the tribes “will likely be scaled back tremendously,” Liebl said.

Read more from NewsOK.

Change in Oklahoma medical residency bill criticized

While most of the money in a $3 million plan to deal with the state’s doctor shortage should be used for medical residencies, a spokesman for the Oklahoma State Medical Association said using some of it to increase the size of medical schools in Tulsa is not a make-or-break issue. The Oklahoma Osteopathic Association board has taken a strong stance, voting last week to oppose a change in Senate Bill 1280 that would allow some of the funding to be used to increase the size of University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University medical schools in Tulsa. Sponsors of the bill say most of the money, in fact, will be used for rural residencies, but the bill was broadened to allow any money left over to also be used for expanding the two medical school classes. The plan to increase the state’s investment in residencies has the backing of Gov. Mary Fallin and legislative leaders, and the change was made late in the legislative process.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Quote of the Day

This really kind of comes down to we’ve got some legislators who think we’re overweight and they’re going to put us on a diet. At this point, the only way to lose weight is you cut a limb off. We are using data to figure out if you take your right arm off or your left arm off. It amounts to being put on a diet that requires cannibalism.
-Tulsa School Board President Gary Percefull, on continuing budget shortfalls that could force the district to increase class sizes and eliminate foreign language, drivers education, music and Advanced Placement courses

Number of the Day


Oklahoma’s national rank for per capita state spending on mental health; we spent less than half the national average in FY 2009

Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Social Security matters

Just how important is Social Security, anyway? Let’s look at some numbers. Around 2003, Barbara Butrica, Howard Iams, and Karen Smith analyzed the composition of household income for people at age 67. They projected that median-income early baby boomers, when they reached 67, would have mean per capita family income of $33,000 (Table 3), of which Social Security made up $13,000, or 40 percent. Does 40 percent qualify as a “major source” of income? I would say so. Imagine losing 40 percent of your income. But Social Security is actually more important than that. Remember, these are 67-year-old people, and 49 percent of them are still working. Yet most people hope to stop working someday. If you subtract out earnings, imputed rental income (the non-cash benefit you get from living in a house you own), and co-resident income (earnings of younger family members who happen to live with you), you’re down to a total of $23,000, of which Social Security is now 57 percent.

Read more from The Baseline Scenario.

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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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