In The Know: Oklahoma DHS reforms to cost $150 million a year

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 reforms to Oklahoma’s child welfare operations will cost an estimated $150 million a year once all the improvements are in place. Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy Director Linda Terrell writes that investments in child welfare are competing with tax cut proposals. The Tulsa World profiled state finance secretary Preston Doerflinger, who is stepping in as interim director of DHS.

Governor Fallin said she is holding out hope for a top income tax rate cut of at least 1 percentage point. OCU economist Jonathan Willner spoke to StudioTulsa about bogus claims in the study being used to push income tax cuts. This Thurday, Dr. Willner will participate in a public panel discussion titled “Eliminating the Income Tax: Silver Bullet or Fool’s Gold?”  He will be joined by economists from OU and OSU and representatives from the Department of Commerce and Tulsa and Oklahoma City Chambers of Commerce.

Delaware County residents will vote on whether a lawsuit settlement will be paid with higher sales taxes or property taxes. A bill to reauthorize OETA as a state agency failed in a Senate committee but will get another vote. More than $100,000 that went into what auditors dubbed the Education Department’s slush fund was solicited from companies that had no-bid contracts with the agency.

Lawmakers said controversy over the Trayvon Martin case will not affect Oklahoma’s deadly force laws. Oklahoma law enforcement officers will receive more training on how to recognize signs of mental illness and how to respond. NewsOK writes that lawmakers should not risk a costly court challenge by going forward with a bill to drug-test TANF applicants. OK Policy previously listed five reasons why it’s a very bad idea.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of voter turnout in the 2012 primary elections in Oklahoma. In today’s Policy Note, the Center for Economic and Policy Research shows that low-wage workers are older and better-educated than ever.

In The News

Oklahoma DHS reforms to cost $150 million a year

Oklahoma Department of Human Services officials estimate reforms to the agency’s child welfare operations will cost $150 million a year once all the improvements are in place. Under an improvement plan made public Friday, the state will be responsible for about $100 million a year and the federal government will contribute about $50 million. “It will require greater support in money and personnel from the state,” Gov. Mary Fallin said at a news conference. The Department of Human Services intends to reach that level of funding in increments over five years. In the plan’s first year, DHS wants almost $30 million more in state funds to begin making improvements. The first year of the plan begins July 1. Most of the increased funding will go to recruit, support and retain foster parents. DHS has set a goal of recruiting 1,000 new foster families.

Read more from NewsOK.

See also: Reforms, investments would send bold message about child welfare from NewsOK

Interim DHS Director Doerflinger is Fallin’s problem solver

Preston Doerflinger sits atop the state’s single largest bureaucracy – the Department of Human Services. He’s a member of the governor’s Cabinet – secretary of finance and revenue. He is the once and future state budget czar – director of the Office of State Finance. His friends joke that he has a hard time holding on to a job. But Doerflinger thinks of himself more like the utility infielder of Gov. Mary Fallin’s administration. Doerflinger’s current problem to solve is the Department of Human Services – the 7,500-employee, $2.1 billion behemoth of state government that does everything from finding adoptive homes for children to distributing food stamps. He steps into the job with four specific items on his to-do list: developing the agency’s budget for the next year, leading the agency aggressively into the legislatively mandated computer reorganization plan, resolving the controversial futures of two DHS facilities for the mentally disabled, and implementing the “Oklahoma Pinnacle Plan” to reform the state child welfare system.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Governor holds out hope for income tax cut of at least 1 percent

Gov. Mary Fallin said Thursday she remains optimistic that the state’s top personal income tax rate could be cut by 1 percent or more for next year. But she conceded that lawmakers have to get serious about eliminating economic tax credits, something they haven’t done so far halfway through this year’s session. House Speaker Kris Steele said it’s too early to come up with an actual percentage cut for the next year. Negotiations are under way between legislative budget members and the governor’s office on the personal income tax proposals — one of which calls for cutting the rate by more than half next year. Steele said he didn’t agree with Rep. David Dank’s assessment that reducing the personal income tax rate by only a low fraction of a percent may be the best lawmakers can do this session.

Read more from NewsOK.

Jonathan Willner, an Economist at OCU, Rejects Calls by OK Politicans to Delete the State Income Tax

Should we — could we — really do away with the personal income tax here in Oklahoma? The State Legislature is now considering various proposals to reduce and/or eliminate the state’s personal income tax; these proposals are largely based on a study prepared for the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs by economist (and former Reagan administration economic advisor) Arthur Laffer and his colleagues. But what if this study is, in fact, bogus? That’s the claim now being made by a number of well-respected economists across the state. Our guest is Dr. Jonathan Willner, Professor and Chair of the Department of Economics and Finance at Oklahoma City University.

Hear the interview from StudioTulsa.

Delaware County residents to decide if lawsuit settlement will be paid with property taxes or sales taxes

Delaware County voters are being asked to approve a 17-year, half-cent sales tax earmarked to pay off a multimillion-dollar civil rights settlement, and it is creating one of the most anger-fueled elections in recent memory. If voters shoot down the sales tax initiative on Tuesday, officials will be forced to raise property taxes as much as 18 percent per year for three years to pay off the $13.5 million settlement approved by county commissioners Nov. 2. State law mandates the cost of the judgment be paid with property taxes for a period of three years unless there is another option, Doug Smith, Delaware County commissioner. The $13.5 million settlement is three times the county’s annual budget of $4.5 million and has the potential to affect the county for decades, officials said. The lawsuit was filed by 15 female inmates who accused former Sheriff Jay Blackfox of ignoring their complaints of sexual abuse.

Read more from The Republic.

OETA bill to get another vote

Senate Minority Leader Sean Burrage last week decried the failure of a measure that would have extended the life of the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority. But the chairman of the committee in which House Bill 2236 failed Monday said there will be another vote next week. The measure didn’t advance out of the Senate General Government Committee. The vote was 4-4. The bill would reauthorize OETA to continue as a state agency until its next “sunset” review in 2016. If it fails, OETA will cease to exist after July 1. Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, said he asked General Government Committee Chairman Cliff Aldridge to hold another vote on the measure this week. Aldridge, R-Midwest City, has agreed. Bingman said a few members were not at the last meeting, and he hopes there will be enough votes to get the measure passed this time.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Companies with no-bid contracts helped finance Education Department’s fund

More than $100,000 that went into what auditors have dubbed as state Education Department slush funds was solicited by state education officials from 31 companies that had no-bid contracts with that agency, records reveal. The Oklahoman reviewed a sample of 13 contractors and found they had received more than $48.5 million in no-bid Education Department contracts over the last six years. Their combined donations to the controversial accounts used to host educational conferences from 2007 through 2009 totaled $77,000. Ultimately, the funds were used to host educational conferences, including the purchase of wine, beer and food items. Such items could not legally have been purchased directly with state funds, so Education Department officials asked companies they contract with and other businesses to donate money. The donations — obtained through sponsorships and booth sales — were deposited into accounts of a nonprofit organization called the Oklahoma Curriculum Improvement Commission and then used to host the conferences. The practice of soliciting donations from contractors has continued during Janet Barresi’s administration, records show.

Read more from NewsOK.

Lawmakers says Trayvon Martin case won’t affect Oklahoma’s deadly force laws

The high-profile shooting death of an unarmed Florida teenager by a neighborhood watch captain has prompted rallies and protests across the country, including in Oklahoma, but state leaders say it won’t affect the push for greater gun rights in Oklahoma. While officials in some states, like Florida, are taking a closer look at gun laws that allow the use of deadly force, Oklahoma lawmakers want to expand an individual’s ability to openly carry a gun in public. Oklahoma already is one of 25 states with a so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws that essentially allow law abiding citizens who are attacked in public to use deadly force if they feel threatened. The Oklahoma law, which was based on Florida’s legislation, was sponsored by former Republican Rep. Kevin Calvey, who said he still strongly supports the concept. Some Oklahoma lawmakers had pushed this year to expand so-called “Make My Day” laws that allow the use of deadly force against an intruder into someone’s home, business or vehicle to also include places of worship. That measure easily passed the House on a bipartisan 78-9 vote, but hasn’t been granted a hearing in a Senate committee.

Read more from The Associated Press.

Oklahoma law officers to receive more training for dealing with mentally ill

Law enforcement officers embarking on a career in Oklahoma soon will be armed with an advanced level of training to help them recognize signs and symptoms of mental illness and how to respond. New training methods are being incorporated into guidelines set out by the state’s Council on Law Enforcement Education. Training for new officers — either through the CLEET academy or police academies operated by other law enforcement agencies — falls under the CLEET training guidelines. Annual training for officers already in the field also has been upgraded to focus more on recognizing and dealing with subjects who are mentally ill. Revamping the mental illness training came about because mental health professionals realized officers often “did not recognize that a mental illness was at play,” said Rand Baker, former deputy director of the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse services. “If somebody is sick, we need to get them to a doctor,” he said. “That’s what drove this whole process.”

Read more from NewsOK.

TANF drug-testing proposal should be vetted by courts first

Oklahoma already screens TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) applicants for substance abuse. Subjective screening isn’t the same as an actual chemical test, however. HB 2388 requires that drug tests be done at the applicant’s expense, meaning that all applicants — most of whom are impoverished — must pay for the test even if they’ve never used a drug. Drug addiction is a disease. Oklahoma has an especially heinous addiction problem. Yet lawmakers have devoted too little resources to treatment programs. HB 2388 would direct those who test positive for drugs to treatment programs, but it wouldn’t pay for treatment. Might the cost of defending HB 2388 be better applied to treatment? Eighty-one percent of TANF recipients are children. They wouldn’t be tested. Their benefits couldn’t be taken away if a parent or guardian tests positive. The remaining recipients — 19 percent of the total — are the obvious targets of the bill. Is the discovery of drug use among some of these adults worth a prolonged and costly court challenge?

Read more from NewsOK.

Previously: Five reasons not to drug-test welfare applicants from the OK Policy Blog

Quote of the Day

I suspect what will happen is there will be some incremental reduction in income tax just so they can say they did something … Or, my greater concern is that the Legislature passes a long-term ratcheting down in the income tax – a 10- or 20-year reduction to zero … that’s just a ticking time bomb.
Senator John Sparks, D-Norman, on Oklahoma Republicans’ struggles to come up with a plan to cut the income tax

Number of the Day


Voter turnout in the 2012 primary elections in Oklahoma, 7th highest of the 35 states that have already held their primary contests

Source: United States Election Project

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Low-wage workers are older and better-educated than ever

Relative to any of the most common benchmarks – the cost of living, the wages of the average worker, or average productivity levels – the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is well below its historical value. These usual reference points, however, understate the true erosion in the minimum wage in recent decades because the average low-wage worker today is both older and much better educated than the average low-wage worker was in the past. All else equal, older and better-educated workers earn more than younger and less-educated workers. More education – a completed high school degree, an associate’s degree from a two-year college, a bachelor’s degree from a four-year college, or an advanced degree – all add to a worker’s skills. An extra year of work also increases skills through a combination of on-the-job training and accumulated work experience. The labor market consistently rewards these education- and experience-related skills with higher pay, but the federal minimum wage has not recognized these improvements in the skill level of low-wage workers.

Read more from the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

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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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