In The Know: Oklahoma police pension fund sues U.S. Bancorp over losses on mortgage securities

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 Police Pension and Retirement System is suing U.S. Bancorp over allegations that the bank failed to ensure that its mortgage securities were backed by loans, causing millions of dollars in losses. The tax credit task force will vote on its final recommendations on Nov. 30, Rep. David Dank said he wants restrictions on tax credits put into the Oklahoma Constitution. Oklahoma Policy Institute has a new issue brief that makes the case for preserving the state’s income tax. See a related blog post here.

Oklahoma will soon apply for a waiver from federal No Child Left Behind requirements after an increase in standards caused the number of school districts on the “in need of improvement” to increase by almost 600 percent. Formerly ranked worst in the state, Oklahoma Centennial Middle High School has made substantial improvements with a federal School Improvement Grant. Superintendent Barresi’s chief of staff Jennifer Carter resigned Wednesday to care for her newborn daughter.

The Oklahoma Gazette reports on why the legislative task force on Oklahoma’s alcohol laws failed to reach agreement. Several organizations have formed a coalition to oppose State Question 759, which would abolish affirmative action in the public sector. Prosecutors and the state sheriffs’ association have warned the Oklahoma Supreme Court that a proposal to restrict court information would hurt law enforcement efforts.

Oklahoma’s sixth emergency declaration this year may put more financial strain on a cash-strapped FEMA. Gov. Fallin released a state energy plan that calls for purchasing more CNG vehicles for state fleets, increasing energy efficiency efforts, and continuing development of renewable energy options such as wind power. See the full text of the energy plan here. CEOs of Oklahoma’s utility companies said they were not ready to commit to replacing coal generation with natural gas.

NewsOK writes that voters should be given the opportunity to decide whether to remove the Governor from parole decisions. The Number of the Day is the metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions avoided annually in Oklahoma through wind power generation. In today’s Policy Note, The Seattle Times reports that Amazon is throwing “strong support” to a new Senate bill that would allow states to compel online vendors to collect sales taxes.

In The News

Oklahoma police pension fund sues U.S. Bancorp over losses on mortgage securities

U.S. Bancorp was sued by an Oklahoma police pension fund over allegations investors in mortgage bonds were hurt by the bank failing to ensure that securities were backed by loans. U.S. Bancorp knew mortgage loans underlying the bonds weren’t properly transferred to trusts and caused investors to suffer millions of dollars in losses, Oklahoma Police Pension and Retirement System said in a complaint filed yesterday in federal court in Manhattan. “U.S. Bank’s violations of its duties have resulted in certificate holders unnecessarily suffering millions of dollars of losses because they were dependent on a faithless trustee to protect their interests,” the fund said in its complaint.

Read more from Bloomberg.

Dank wants tax credit changes put in Oklahoma Constitution

Rep. David Dank said Wednesday that he intends to file legislation to make some new requirements for state tax credits part of the Oklahoma Constitution. That would, of course, make repealing those requirements more difficult to wipe off the law books. “Exactly, because I don’t know how long I’ll be here, but I know somebody can come along in the future and change anything we do by statute,” he said. The task force co-chairman said his idea is to regulate the tax credit arena moving forward, to develop a system of criteria and conditions that can be justified to constituents. “I think if our constituents ever find out for real how this has been handled in the past, there’d be some more of that ‘get rid of all of them’ situation,” he said. Dank said that members will be asked at their next meeting, on Nov. 30, to vote on criteria to be included in the panel’s final report and recommendations for possible legislation.

Read more from 23rd and Lincoln.

Cutting the income is the wrong priority for Oklahoma

While some state leaders continue to discuss making top-down cuts to the income tax or eliminating it entirely, a new OK Policy issue brief shows why that policy is ill-advised. Before the economic downturn, the income tax brought in more than $2.5 billion a year. In FY 2010, it made up about one-third of all state tax collections. It is the single largest source of support for education, health care, transportation, public safety, and other necessities. The state could not provide basic, essential services without income tax revenue unless other taxes were drastically increased. The issue brief shows that shifting to greater reliance on other taxes would disadvantage local business, create more risk of revenues not being adequate to needs, and put a disproportionate burden on low- and moderate-income Oklahoma families.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

See also: The Case for the Income Tax from Oklahoma Policy Institute

Schools look forward to waiver for NCLB

A newly released draft of the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s application for a No Child Left Behind Act waiver reveals that school districts across the state could soon see the policy relief they have been seeking. Oklahoma is among a slew of states that have said they will take advantage of the federal government’s offer of waivers for certain federal requirements in 2012 because so many schools and districts haven’t been able to keep pace with the latest uptick in standards. Just two weeks ago, the state sanctioned 227 schools for not meeting those performance goals, more than doubling last year’s School Improvement List. Also, 61 districts were deemed “in need of improvement,” a 577-percent increase over last year’s total of nine.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Resurgence seen at Oklahoma Centennial Middle High School

A year ago, Oklahoma Centennial Middle High School’s Academic Performance Index score for 2009-10 was 264 points out of 1,500, worst in the state. The high school’s overall Academic Performance Index has now jumped to 842. “There’s a different attitude all the way from the top down with the administration, the faculty and the students,” parent Yvette Weaver said Saturday, as she and dozens of volunteers landscaped the school entrance with about $10,000 in donated supplies. Principal Charmaine Johnson said she has a five-year plan that includes garnering serious community support through what she calls the Centennial Support Team. Supporting her plan is a federal School Improvement Grant the district received to turn Centennial around.

Read more from NewsOK.

Baressi’s chief of staff resigns after maternity leave

Jennifer Carter, chief of staff to state Superintendent Janet Barresi, resigned Wednesday to care for her newborn daughter. Carter had just returned from maternity leave a couple of days before she decided to resign, said Damon Gardenhire, communications director. Early on, Carter was in the center of controversy when the state Board of Education voted to deny employment to three candidates, including Carter and Gardenhire, because their salaries were paid by a nonprofit group in Oklahoma City, the Communities Foundation of Oklahoma. Barresi said she would keep the employees and the nonprofit group would continue to provide their salaries as “a gift to the state.” Carter and Gardenhire became employees of the state agency in May. In September, Carter was lambasted by some after she called Union and Jenks administrators “dirtbags” on her personal Twitter account because the two districts had countersued parents of special-needs children to challenge the constitutionality of a new law.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Why the legislative task force on alcohol sales dried up

Members of the joint task force on the sale of wine and beer in grocery stores voted to disband on Oct. 20 after only two meetings. Jeff Reasor, CEO of Reasor’s Foods and a member of the task force, said there were signs from the beginning that the group would not reach a consensus.  “The discussion got mired on a couple issues,” Reasor said, “especially excessive drinking and exposure of minors to alcohol. It seemed like a smoke screen for people who were just opposed to change.” John Woods, president and CEO of the Norman Chamber of Commerce and a task force member, researched the necessary legislative changes that would be required to get strong beer and wine into Oklahoma retail stores, but his report “took the air out of the room,” said task force member J.P. Richard. Woods said there are five different portions of Article 28 of the Oklahoma Constitution that would have to be changed. Voters would need to approve five separate state questions or repeal the entire article.

Read more from The Oklahoma Gazette.

Factions lining up for battle on affirmative action proposal

Several organizations are forming a coalition to oppose a state question that would abolish affirmative action in the public sector. The measure, State Question 759, is expected to appear on the November 2012 ballot. SQ 759 would abolish affirmative action public employment, contracting and education, with some exceptions. It would apply to the state, public agencies, counties, cities, towns, school districts and other state subdivisions. Lawmakers put the issue on the ballot last session after a failed initiative petition effort in 2008. “We strongly believe in equal opportunity programs in Oklahoma,” said Tamya Cox, ACLU of Oklahoma legislative counsel. “We currently are a part of a huge coalition that will soon be kicking off a ‘Vote no’ campaign in the next few months to combat State Question 759.” The group has been meeting since the summer and expects to file as a campaign in early January or sooner, Cox said.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Prosecutors oppose proposed restriction on court information

Prosecutors and the state sheriffs’ association have warned the Oklahoma Supreme Court that a proposal to restrict court information would hurt law enforcement efforts. The Supreme Court is considering whether to ban key personal information from public court records. Most upsetting to prosecutors is that the restriction would mean a criminal defendant’s full address and full birth date would no longer be part of the court files. Peace officers rely on that information so they “can be assured they are locating, arresting and detaining the proper person,” wrote Ken McNair, executive director of the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association.

Read more from NewsOK.

Oklahoma emergency declaration puts more strain on cash-strapped FEMA

Governor Mary Fallin has now declared an emergency for twenty counties due to earthquakes, tornadoes, severe storms, straight line winds and flooding the last five days. That paves the way to ask for federal dollars — at a time when FEMA says it’s money is running out. FEMA says it’s not fully prepared for a major disaster because states are too dependent on the federal government for local disasters. This state of emergency declaration is at least the sixth this year from Governor Mary Fallin. The state’s Department of Emergency management says Oklahoma could likely get federal disaster funds if we applied. FEMA pays Oklahoma 75 percent when roads, bridges and public buildings are damaged in disasters. The state and city split the difference.

Read more from NewsOn6.

Gov. Fallin aiming to increase CNG options

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin is teaming up with governors of three other natural gas-producing states in an effort to make vehicles that run on compressed natural gas more readily available. Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming and Pennsylvania on Wednesday confirmed their desire to buy functional and affordable natural gas vehicles for their state fleets. Fallin said she and her fellow governors intend to commit to purchasing 5,000 natural gas vehicles a year to establish demand for such vehicles and spur carmakers to design and build a suitable CNG sedan. The CNG agreement was made public Wednesday as part of the “Oklahoma First” Energy Plan, which Fallin called a comprehensive blueprint for the state’s energy future. The plan calls for increased energy efficiency efforts and continued development of renewable energy options such as wind power.

Read more from NewsOK.

See also: Governor Fallin’s Energy Plan

Oklahoma utility companies not ready to commit to natural gas

Natural gas is an important piece of the electric generation puzzle for Oklahoma’s two largest utility companies, but neither is ready to commit to it exclusively. Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. CEO Pete Delaney and Public Service Co. of Oklahoma CEO Stuart Solomon spoke favorably of one of the state’s most abundant resources Wednesday during a “fireside chat” at the Governor’s Energy Conference. Delaney said coal is still about a third cheaper than natural gas at this point, but he admitted natural gas use in electricity generation could rise in the face of pending environmental regulations. Another panelist, Chesapeake Energy Corp. CEO Aubrey McClendon, pushed OG&E and PSO to abandon coal imported from other states in favor of natural gas produced in Oklahoma.

Read more from NewsOK.

NewsOK: Voters should decide if Oklahoma parole rules need to change

A report about the percentage of inmates who have been granted their parole by Gov. Mary Fallin has us wondering yet again, will Oklahoma ever move to get the governor out of the parole process? Doing so would require changing the state constitution, which would take a vote of the people. So approval would be anything but a sure thing, but voters ought to be given the opportunity to decide. They certainly pay a high price for the status quo. Ours is the only state that requires its governor to sign off on every parole granted by the state Pardon and Parole Board. Removing the governor from the routine review of all parole cases was the No. 1 recommendation of auditors who spent months studying our correctional system in 2007. Making that change could potentially save the state about $40 million over 10 years, auditors said.

Read more from NewsOK.

Quote of the Day

The first day, I was the only one who showed up without a prepared statement and without my attorney. I thought it was a strange way to begin a conversation.
Jeff Reasor, CEO of Reasor’s Foods and a member of the task force on changing Oklahoma’s alcohol laws

Number of the Day

3.2 million

Metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions avoided annually in Oklahoma through wind power generation, 2010

Source: American Wind Energy Association

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Amazon supports Senate’s online sales tax plan

Bye-bye tax-free shopping on Amazon itself blessed that notion Wednesday by throwing “strong support” to a new Senate bill that would allow states to compel online vendors to collect sales taxes. It was the Seattle-based Internet retailer’s clearest endorsement of the federal legislation, and a stark contrast to its sometimes-combative opposition to attempts by individual states to require the same thing. But the bill, introduced by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, drew an equally forceful rebuff from eBay, the huge online auction site. EBay fears many of its small member vendors would lose a crucial edge in price over big retailers. Retailers with less than $500,000 in annual sales would be exempt. With five Democratic and five Republican co-sponsors, Durbin’s Marketplace Fairness Act may finally succeed in overcoming a decades-old ban on forcing retailers to collect sales taxes in any state where they don’t operate stores or otherwise have a physical presence.

Read more from The Seattle Times.

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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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