In The Know: Oklahoma, Texas leading recession rebound

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. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that metropolitan areas in Texas and Oklahoma are leading the nation in recovery from the recession.  A federal appeals court rejected Hobby Lobby’s claims to religious exemption from certain mandates in the Affordable Care Act, ruling that privately-owned companies are secular, for-profit enterprises that do not possess the same religious rights as individuals.

New analysis from Dr. Jonathan Wilner found that a significant part of the A-F grade given to Oklahoma schools is driven by socio-economic conditions of the schoolchildren’s parents.  Drilling for oil and natural gas was up in 2012 across Oklahoma.  The OK Policy Blog recently explained how tax breaks for horizontal drilling are gutting the state’s gross production tax revenue.

The Oklahoma Legislature created a program to protect witnesses who face threats and intimidation stemming from their testimony to violent crimes, but local law enforcement say it hasn’t been funded.  A non-profit group home in Enid is soliciting donations of Christmas gifts and other essential items for the teenaged boys in its care.

A Tulsa World op-ed by our director David Blatt discussed how Governor Fallin’s healthcare decisions and AG Pruitt’s lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act put politics over Oklahomans.  A Tulsa tax attorney answers five questions about how recent changes to the state’s tax code affect Oklahoma filers.

In today’s Policy Note, Oklahoma came in last in a 24/7 Wall St. ranking of the quality of key state entitlements, including unemployment benefits, Medicaid, welfare and education.  The Number of the Day is the number of Open Records Requests received by the Governor’s office regarding actions taken on Oklahoma’s health insurance exchange.

In The News

What Recession? Texas, Oklahoma Rebound Fastest Since Bottom
Metropolitan areas in Texas and Oklahoma are leading the nation in their overall recovery from the recession while cities in Florida and California continue to struggle at the bottom, according to the latest Metropolitan Monitor report from the Brookings Institution. The national recovery from the recession, which bottomed out in most metro economies between 2009 and 2010, has been a slow process, according to the report’s co-author, Alec Friedhoff, data manager and research analyst for the institute’s Metropolitan Policy Program. But the recovery in the nation’s 100 largest metro areas has varied widely.

Read more from Governing at

Federal appeals court rules against Hobby Lobby on contraception
A federal appeals court on Thursday rejected a claim by an arts and crafts chain that wants to be exempted from a requirement to provide emergency contraceptives to employees because it violates the religious principles of its owners. U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton of the Western District of Oklahoma ruled on November 19 that the privately-owned companies are secular, for-profit enterprises that do not possess the same religious rights as the individual members of the family.

Read more from Reuters at

Guest Blog (Jonathan Willner): Public school grades – what’s really being graded?
After considerable controversy and delay, the State Department of Education released its A-F report cards for all Oklahoma public schools in late October. According to the Department, “Oklahoma’s A-F School Grading System is based on the concept that parents and community members should be able to quickly and easily determine how schools are performing .” Now that the grades are out, we need to ask: what it is that is being graded? Teachers? Administrators? Not really. Careful analysis of the report cards reveals that a good part of what is being graded is the parents. It’s convenient to blame the schools, but a significant part of the grade of each school is driven by the socio-economic condition of the parents of the children in the school.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at 

Oklahoma still an oil, gas state
Oklahoma is continuing to live up to its reputation as an oil and natural gas state in 2012. Drilling activity has increased this year as producers found opportunities to search for oil after natural gas prices hit decade-low levels in the spring. “Our 2012 activity level in Oklahoma has averaged about seven rigs for the year, and we have made a major shift out of gas-prone areas into our new SCOOP area, which we feel will become a large, repeatable, oil-prone resource play,” Continental Resources Inc. President Rick Bott said.

Read more from NewsOK at

The incredible disappearing gross production tax

With all the attention last legislative session on the failed attempt to do away with the state personal income tax, a potentially bigger story seems to have escaped most people’s notice: the effective disappearance of the gross production tax. This week, Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger announced General Revenue (GR) collections for November, the fifth month of FY 2013. For the month, the GR fund collected $0 from gross production tax revenues; year-to-date, gross production collections to GR are a miniscule $6.7 million.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

Oklahoma Legislation Creates Witness Protection Program, No Clear Plan To Fund It
Tulsa County’s District Attorney says the number of people afraid to testify because their lives are in jeopardy is on the rise. In response, the legislature told the Attorney General’s office it must create a state witness protection program. Witness intimidation is nothing new, but it is getting worse. Often times, charges must be dropped, cases dismissed and people who did terrible things, are set free to do more of the same. “As we talk right now … I have three cases where witnesses’ lives are in danger because of their testimony,” said DA Tim Harris.

Read more from NewsOn6 at

Sequoyah Boys Group Home asks for community Christmas help

Sequoyah Boys Group Home in Enid is asking for community help to provide its 16 boys with Christmas presents. Kayla Enloe, youth life coordinator for the home, said she and other staff members are short on Christmas gifts and essential items for the boys who live at the facility. Sequoyah Boys Group Home, operated by the non-profit Sequoyah Enterprises at 306 W. Park, cares for 16 boys, all ages 14-17. The home operates under a contract with Oklahoma Department of Human Services. Enloe said all of the boys are in DHS custody, and most have been removed from their homes. She said the home is designed to offer a six-month program, caring for the boys until they can return home or move on to a foster home or adoptive family.

Read more from the Enid News & Eagle at

Affordable Care actions put Oklahomans last
Even though hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans without health insurance stand to benefit from the Affordable Care Act, state officials continue to treat the law like a political football. Just before Thanksgiving, Governor Mary Fallin declared that Oklahoma would not participate in the expansion of Medicaid for low-income adults and would not create a state-run market for private health insurance. She has also embraced Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s effort to deprive Oklahomans of tax credits that would make private health care coverage more affordable.

Read more from the Tulsa World at

5 questions with Sheppard Miers Jr., GableGotwals tax attorney
One change affecting Oklahoma taxpayers, particularly businesses, is the approval of State Question 766 by voters in November. It amended the Oklahoma Constitution exemption of intangible personal property from ad valorem tax. The exemption will now apply to all intangible personal property. This is a clarification of the exemption as it existed for many years before being judicially narrowed by an Oklahoma Supreme Court interpretation in 2009. 

Read more from the Tulsa World at

Quote of the Day

“[T]he Oklahoma Legislature’s support for the jobs created by the oil and gas industry through severance tax reductions reflects their understanding of the critical role our industry creates in our state’s ongoing prosperity.  That support is much appreciated.”

Tom Price, senior VP of corporate development and government relations at Chesapeake Energy

Number of the Day

Number of Open Records Requests received by the Governor’s office regarding actions taken on Oklahoma’s health insurance exchange
Source: NewsOK

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The States Doling Out the Best (and Worst) Benefits
With the president and Congress attempting to reach a budget deal in an effort to avoid the fiscal cliff, it is likely they will agree on spending cuts, including those to entitlement programs. If they do not reach a deal in time, the nation may stumble into another recession triggered by the automatic austerity measures related to the fiscal cliff. Either way, there is almost no doubt that social programs and other spending will be cut in some way. The latest offer on the table includes the elimination of unemployment insurance for hundreds of thousands of Americans, as well as longer-term reductions in Social Security. If another recession is not avoided, the need for state assistance, like unemployment insurance and welfare, will grow. Yet not all states provide for their residents equally. Based on a 24/7 Wall St. review of key state entitlements, including unemployment benefits, Medicaid, welfare and education, we identified the states guaranteeing the best and worst benefits.

Read more from 24/7 Wall St. at

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