In The Know: Oklahoma's state employee decline ranks among the nation's largest

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 Oklahoma shed more than 2,000 state employees between 2010 and 2011, a 3.1 percent drop that is one of the biggest declines in the nation. OK Policy previously discussed some effects of the shrinking state employee workforce. The OK Policy Blog calls for a more honest discussion of the trade-offs involved in tax and budget decisions.

The executive director of Oklahoma’s Temporary High Risk Pool spoke about the program that was established as a bridge to cover uninsured people with pre-existing conditions until the Affordable Care Act takes full effect. OK Policy previously explained this component of the new health care law.  The Tahlequah Daily Press writes about how the Affordable Care Act will improve accountability and patient care within Medicare.

Drought conditions that have plagued Oklahoma and stunted the state’s cotton crop are now trickling into other areas of the farm economy. Oklahoma City was ranked 80th and Tulsa was ranked 95th among America’s 200 largest cities for the likelihood of drivers getting into an auto accident.

Oklahoma schools are changing to healthier lunch menus under new federal rules. The Tulsa World writes that Rep. Jason Nelson’s claim that Oklahoma schools have extra money because they carry over a portion of their operating budgets is nonsense. Polls are open today for a variety of state and county runoff elections, school bonds, and city sales taxes.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of mortgages in Oklahoma that are past due or seriously delinquent. In today’s Policy Note, Michael Grunwald discusses why the 2009 stimulus bill was was one of the most important and least understood pieces of legislation in modern history.

In The News

Oklahoma’s state employee decline ranks among the nation’s largest

Oklahoma shed more than 2,000 state employees between 2010 and 2011, a 3.1 percent drop that is one of the biggest declines in the nation, according to a U.S. Census Bureau survey. The state’s full-time equivalent employment dropped from 70,501 to 68,339, according to the 2011 Annual Survey of Public Employment and Payroll. Full-time equivalent figures are devised by adding total full-time employees to the full-time equivalency hours of part-time workers. The state’s part-time employment roster actually increased 0.9 percent from 26,828 to 27,060 during the same time period, according to the survey. Overall, the state reduced its monthly payroll by $4.2 million over the course of the year, a 1.6 percent decrease.

Read more from NewsOK.

Previously: The shrinking state employee workforce from the OK Policy Blog

Keeping it honest

In a recent blog post, we pointed out that while most core services have seen significant cuts in recent years, transportation has been spared. At a time when many state agencies were absorbing funding cuts of more than 20 percent, spending on roads and bridges has more than tripled. In response to our blog post, The Oklahoman published an op-ed to defend the additional spending on transportation. They wrote: “Yes, the amount of additional state funding directed to the repair and upkeep of roads and bridges in recent years has been significant. But it has needed to be significant because during the 20 years before things began to change, the Legislature wrote the same size check to ODOT every year — translating to a 45 percent reduction after inflation.” In a fitting coincidence, the 45 percent decline in transportation spending is the exact percentage that the value of the gas tax has dropped since it was last increased in 1987.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

State high-risk pool director speaks on insurance

As Oklahoma lawmakers watch and wait to see the outcome of November’s election before making any decisions on implementing “Obamacare,” one element of the plan already is fully operational in the state. Tanya Case, executive director of Oklahoma Temporary High Risk Pool, was in Enid Monday to discuss the health insurance plan, which is designed to cover people with pre-existing medical conditions. If the Affordable Care Act remains intact, commercial insurance carriers will not be permitted to exclude people from coverage due to pre-existing medical coverage. In the meantime, the temporary high-risk pool exists as a bridge to cover uninsured people with pre-existing conditions until the ACA provision takes effect.

Read more from the Enid News and Eagle.

Previously: Health reform: Temporary High-Risk Pools from the OK Policy Blog

Health care law may improve accountability

Medicare, the national insurance program administered by the federal government, provided health insurance to 48 million Americans in 2010. On average, it covered about half the health care costs for enrollees. Since the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, speculation has swirled about the sustainability of the program and possible changes it might undergo. Medicare insurance is divided into four parts: Parts A and B, which includes hospital care and outpatient care in an open-network system; Part C, which is Medicare Advantage, the entity’s own network in which the government pays for private health coverage; and Part D, which covers prescription medications. State Sen. Jim Wilson, D-Tahlequah, receives Veterans Administration health benefits and is also a Medicare recipient. He is a proponent of PPACA, and said the law would not expand coverage, but will require recipients to receive “better treatment.”

Read more from the Tahlequah Daily Press.

Economic effects of Oklahoma’s drought starting to be felt in farm-related businesses

Drought conditions that have plagued Oklahoma and stunted the state’s cotton crop are now trickling into other areas of the farm economy. This time of year, farm operations typically increase the number of workers, but at Humphrey’s Co-operative Gin and Elevator, board member Joe Kelly of Altus says the co-op has had to lay off one if its 20 workers. “There’s probably 25 to 30 we won’t hire, that’s seasonal help,” said Kelly, a cotton farmer. Typically extra workers are brought out to help with the cotton harvest that begins in late September. Any rains that fall now would come too late to save this year’s planting, grown primarily in southwestern Oklahoma, where rainfall has already been scarce.

Read more from the Associated Press.

Oklahoma City drivers better, but still not good, Allstate report says

The average Oklahoma City driver will be involved in an auto collision every 10 years, which ranks the metro behind 79 other U.S. cities in Allstate Insurance Co.’s annual “Best Drivers Report.” The 2012 report, based on Allstate claims data, said Oklahoma City “ranks as one of the least safe driving cities.” Although Oklahoma City ranks poorly in the report, the likelihood of being in an auto collision, when compared to the national average, decreased to 3.3 percent this year, from 5.1 percent. Oklahoma City drivers may take some satisfaction that they’re not the state’s worst. Tulsa, the only other state city listed in the report, ranked 95th.

Read more from NewsOK.

Federal rules make Oklahoma schools clean up their plates

Children returning to school this fall may notice a change in what’s on their lunch trays. New federal regulations are kicking in for school districts across the country, and in Oklahoma’s largest school district, lunches already look different. More produce, more whole grain, less fat and other changes are under way, said Al Pilaski, director of operations for child nutrition services for Oklahoma City Public Schools. Pilaski said the new rules are the most dramatic he’s seen in the past 15 years. “Obesity is not going to be solved at school lunch,” Pilaski said. “But school lunches are a component.”

Read more from NewsOK.

Tulsa World: Public schools don’t have extra money

State Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, says that local school district leaders should quit complaining about receiving less state aid because the districts carry over a portion of their operating budgets from year to year. Nelson seems to think that the presence of all that unspent money means that school districts have more than they need and ought to quit their bellyaching. Nonsense. What Nelson doesn’t know or understand, or chooses to ignore, is that the districts carry over a portion of their budgets from one year to the next in order to ensure they have enough money in the bank to begin the new school year – to pay salaries and utility bills and the like for a couple of months until the new year’s state funding begins to arrive in October. Districts also carry over funds to handle any emergencies that come up, such as drastic funding cuts. These reserves are not required by law but they represent sound fiscal planning.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

State voters to decide runoffs, special elections

Voters across the state can head to the polls from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to select a variety of candidates in state and county runoff elections and a handful of special local issues like school bonds and city sales taxes. Many of the contests are the runoff elections from the June primaries in races where no candidate received the required majority of the vote to be declared a winner. The top two candidates in the primary are now in a runoff. There are primary runoff races across the state Tuesday for eight state legislative seats and one congressional seat. In all but four of those races, the winner will go on to face an opponent from the opposite party in November.

Read more from NewsOK.

Quote of the Day

There’s no such thing as totally free health care. Somebody has to pay for that, and the overall health care system works better for everyone if as many people as possible are paying into the system.

Chad Caldwell, executive director of Hospice Circle of Love in Enid, on the temporary high-risk pools established by the Affordable Care Act.

Number of the Day

14.6 percent

Percentage of mortgages in Oklahoma that are past due or seriously delinquent, compared to 18.3 percent nationally, 1st Qtr 2012

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The New New Deal: The hidden story of change in the Obama era

I’m Michael Grunwald from TIME Magazine, and Josh has generously invited me to blog this week about my new book, The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era. It’s the story of President Obama’s $800 billion stimulus bill, which—wait, don’t click away!—was one of the most important and least understood pieces of legislation in modern history. The much-mocked Failed-Stimulus was actually a remarkable success. It was also the purest distillation of what Obama meant by change. And the story of the stimulus is the best way to understand the president, his policies, his approach to politics, his achievements, and his problems marketing those achievements in a city that’s gone bonkers.

Read more from Talking Points Memo.

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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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