In 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 a proposed deal-closing fund in Tulsa County’s Vision2 proposal could easily end up being well over the $52.942 million being estimated because it has no cap. Tulsa City Councilor G.T. Bynum said Vision2’s millions for improvements to the airport maintenance facility is either a great bet or “the biggest boondoggle in city history.” The Norman Transcript reported on the debate over State Question 766 to exempt corporation’s intangible property from taxation. See OK Policy’s analysis of SQ 766 here and our page on all of the 2012 State Questions here.
Implementation of criminal justice reforms are off to a rocky start, with a working group meeting on the new law descending into chaos. The okeducationtruths blog discusses why school administrators are becoming increasingly frustrated over implementation of A-F Report Cards for schools. Oklahoma oil billionaire Harold Hamm has made political contributions that exceed Federal legal limits.
Mickey Hepner writes that dark clouds might be forming on the horizon of the Oklahoma economy. The OK Policy Blog features a guest post on why labor force participation is shrinking. The OU Daily writes that emergency contraception is not an abortion pill, despite claims to the contrary in the lawsuit filed by Hobby Lobby against the Affordable Care Act. Cameron University held a debate over what the Affordable Care Act means for Oklahoma.
The Number of the Day is how many mortgages in Oklahoma were at or near negative equity in 2012. In today’s Policy Note, Wonkbook explains why the characterization of people who don’t pay federal income tax as “takers” is not true.
In The News
Vision2 closing fund lacks cap, could cost more than estimated
Tulsa County officials confirm that a proposed deal-closing fund in the Vision2 proposal before voters Nov. 6 could easily end up being well over the $52.942 million being described. Proposition 1 of the Vision2 package would dedicate no more than $122 million to buildings and infrastructure at the Tulsa airport industrial complex and no more than $132 million for equipment at the same complex. Bond costs and interest on the advance funding of the airport projects adds an estimated $79.938 million to the package. The final element of the economic-development proposal is the closing fund, which has been described as being worth $52.942 million over the course of the 13-year tax extension. Although the two airport construction projects are capped, the closing fund is not, so it could easily go over the estimated amount.
See also: Tulsa city councilor says Vision2’s AA plan could be either great bet or ‘biggest boondoggle’ from the Tulsa World
State Question 766 becoming hot-button issue
A state question that sounds innocuous is likely to be one of the most hotly debated state issues in the coming election. State Question 766, if approved, exempts all intangible personal property from ad valorem taxation. The business community, in particular large public service providers, support a “yes” vote. Public schools and other recipients of ad valorem taxes oppose this state question. “State Question 766 alone would have about a $600,000 impact on schools and it’s about a $33 million impact to public schools in general,” Norman School Superintendent Joe Siano said. “You can take each one of these tax reductions independently and say, ‘that’s not going to hurt very much,’ but when you take them together and couple it with the fact that schools are being funded at less than 2008 levels, I think you’re facing a critical problem.”
See also: Intangible property ballot measure would have tangible consequences from the OK Policy Blog
Prison crowding plan runs into questions, comments, awkward silences
If you think an historic agreement to handle Oklahoma’s exploding prison population is too good to be true, give yourself a prize. A working group meeting Thursday to speed implementation of the widely praised Justice Reinvestment Initiative of 2012 instead fell into polite chaos. It now seems likely the project won’t be ready for its Nov. 1 opening. The initiative, passed in the spring, is supposed to provide alternative sentencing to help reduce the state’s booming prison population. Oklahoma prisons rank No. 1 nationwide for women and No. 3 for men. Signs of trouble were present from the beginning. Opening the meeting, Speaker of the House Kris Steele, chairman of the working group, observed that the legislation’s passage last spring was essential, of course, but “ninety percent of the work is still ahead of us.” Truer words were never spoken. The meeting quickly broke down over disagreement, clarification and details as participants peppered the governor’s representative with corrections.
Rising frustration over implementation of A-F Report Cards for schools
If you’ve talked to a school administrator in the last couple of weeks, you’ve probably detected a palpable frustration. In the last few days, it’s turned to outrage. The A-F Report Cards that the state is issuing are frustrating enough. Layer that with the school designations that districts received (which are kind of tied to A-F, but also kind of tied to the NCLB Waiver), and the explanations coming from the State Department of Education are just mind-boggling. During the last few days, people with whom I have spoken have heard the following statements: More schools were added to the Focus School list this week because we initially calculated the formula wrong. The SDE got their own formula wrong, and they expect school districts to sell these accountability reports to parents as somehow easier to understand? That’s just absurd. We’re not trying to label schools. Prior to 2011, the SDE had two lists designating school performance – Needs Improvement and AAA. They were pretty self-explanatory. Now the SDE has High-performing, High-progress, Focus, Targeted Intervention, and Priority. Schools can also be slapped with SIG and C3 designations. In case it’s not evident, only two of those are a good thing.
Oklahoma oil billionaire Harold Hamm exceeded campaign-donation limits
The national energy adviser for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, Oklahoma oil billionaire Harold Hamm, made political contributions that exceed Federal legal limits by as much as 41 percent, according to data compiled by Reuters. The data, based on public filings, showed that Hamm’s political donations exceeded the legal limits for individual donations to political parties, campaigns and political action committees (PACs) over the 2011-2012 election period. Hamm, the CEO of oil and gas company Continental Resources, has given $164,700 to parties, PACs and candidates, including Romney, in the current two-year election cycle, in addition to an almost $1 million donation in April to the main Super PAC supporting Romney. The $985,000 Hamm gave to Super PAC Restore Our Future is legal, because there is no limit on such giving. But his other federal contributions put him well over the legal limit of $117,000 in an election period for an individual donor.
Mickey Hepner: Oklahoma needs more robust recovery
The good news: One month does not make a trend. Plus, the overall data was somewhat mixed. However, the latest state revenue report released by the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services indicates that dark clouds might be forming on the horizon of the Oklahoma economy. This past week the newly named OMES (formerly Office of State Finance) reported that in August, state General Revenue fund collections totaled $386 million — which was 6.8 percent below the collections from August 2011 and 4.8 percent below the official estimate. The decline was driven mainly by continued weakness in gross production tax receipts and an 11.0 percent decline in income tax collections. While the weakness in gross production tax collections has been evident for some time, the sharp drop in income tax collections last month caught me off guard.
Why is labor force participation shrinking?
With monthly jobs reports making the headlines, the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) recent budget and economic update provides important context for one closely watched figure: the labor force participation rate. The percentage of people over age 16 who are working or actively seeking work has slipped fairly steadily for the past few years. CBO says a big reason is “the economic downturn [and] weak growth in output during the recovery.” In other words, the recession and lack of job opportunities have driven many people from the labor force. But, in a finding that has attracted little attention, CBO says that roughly half of the recent drop in labor force participation has occurred simply because more and more baby boomers are hitting retirement age.
Emergency contraception is not the ‘abortion pill’
Hobby Lobby filed suit Wednesday in the Western District of Oklahoma to waive a requirement in the federal health care law that must provide contraceptive medication and services to their employees with no co-pay, along with other preventative medicine. If the Oklahoma City-based company does not comply with the Jan. 1 deadline in the health care law , it could face millions of dollars in fines. According to the lawsuit, the self-insured company does not object to providing all contraceptive medicine, only what the suit calls “abortion-causing drugs and devices,” i.e. emergency contraception like Plan B and Ella. This is a medically inaccurate description of emergency contraception and its effects. Neither medication affects nor terminates an existing pregnancy, as the real abortion pill RU-486 does. Other companies have objected to the reach of the new health care law or to the requirement to cover contraception at all, but those debates have no bearing in this case. Because Hobby Lobby has decided to sue over a misguided understanding of emergency contraception, it’s time the company faced some facts.
Cameron University holds healthcare debate
The heated debate over President Obama’s health care reform law took center stage at Cameron University Friday. Both sides Democrats and Republicans, sounded off on the Affordable Care Act, answered questions and tried to inform Lawtonians on what has become a central issue of the 2012 presidential campaign. It was an open forum with a panel of experts and conversation was intense and emotional. When it comes to the new health care law, Matt Pinnell, the Chairman of the State Republican Party, and Constance Johnson, a Democrat State Senator from Oklahoma City, could not see things more differently. Johnson stressed how personal the issue of health and illness is, and is very much in favor of the perks of the program, whereas Pinnell finds it to be financially detrimental. The purpose of the open forum was for residents to ask these questions: What does the Affordable Healthcare Act mean to our country? What does it mean to Oklahomans? Is it even working?
Quote of the Day
You can take each one of these tax reductions independently and say, ‘that’s not going to hurt very much,’ but when you take them together and couple it with the fact that schools are being funded at less than 2008 levels, I think you’re facing a critical problem.
–Norman Schools Superintendent Joe Siano, on the impact SQ 766 could have on school funding
Number of the Day
The number of mortgages in Oklahoma that were at or near negative equity in 2012, a 56 percent jump from the same period in 2010
Romney’s theory of the “taker class,” and why it matters
“My job is not to worry about those people,” Mitt Romney said of the 47 percent of Americans who are likely to vote for Barack Obama. “I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” There will be plenty said about the politics of Romney’s remarks. But I want to take a moment and talk about the larger argument behind them, because this vision of a society divided between “makers” and “takers” is core to the Republican nominee’s policy agenda. … For what it’s worth, this division of “makers” and “takers” isn’t true. Among the Americans who paid no federal income taxes in 2011, 61 percent paid payroll taxes — which means they have jobs and, when you account for both sides of the payroll tax, they paid 15.3 percent of their income in taxes, which is higher than the 13.9 percent that Romney paid. Another 22 percent were elderly. So 83 percent of those not paying federal income taxes are either working and paying payroll taxes or they’re elderly and Romney is promising to protect their benefits because they’ve earned them.
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