In The Know: Republicans pick TW Shannon as speaker-designate

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 House Republicans elected Lawton Rep. T.W. Shannon as speaker-designate, paving the way for him to become Oklahoma’s first African-American House speaker in 2013. The Tulsa School Board approved pay raises for teachers and administrators using savings from Project Schoolhouse and employee reductions. The OK Policy finds that revenue from Oklahoma’s “sin taxes” on tobacco and gambling has steadily increased for several years. OK Policy Director David Blatt spoke with KRMG about why making more cuts to the income tax is a dangerous move.

Many of Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities have seen dramatic increases in Hispanic enrollment in recent years. A new law taking effect Nov. 1 will require more background checks and investigations before children in state custody are reunited their families. Though investigations of DHS policies by Gov. Fallin and Speaker Steele are already underway, two lawmakers are launching their own probe.

Defeated Cherokee Principal Chief Chad Smith has filed an appeal challenging the election results because freedmen descendants were allowed to vote. Tulsa is running short on 911 dispatchers due to uncompetitive starting salaries and an impasse in contract negotiations with the union. The Tulsa Street Soccer program is helping bring sport, job and life skills training to the homeless.

Today’s Number of the Day is the percentage of mortgages in Oklahoma that were seriously delinquent during the 2nd quarter of 2011. In today’s Policy Note, The Chronicle of Higher Education asks whether there is a third path forward on Affirmative Action that would value racial and ethnic diversity without casually judging applicants by skin color.

In The News

House Republicans pick TW Shannon of Lawton as speaker-designate

House Republicans elected Lawton Rep. T.W. Shannon to be speaker-designate Monday, paving the way for him to become Oklahoma’s first African-American House speaker. Shannon, 33, must be elected by the GOP caucus again after next year’s election before he can become speaker in 2013, but that vote is typically considered a formality. He was chosen in a closed meeting over House Speaker Pro Tempore Jeff Hickman of Dacoma and Rep. Mike Reynolds of Oklahoma City. Reynolds was eliminated in the first round of balloting, and Shannon defeated Hickman in a runoff. Vote counts weren’t released, but Hickman described it as a “very close election.” Hickman said he has no plans to challenge Shannon in next year’s caucus vote.

Read more from this Associated Press article at–Speaker-Designate/.

Tulsa School Board approves pay raises for teachers

The Tulsa school board on Monday evening approved an employment contract that includes average pay hikes of about $650 for all but first-year teachers for 2011-12, as well as an equivalent raise of about 1.5 percent for administrators. Teachers last received raises in 2009, and administrators last did in 2008. Ballard thanked Gov. Mary Fallin, House and Senate leaders and the Oklahoma Legislature as a whole for addressing the issue of teachers’ health benefits, also known as the Flexible Benefit Allowance. In addition to that funding, Ballard also credits savings from a local efficiency initiative known as Project Schoolhouse for making some additional dollars available for raises. He also said the district has realized some savings through employee attrition, including 71 positions – or 3 percent – of its teaching staff and 18 positions – or 8 percent – of its administrative staff.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Revenue from voter-approved “sin taxes” still growing

In 2004, Oklahoma voters approved a series of measures intended to raise new revenues for education and health care through a state lottery (SQ 705 and 706), gaming compacts (SQ 712), and increased tobacco taxes (SQ 713). OK Policy has now released a set of newly updated fact sheets that explains how these revenue sources operate, how much revenue each generates, and where the dollars are allocated. You can access all three 1-page fact sheets as a single document, or you can download the PDF separately for the lottery, gaming and tobacco. During the most recently completed budget year, FY ’11, Oklahoma collected $346.2 million from these three revenue sources. This is an increase of $10.8 million, or 3.2 percent, from FY ’10. While the rate of revenue growth for the three “sin taxes” has clearly slowed compared to the first years following their enactment, their steady and uninterrupted growth over recent years stands in marked contrast to most other revenue sources, which were strongly affected by the economic downturn of 2008-09.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

Opponent says cutting income tax is a dangerous move

Our bank accounts have been boosted just a little over the past few years with reductions in the state income tax. Gov. Mary Fallin and others now support reducing the tax further, making up for the income by reducing tax incentives that cost the state millions. One opponent is the Oklahoma Policy Institute in Tulsa and its Director David Blatt. I talked to him by phone Monday when he told me just how much taxes have been reduced already. “Income taxes were cut substantially over the past decade. The top rate went down from 6.65 percent all the way down to 5.25 percent,” he said. Blatt says any further reductions will likely be dangerous. “The income tax is an essential corner stone of the way we fund public services. It is our single largest revenue source, accounting for almost one third of total state tax revenue.”

Read more from KRMG at

State higher eds sees growth in Hispanic enrollment.

Many of Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities have seen increases, some dramatic, in Hispanic enrollment in recent years. In a five-year period, Hispanic enrollment at Oklahoma public institutions increased from 3.4 percent of all students in 2005 to 4.1 percent in 2009, according to the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. Nationally, Hispanic enrollment rose 24 percent in 2010, an increase of almost 350,000 students, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. The increase was even more striking at Tulsa Community College, which had a 51 percent increase in the fall of 2010. In the last three years, TCC Hispanic enrollment has gone from more than 600 students to almost 1,300.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

DHS: New law could delay familiy reunification

A new law will require more extensive background checks on all adults living in homes receiving children from state custody as part of the reunification process. However, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services has concerns related to staffing and potential delays in the reunification process. House Bill 2136, by House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, which passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate, was signed by Gov. Mary Fallin on May 17. It becomes law on Nov. 1. The law will require background checks on all adults living in homes that children in state custody may be placed into as part of a reunification with their family or legal guardian, make more records about a child’s past available to child welfare officials, courts and families, and require child welfare officials to investigate all abuse or neglect complaints made against those who have had three or more past abuse or neglect complaints made against them.

Read more from The Edmond Sun at

See also: As Fallin and Steele scrutinize DHS, two legislators announce their own probe from CapitolBeatOK

Smith challenges Cherokee election results

Former Cherokee Principal Chief Chad Smith has filed an appeal with the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court challenging the results of the tribe’s special election for chief. In his appeal, filed Monday, Smith claims that the election is invalid because ballots were cast after the Sept. 24 election date and because votes by an unknown number of about 1,200 freedmen descendants who are registered to vote were counted. On Wednesday, Tribal Council member Bill John Baker was officially named the winner over Smith. The count was 10,703 to 9,128. As part of an agreement brokered in federal district court that at least temporarily restored the tribal citizenship of more than 2,800 Cherokee freedmen descendants, voters were allowed to participate in five additional walk-in days at the Cherokee Nation Election Commission in late September and early October.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Tulsa running out of 911 dispatchers

Tulsa is running short on 911 operators and a solution to the problem is held up in contract talks. The impasse has left the 911 operators working without a raise or a contract, and without the raise in place, the City says it can’t recruit new people to fully staff the 911 center. “We have no choice but to push on for arbitration,” said Michael Rider. Union President Michael Rider says 911 employees need better pay across the board – while the city is offering a substantial increase for new employees and a smaller increase for existing staff. The City says the stress of the job burns out many new 911 dispatchers, while some finish the training then go find better paying similar jobs elsewhere. “We have a retention issue. We feel our starting pay is too low to attract the caliber of people who are capable of doing the job and sticking with it,” Jim Twombly, Tulsa City Manager, said.

Read more from this NewsOn6 article at

Tulsa Street Soccer program brings sport,  job and life skills training to homeless

Thiyagarajh Thurairajah, or “T.T.,” a refugee from Sri Lanka, found himself in Tulsa homeless and wanting to die. After an attempted suicide he was referred to the John 3:16 Mission, where he stays at night. He spends his days either at the Day Center for the Homeless or going to appointments and looking for employment, because he’s now determined to save money and find a way to go home and see his family, whom he hasn’t seen in four years. “No smoking, no alcohol, no drugs,” he said. “It’s just not easy finding work right now.” To help him get back on his feet and accomplish his goals, Thurairajah has turned to Street Soccer, a program designed to end homelessness through sport. Tulsa is one of 20 cities that are a part of Street Soccer USA, an organization designed to deliver a curriculum of job and life skills training and other specialized services, ultimately connecting participants to jobs, education and housing.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Quote of the Day

The Hispanic population is growing by leaps and bounds, but that’s not enough. If we don’t reach out to them and provide the programs that make them feel welcome, if we don’t continue to do that, we may lose them.
Tony Alonso, dean of diversity and civic engagement at TCC

Number of the Day

4.7 percent

Percentage of mortgages in Oklahoma that were seriously delinquent during the 2nd quarter of 2011, compared to 6.9 percent nationally.

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

A third path on Affirmative Action?

Sunday’s New York Times featured an important article by Supreme Court reporter Adam Liptak, entitled, “College Diversity Nears Its Last Stand.” In the piece, Liptak notes that experts think the U.S. Supreme Court will probably accept a challenge to racial affirmative action at the University of Texas at Austin. The article leaves readers with the impression that the Court essentially has two options: it could strike down the use of race and see racial diversity plummet or it could affirm the use or race, as the Court did in the 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger case, and preserve the status quo. But polls have long suggested that Americans are looking for a third option—they value racial and ethnic diversity in higher education, but don’t want applicants casually judged by skin color—and the Supreme Court may very well try to thread that needle.

Read more from The Chronicle of Higher Education at

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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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