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. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to email@example.com. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.
Today you should know that a Senate committee voted to limit payouts to the oil and gas industry to $150 million, though tax breaks deferred over the past three years would entitle them to twice as much. OK Policy previously explained how Oklahoma ended up on the hook to oil and gas producers. A House panel rejected a bill to require prescriptions for pseudoephedrine, and approved a bill that would allow cities to ban smoking in public places.
The OK Policy blog provided an update on how state budget cuts are endangering child welfare, public safety, education, and other core services needed for Oklahoma’s prosperity. Meanwhile, Gov. Fallin said a slight increase in revenue should go to more tax cuts. Fallin’s tax plan will go to the legislature next week, and a Senate panel OK’d two others.
Urban Tulsa Weekly reports on how Oklahoma is underfunding mental health and spending more on prisons. A bill that would allow creationism and climate science denial in public school science classrooms passed a House committee. StateImpact Oklahoma finds that education is the most common Master’s degree awarded by state universities.
The Number of the Day is the amount in annual Social Security benefits paid to Oklahomans in 2009. In today’s Policy Note, the New York Times reports on how Indian reservations have grappled for years with high crime rates, but the Justice Department files charges in only about half of murder investigations and turns down nearly two-thirds of sexual assault cases.
In The News
Senate panel votes to limit payout to oil and gas industry
After pledging to Oklahoma’s oil and gas industry that it would make good on tax breaks temporarily set aside during a fiscal crisis, some legislators believe the state should repay developers only about 50 cents on the dollar. While the state Board of Equalization announced Tuesday that Oklahoma would have slightly more money to spend next year than this year, a Senate panel voted to honor $150 million worth of tax breaks oil and gas producers waived during the past two years. Figures unveiled last week showed that the drillers would have been entitled to between $294 million and $314 million if the credits had not been deferred to help the state balance its budget in 2010. “The original estimates when this program was put in place, through collaboration with the Legislature and the oil and gas industry, was the expectation the rebates would cost $150 million over three years,” state Sen. Mike Mazzei told The Associated Press after the committee vote. Mazzei said further discussions would be needed so legislators can “get some handle on how to afford that additional $150 million.”
Previously: How we ended up on the hook to oil and gas producers to the tune of $294 million from the OK Policy Blog
Oklahoma House rejects plan to restrict pseudoephedrine access
The House Public Health Committee rejected a plan to restrict access to pseudoephedrine, the popular allergy medicine that is a key ingredient in most Oklahoma meth labs. The 7-6 vote against the proposal to require a prescription for pseudoephedrine purchases essentially kills the issue for the year, a leading proponent said. Sherrer said the way he interprets legislative rules, all other measures that would do the same thing – including a bill he wrote last year – are dead for the year in the House. A Senate Committee rejected a similar proposal earlier this month, essentially killing the idea there. The panel voted 13-0 to approve an alternative pushed by the pharmaceutical industry that would connect Oklahoma to a multistate electronic tracking and blocking registry. That measure, offered by Rep. David Derby, R-Owasso, would also reduce the amount of pseudoephedrine that an Oklahoman could purchase in one month to 7.2 grams, about 30 days worth of medicine for allergy sufferers.
Panel approves bill giving cities power to ban smoking
For the second year in a row, a House committee approved a bill that would allow local governments to have the power to ban smoking in public places. The House of Representatives Public Health Committee passed House Bill 2267 by a vote of 8-5. It now goes to the House floor. The same committee passed a similar measure last year. It never was brought up on the House floor. That measure, however, would have given local governments the ability to use local law enforcement to check on tobacco violations, which is not included in this year’s version. HB 2267 would not give cities power over how tobacco is marketed, sold or taxed, said Rep. Doug Cox, the measure’s author. He said the proposal would allow cities to decide whether to ban smoking in public places, such as bars.
How Oklahoma is falling behind
Even as the economy recovers, it’s become increasingly apparent that there is no end in sight to Oklahoma’s budget woes. Oklahoma has seen three straight years of budget cuts, and according to one House leader, we may be in for a fourth. At best, this year’s budget will stay flat, which means we can accomplish less due to inflation, reductions in federal assistance, and continued deterioration of equipment and infrastructure that we can’t afford to fix. It also means the damage caused by previous cuts will continue unchecked. We provided overviews on previous rounds of budget cuts here, here, and here. This is an update on a few more of the ways we’re falling behind in public safety, child welfare, education, health, and other areas.
Increased state earning should go to cutting personal income tax, Governor says
Gov. Mary Fallin said Tuesday the additional $47 million lawmakers will have available to appropriate this year should go toward reducing the state’s personal income tax rate. “The best way to continue our prosperity and ensure Oklahoma remains economically competitive is to return this money to families in the form of an across-the-board tax cut rather than pursuing more government bureaucracy,” she said. Fallin and other members of a state budget board approved a final spending amount that legislators will use to prepare the budget for the 2013 fiscal year, which begins July 1. The increased revenue comes mostly from higher than expected income tax and sales tax collections, state finance officials said.
Fallin tax plan due next week; Senate panel OKs others
A plan to overhaul Oklahoma’s income tax structure by reducing the state’s maximum tax rate to 3.5 percent and eliminating nearly all deductions and exemptions will go to the Legislature next week, Gov. Mary Fallin said Tuesday. Fallin said House Speaker Kris Steele will introduce the bill in the House. A pair of separate proposals to reduce Oklahoma’s personal income tax passed a Senate committee Tuesday despite worries that resulting cuts would threaten state services. Sen. Mike Mazzei, R-Tulsa, introduced a bill to cut the top tax rate from 5.25 percent to 4.75 percent over the next two years and offset the lost revenue by eliminating most tax deductions. His bill also would reduce the corporate income tax rate from 6 percent to 5.5 percent and get rid of Oklahoma’s franchise tax. Another measure by Sen. Clark Jolley of Edmond would cut the top income tax rate to 2.25 percent next year and phase out the income tax completely by 2022. Named after conservative economist Arthur Laffer, that proposal is projected to have an estimated $1.7 billion fiscal impact on the state budget by tax year 2016.
Tulsa’s biggest psych unit: county jail
Oklahoma spends millions each year on a broken prison system that punishes non-violent offenders, breaks up families and doesn’t rehabilitate the incarcerated. Instead, those dollars line the pockets of the private prison industry without addressing the root problems — like severe and untreated mental illness and substance abuse — Oklahomans face. Year over year, Oklahoma’s private prison expenditures have gone up while services for those suffering from mental illness and substance abuse have been cut. In 2004, Oklahoma spent $57,473,196 on private prisons, a cost that ballooned to $76,693,152 in 2010. Meanwhile, the budget for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS) was cut by $36.6 million in the last three years. Statewide appropriations for the proactive services dropped to a total of $183.1 million for the fiscal year 2012.
House panel approves bill to allow creationism in science classes
A measure that critics said would allow creationism and intelligent design into public school classrooms won the approval Tuesday of a House committee, which a year ago voted down the proposal. The House of Representatives Common Education Committee, which a year ago voted 9-7 to not pass the measure, flipped its vote Tuesday and voted 9-7 to pass it. It now goes to the full House. Rep. Sally Kern, the bill’s author, has said HB 1551 was not intended to bring religious beliefs, such as creationism, into the classroom. Victor Hutchison, Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education president and professor emeritus of the University of Oklahoma’s zoology department, said the bill’s language comes from the creationist Discovery Institute in Seattle. Louisiana is the only state to have passed a version of the bill, Hutchison said. The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology canceled its planned convention in New Orleans and 74 Nobel laureates have written letters calling for the law’s repeal, he said.
Education most common Master’s degree awarded in Oklahoma
State-funded colleges are awarding lots of degrees in business and medicine and certificates in family and consumer sciences. Oklahoma universities are training a lot of teachers, too. More than one-quarter of all master’s degrees granted in 2008–2009 were in education, the most recent data available show. The No. 2 most-common master’s degree awarded that year was in business and management, data from the state Regents for Higher Education show. Most Masters of Education are being trained at smaller state schools. The University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond awarded the most in 2008–2009, followed by East Central University in Ada.
Quote of the Day
Incorporating creationist arguments into the science curriculum will effectively condone their tactics and teach students that it is acceptable in science to: use illogical arguments, ignore evidence or simply deny that it exists, promote untestable ideas, selectively misquote scientists to support your point, support ideas with intuition and faith [as if] they’re just as good as evidence, cultivate and exploit misunderstandings, and assume that the popularity of ideas among the public verifies their scientific validity. This will not only confuse students’ understanding of science, it will undermine their entire education.
-2009 statement by Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education critiquing a bill similar to one that just received approval from a House committee.
Number of the Day
Amount in annual Social Security benefits paid to Oklahomans in 2009.
Source: Social Security Administration via AARP
Higher crime, fewer charges on Indian land
Indian reservations across the United States have grappled for years with chronic rates of crime higher than all but a handful of the nation’s most violent cities. But the Justice Department, which is responsible for prosecuting the most serious crimes on reservations, files charges in only about half of Indian Country murder investigations and turns down nearly two-thirds of sexual assault cases, according to new federal data. American Indian women are 10 times as likely to be murdered than other Americans. They are raped or sexually assaulted at a rate four times the national average, with more than one in three having either been raped or experienced an attempted rape. The low rate of prosecutions for these crimes by United States attorneys, who along with agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation generally have jurisdiction for the most serious crimes on reservations, has been a longstanding point of contention for tribes, who say it amounts to a second-class system of justice that encourages law breaking.
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