In The Know: September 16, 2011

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

Today you should know that consumer prices for food, energy, apartment rents, and clothing all increased in August.  Food prices will likely continue to rise after a scorching summer damaged corn harvests.  The Labor Department reported that the number of people applying for unemployment benefits last week hit the highest level in three months.  Fixed mortgage rates fell to the lowest level in six decades, while sales of new and existing homes remained sluggish.

President Obama nominated former Oklahoma Congressman Brad Carson to be general counsel to the U.S. Army.  The Oklahoma Publishing Company, which publishes the Oklahoman and, has been sold to The Anschutz Corporation, owned by Denver-based businessman Philip Anschutz.  The insurance commissioner says workers’ compensation insurance rates for Oklahoma businesses will drop in 2012.

The OK Policy Blog featured a guest post that probes the values underlying our expectations about health care in the United States.  A supervisor at the state Department of Human Services was fired for misconduct in the handling of the Serenity Deal case, who died under DHS supervision.  Members of a legislative tax reform task force are contemplating eliminating the income tax, the state’s largest source of revenue.  This fact sheet from OK Policy explains the basics of Oklahoma’s individual income tax and this blog post asks those who want it eliminated to explain how the state will replace billions in lost revenue.

In today’s Policy Note, health economists at RAND show that increases in average gross annual income over the past decade were almost entirely offset by rising health care costs.  Today’s Number of the Day is the number of miles of shoreline in Oklahoma – more than the Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf coasts of the U.S. combined.

In The News

Consumer prices, unemployment claims rise

The Consumer Price Index rose 0.4 percent in August, the Labor Department said Thursday. That followed a 0.5 percent increase in July. Excluding volatile food and energy costs, core prices increased 0.2 percent.  Prices for food, energy apartment rents, and clothing all increased.  Food prices rose 0.5 percent in August, the biggest increase since March. That was partly because of higher prices for cereals and dairy products.  Food prices are likely to keep rising because an unusually hot summer damaged this year’s corn harvest. Corn is used in everything from cereals to animal feed to sodas. It takes about six months for changes in corn prices to filter down to grocery store shelves.  Among the factors driving up the core index were rental costs. They rose 0.4 percent, the most in nearly three years. Many Americans have been renting rather than buying homes, pushing up rents.  Clothing costs rose 1.1 percent, extending a string of increases that stem partly from steep rises in cotton prices earlier this year. Airline fares rose 1.1 percent, the most since March.

Read more from NewsOK at

Unemployment benefit requests jumped to 428K

The number of people applying for unemployment benefits jumped last week to the highest level in three months. It’s a sign that the job market remains depressed.  The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications rose by 11,000 to a seasonally adjusted 428,000. The week included the Labor Day holiday.  Applications typically drop during short work weeks. In this case, applications didn’t drop as much as the department expected, so the seasonally adjusted value rose. A Labor spokesman said the total wasn’t affected by Hurricane Irene.  Still, applications appear to be trending up. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose for the fourth straight week to 419,500.

Read more from NewsOK at

Rate on 30-year mortgage falls to record 4.09 pct.

Fixed mortgage rates fell to the lowest level in six decades for the second straight week. But few Americans can take advantage of the historically low rates.  Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage fell to 4.09 percent this week, down from 4.12 percent. That’s the lowest rate seen since 1951.  The average rate on the 15-year mortgage, a popular refinancing option, fell to 3.30 percent from 3.33 percent. Economists say it is likely the lowest rate on the 15-year ever.  Mortgage rates tend to track the yield on the 10-year Treasury note. Worries over Europe’s debt crisis are pushing investors to shift money into safe Treasurys, forcing the yield lower.  Over the past year, the average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage has been below 5 percent for all but two weeks. That compares with five years ago, when the average 30-year fixed rate was near 6.5 percent. A decade ago, it exceeded 8 percent.  Still, cheap mortgage rates haven’t helped home sales. Sales of new homes are on pace for the worst year on records dating back a half-century. The pace of re-sales is shaping up to be the worst in 14 years.

Read more from NewsOK at

Former Oklahoma Congressman Nominated To Pentagon Post

President Barack Obama has nominated former Oklahoma Congressman Brad Carson to be general counsel to the U.S. Army.  The nomination of Carson — a Democrat — as the Army’s top lawyer goes first to the Senate Armed Services Committee — which includes Republican Senator Jim Inhofe of Tulsa.  A spokesman for Inhofe told The Oklahoman that Inhofe will look at Carson’s record on military issues and determine whether to support or oppose the nomination.  Carson declined comment.  Carson served in the U.S. House from Oklahoma’s Second Congressional District from 2001 through 2004 when he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate against Sen. Tom Coburn.  Carson is an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and served in Iraq in 2009 and 2010 where he was awarded the Bronze Star.

Read more from NewsOn6 at

OPUBCO to be sold

For over 108 years the Gaylord and Dickinson families have controlled The Oklahoma Publishing Company, locally known as OPUBCO. According to Christy Everest, Chairman and CEO of OPUBCO, that will change in early October when all of the stock of OPUBCO will be sold to The Anschutz Corporation, owned by Denver-based businessman Philip Anschutz.  The Anschutz Corporation will be acquiring all the assets which OPUBCO owns or has an interest in, including: The Oklahoman,, the corporate headquarters building, the printing facilities and all associated real estate;

Read more from NewsOK at

Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Rates Expected To Drop

The state’s insurance commissioner says the workers’ compensation insurance rates for Oklahoma businesses are expected to drop in 2012.  Commissioner John Doak says the Insurance Department this week approved a filing by the National Council on Compensation Insurance for a decrease in a key component of the workers’ compensation insurance rate.  Doak says the decrease is the result of legislative changes approved by lawmakers this year to its workers’ compensation system.  The Republican-controlled state Legislature completely rewrote the state’s workers’ compensation laws this year. Among the changes was a 5 percent reduction in the fee schedule for medical reimbursement rates and a requirement that physicians and the court adhere to a nationally recognized set of treatment guidelines.  Both changes are expected to dramatically reduce medical costs.

Read more from NewsOn6 at

Guest Blog: In Pursuit of Happiness? Health Care in the 21st-Century U.S.

On March 23rd, 2010 President Obama signed into law a sweeping reform of the U.S. health care system.  Since that time some have taken action to repeal these reforms, others have indicated support for extending them.  Much of the talk opposing or supporting reform has been remarkably free of the perspective of those who would benefit most from it: the uninsured, the underinsured, and those who may soon enter their ranks. We are writing to address an injustice that the citizens of the United States, the country of our birth or adoption, are inflicting upon themselves.  These facts present a sobering reality that no amount of bluster about the U.S. health care system, a system that chiefly excels at boutique health care, being the best in the world can erase. The facts beg an equally sobering question to be asked and answered by everyone in the U.S.: is a health care world in which each of us can pursue only that happiness to which our individual circumstances entitle us the one we as a society want?

Read more from OKPolicy at http://guest-blog-in-pursuit-of-happiness-health-care-in-the-21st-century-u-s/

DHS supervisor in Serenity Deal case fired

A supervisor at the state Department of Human Services was fired Thursday for misconduct and dishonesty in the Serenity Deal case.  Pottawatomie County Supervisor Jennifer R. Shawn, 32, said again Thursday she did nothing wrong. She plans to appeal to the Oklahoma Merit Protection Commission.  “It’s absurd,” she said of the accusations that led to her firing. “It is DHS’s attempt to shift blame from the agency on to individual workers.”  Officials at the Department of Human Services accused Shawn of 67 policy violations in Serenity’s case. A DHS administrative law judge, Gail Wettstein, who heard testimony and reviewed documents from Serenity’s case, agreed the evidence was sufficient to prove many of the allegations.  Several of the substantiated policy violations involved failures to assure that full background checks were made on Serenity’s father. Others involved failures to properly inform the judge overseeing Serenity’s case.

Read more from NewsOK at

Oklahoma committee supports eliminating personal income tax

The chairman of a tax reform task force encouraged members Thursday to recommend a structural realignment of the tax code to make Oklahoma a no-income-tax state, eliminating the state’s largest source of revenue.  Personal income tax collections are the state’s largest source of revenue, bringing in nearly a third of the $6.5 billion budget that runs most of state government; estimates call for personal income taxes to bring in about $1.8 billion during this fiscal year, which started July 1. Before the economic downturn, the revenues were more than $2.5 billion a year.

Read more from NewsOK at

Quote of the Day

We are not leaving Oklahoma; this is and will remain our home.

Christy Everest, Chairman and CEO on the impending sale of OPUBCO

Number of the Day

Miles of shoreline in Oklahoma – more than the Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf coasts of the U.S. combined.
Source: Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

A Decade Of Health Care Cost Growth Has Wiped Out Real Income Gains For An Average US Family

Although a median-income US family of four with employer-based health insurance saw its gross annual income increase from $76,000 in 1999 to $99,000 in 2009 (in current dollars), this gain was largely offset by increased spending to pay for health care.  After accounting for price increases in other goods and services, the family had $95 more in monthly income to devote to nonhealth spending in 2009 than in 1999. Even the $95 gain was artificial, because tax collections in 2009 were insufficient to cover actual increases in federal health spending. As a result, we argue, the burdens imposed on all payers by steadily rising health care spending can no longer be ignored.

Read more from Health Affairs at

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