In The Know: September 19, 2011

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 on In The Know, Oklahoma Watch examines the state’s coal tax credit, which has grown tenfold since it was created and comes to more than $15,000 a year for every person employed by the Oklahoma mining industry. Labor Commissioner Mark Costello is starting a lobbying group to attack public employee protections, and in a recent speech he referred to public workers as “feral hogs.” A House special investigation committee says they will not pursue further action against Rep. Randy Terrill unless he is convicted in court.

The potential closure of a mail processing and distribution center in Tulsa could mean the loss of more than 500 jobs. DHS has paid more than $3.4 million since 2005 to settle child abuse lawsuits. The agency took six months to respond to The Tulsa World’s open records request about the lawsuits. NewsOK argues that the Human Services Commission needs more members like Steven Dow who will provide better oversight. The Tulsa World reports on the many competing interest groups involved in changing Oklahoma’s alcohol laws.

The Oklahoma County sheriff’s office is reaching out to Asians and Hispanics with two community liaisons. The Great Expectations program is showing success in reducing discipline problems at many Oklahoma City schools. Tuition has jumped at both public and private universities in Oklahoma over the past year. The OSU VP for technology development explains the economic benefits of state-sponsored research at public universities.

Today’s Number of the Day is the percentage of recent bachelor’s degree holders who remain and work in Oklahoma one year after graduation. In today’s Policy Note, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy has 3 new fact sheets on why state tax cuts don’t create jobs.

In The News

Oklahoma tax credits for coal grow tenfold

This is the tale of a transferable tax credit, and how it grew tenfold over the years. The tax incentive was designed to help a few eastern Oklahoma coal mines, but it turned into a moneymaker for several dozen insurance companies and reduced state revenue by more than $60 million over the past eight years. That comes to more than $15,000 a year for every miner, trucker, mechanic, welder, electrician and other support worker directly employed by Oklahoma mine operators and their subcontractors.

Read more from NewsOK at

Labor Commissioner creates non-profit to attack public worker protections

State Labor Commissioner Mark Costello seems to have set his sights on the state’s public employee unions. The first-term Republican has set up a nonprofit advocacy organization, Parity for Oklahoma, whose primary purpose appears to be undermining state employee benefits and protections. “If we’re going to turn this ship around … we’re going to have to fight for it and realize the other side is going to be like feral hogs,” he said Tuesday during an appearance at the Republican Women’s Club of Tulsa County. Costello made several references to feral hogs. “I don’t know if you know much about feral hogs, but they reproduce three or four times a year, they eat anything and everything, and I kind of think there is some comparison between bureaucrats and feral hogs,” he said. Costello said Parity in Oklahoma – organized under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, which is used by many lobbying associations – seeks to exempt all state workers from merit protection for the first three years of employment, and to outlaw the practice of allowing state workers to have union and association dues deducted from their paychecks.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

House panel says no to Terrill expulsion hearing

A special House investigation committee looking into allegations against Rep. Randy Terrill that led to a felony bribery charge being filed against him concluded that no punishment or disciplinary action be taken against the lawmaker unless he is convicted in court, according to a report issued Friday.  The bipartisan eight-member committee, made up equally of Democrats and Republicans, recommended House Speaker Kris Steele form an ethics committee to look into complaints of misconduct against a House member. Steele, R-Shawnee, who appointed the investigative panel in February, said he would form an ethics committee.

Read more from NewsOK at

Closure of Tulsa postal center would mean loss of more than 500 jobs

The postal service wants to close 250 mail processing and distribution facilities across the country to save money. That includes a large center in Tulsa. But there is concern that the massive cost cutting plan, will also cost jobs and cut convenience. In an effort to save three billion dollars a year, the postal service may close many of its processing and distribution centers, including the one at 21st and 91st East. The U.S. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe says it’s a way for the postal service to get its finances in order. Of the 250 facilities on the potential closure list, four are in Oklahoma: Tulsa, McAlester, Poteau and Woodward. The Tulsa facility is the largest of those four and employs 573 people.

Read more from NewsOn6 at

DHS paid $3.4 million since 2005 to settle child abuse lawsuits

More than $3.4 million in civil lawsuit settlements for child deaths and neglect have been made since 2005 with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, according to records obtained by the Tulsa World. The 24 payouts range from $15,000 to settle civil rights violations of parents after DHS placed their children into emergency custody to a $700,000 payout in the death of a toddler at a Tulsa child-care home, records show. Of the settlements, DHS paid about $1.4 million from its budget while insurance entities paid about $2 million.Oklahoma ranks fifth in the nation in the rate of child abuse and neglect deaths, with 3.4 child deaths per 100,000, according to the National Coalition to End Child Abuse Death. This is a slight improvement from 2001, when the state ranked third in the country with a rate of 3.7.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

See also: DHS took six months to respond to World request from The Tulsa World

NewsOK: DHS Commission could use more members like Steven Dow

Steven Dow’s deposition in a class-action lawsuit over Oklahoma’s foster care system is an indictment of the state Human Services Commission. That and Dow’s willingness to criticize the panel publicly have made him some enemies, no doubt, but also may affect real, overdue changes. We certainly hope so. Dow was named to the commission in early 2010. He soon became frustrated by what he saw as a lack of commission oversight of the Department of Human Services and, in the face of news stories about children dying while in the DHS system, what he saw as an unwillingness by board members to do little more than attend their monthly meetings.

Read more from NewsOK at

Changes to Oklahoma liquor laws compared to high-flying act

Oklahoma’s liquor laws are like a bear riding a bicycle on a high wire while juggling flaming sticks – balance is everything. A legislative task force studying the idea of allowing grocery stores to sell strong beer and wine will determine if the state can restring that wire without bringing the whole thing down in a flaming mess that leaves nothing but an angry bear and a broken bike. “It’s complex,” said state Rep. Ron Peters, R-Tulsa, and co-chairman of the committee that has its first meeting Monday at the state Capitol. The task force brings lawmakers and representatives of all the interested parties – liquor stores, grocery stores, convenience stores, wholesalers, wineries, distributors, breweries and several others – to the table. And everyone’s got a stake in the question.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Oklahoma County sheriff’s office reaches out to Asian, Hispanic communities

Winning over immigrants who may be fearful of law enforcement can be difficult, but the Oklahoma County sheriff’s office is proving it’s far from impossible. Tom Ly and Belen Rodriquez are the sheriff’s community liaisons. Ly has been assigned to Oklahoma City’s Asian District since April. Rodriguez, a former Telemundo reporter, took the job with the community service division of the sheriff’s office a year and a half ago. Ly, a sheriff’s deputy since 1999, is fluent in Vietnamese. “I grew up over there, and didn’t come over to the U.S. until I was 12. Some of them came over recently and don’t speak very good English. We didn’t want that to be a barrier between us and the sheriff’s office,” Ly said.

Read more from NewsOK at

Great Expectations programs reduces discipline problems at 28 Oklahoma City schools

Across the Oklahoma City School District, data shows that the 28 schools using Great Expectations training saw a significant reduction in the number of suspensions and discipline referrals when comparing the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years. The 26 schools that weren’t using Great Expectations had an increase in the number of suspensions and discipline problems. Oklahoma City School District Superintendent Karl Springer said the district is in the process of rolling out Great Expectations at the remaining schools. The program emphasizes mutual respect between teachers and students and eight behavior expectations, such as using good manners, being virtuous and valuing, cheering, helping, recognizing and encouraging one another.

Read more from NewsOK at

Tuition jumps at both public and private universities

As students return to campuses around the state, or start college for the first time, institutions will be charging more, due to high enrollment and cuts in state funding. Private universities also have raised prices in an attempt to stay solvent. Over the summer, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education approved an increase to tuition and mandatory fees for the state’s 25 public colleges and universities. On average, the regents report those increases translate to 5.9% statewide for the 2011-12 academic year, or $255 more for tuition and mandatory fees for in-state residents. The jumps come on the heels of a 5.8% decrease in state appropriations for higher education. Private schools also have raised tuition. At Oklahoma City University, it’s up 5.9% over last year, to $29,690. At Southwestern Christian University, tuition did not go up last year, but this year has increased by about 6.7%. Oklahoma Christian University raised tuition 3% over last year.

Read more from OKC Biz at

Economic development benefits from state-sponsored research

A recent report published by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs asserts that state investment in universities bears little fruit with respect to economic development. However, recent data assembled by the Association of University Technology Managers says just the opposite: There is a positive correlation between money spent on research and economic development. OSU had $139 million in research expenditures for fiscal year 2008. This generated $1.2 million in royalties, representing $24 million in private industry revenue. OSU also produced three new startups during the period. State-sponsored research at OSU was just over $16 million during the same year.

Read more from NewsOK at

Quote of the Day

 I don’t know if you know much about feral hogs, but they reproduce three or four times a year, they eat anything and everything, and I kind of think there is some comparison between bureaucrats and feral hogs.
-Labor Commissioner Mark Costello, who just launched a non-profit lobbying group to attack public worker protections.

Number of the Day

85 percent

Percentage of recent bachelor’s degree holders who remain and work in Oklahoma one year after graduation.
Source: Oklahoma Employment Security Commission via NewsOK

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Tax cuts don’t create jobs: 3 new fact sheets on state economic development

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) offers a series of Policy Briefs designed to provide a quick introduction to basic tax policy ideas that are important to understanding current debates at the state and federal level. This week ITEP releases three briefs that focus specifically on taxes and economic development, including sustainable economic development strategies, important questions to ask about economic development research and the reasonable suggestion that recipients of tax breaks report back on their economic contributions.

Read more from Citizens for Tax Justice 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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