In The Know: September 2nd, 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 a leading economic indicator for business conditions in the state fell in August, though it still points to growth for Oklahoma.  Two Oklahoma banks received millions under last year’s Small Business Jobs Act to lend to small businesses.  U.S. Postal Service workers pressed Rep. John Sullivan to prevent the closing of Tulsa’s mail processing plant, which would cost the city 600 jobs and add a day to delivery times for mail posted in Tulsa.

The Oklahoma City Fire Chief says a wildfire that burned dozens of homes in an 18-square-mile area of northeast Oklahoma City is now mostly contained.  A wildfire is burning in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in southwest Oklahoma and authorities have evacuated sixty homes in the surrounding area.  The Associated Press reports on Oklahoma residents still coping with fear and anxiety set off by the bombing of the downtown federal building.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court unanimously upheld the Oklahoma Senate redistricting plan.  The Tulsa City Council voted 8-1 to override Mayor Dewey Bartlett’s veto, clearing the way for a Nov. 8th ballot measure seeking a council-city manager form of government.  Representatives from Oklahoma City and Tulsa told a House legislative committee that abandoned and neglected properties are a public nuisance and a drain on cities.

On the OK Policy Blog, we evaluate our own previous revenue and budget forecasts – and find them more accurate than the state’s official estimates.  Today’s Number of the Day is the percentage of student loans in Oklahoma that are delinquent.  In Today’s Policy Note, NPR examines the implications of a new poll that shows that most uninsured Americans are still unaware of key provisions in the health care reform law to help them obtain health insurance.

In The News

Oklahoma economic gauge dip still points to growth

A leading economic gauge for the state fell in August, though it still points to growth in the months ahead, an economist reported Thursday.  The Oklahoma Business Conditions Index dipped to 56.8 from July’s 61.9, said Ernie Goss, an economics professor at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., who helps compile the monthly gauge by surveying supply managers.  A number greater than 50 points to expansion in the next three to six months, while a number less than 50 indicates contraction.  With a slowing national economy, even a relatively healthy state like Oklahoma is unlikely to avoid weaker growth, Goss said. August marked the 20th month that the index has remained above growth-neutral.  The gauge is a mathematical average derived from new orders, production or sales, employment, inventories and delivery lead time.

Read more from the Tulsa World at

U.S. Treasury Department’s Small Business Lending Fund, receiving $4.5 million.

Edmond’s Prime Bank this week became the second Oklahoma bank to qualify for the U.S. Treasury Department’s Small Business Lending Fund, receiving $4.5 million.  Drew Litsch, Prime Bank president and CEO, said the equity capital likely will result in about $45 million in new loans in the Edmond area.  “The program in its entirety is to stimulate jobs and help people get back to work and help businesses grow,” Litsch said. “We’ve got a pretty long history of doing that.”  The $30 billion program is part of the Small Business Jobs Act enacted by President Barack Obama a year ago.

Read more from NewsOK at

Postal workers worried about jobs

U.S. Postal Service employees told First District Congressman John Sullivan on Thursday that they’ve been alerted to the possibility that Tulsa’s mail processing plant may be scheduled for closing.  The Postal Service said last month that it plans to close 60 percent of its processing plants, or about 300 of them. The Postal Service, which was set up as a self-supporting agency in the 1970s and receives no tax money, is expected to run out of cash by the end of September.  Closing the Tulsa plant would cost the city about 600 jobs and result in mail posted in Tulsa being shipped to Oklahoma City for sorting, local union official Cynthia McNeilance said.

Read more from the Tulsa World at

Headway made against OKC-area wildfires

Smoke rose over the horizon in northeast Oklahoma City again Thursday afternoon as firefighters continued battling flare-ups from a wildfire that has burned dozens of homes and about 4,000 acres over several days.  Oklahoma City Deputy Fire Chief Marc Woodard said the northeast Oklahoma City fire was mostly contained Thursday evening. The fire is in an 18-square-mile area, and 11 square miles of that area have been cleared, he said.

Read more from the Tulsa World at

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge fire burning Friday but calm wind helping efforts

A wildfire is burning in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge south of Meers in southwest Oklahoma Friday, and crews have been unable to contain the blaze, authorities said.  Flare-ups Friday morning are causing problems for crews, a Comanche County Sheriff’s dispatcher said. Many of the firefighters cannot get cell phone receoption in the area, she said.

Read more from NewsOK at

Sense of fear lingers in Okla. on 9/11 anniversary

Before Sept. 11, there was April 19 — when a truck bomb sheared away one side of a federal building in middle America and proved that anyone, anywhere, can be attacked.  The combination of two tons of fertilizer and fuel oil in Oklahoma City destroyed the notion that people content to live far from the nation’s biggest cities and tallest buildings wouldn’t be targets of terrorism.

Read more from the Associated Press at

High court upholds state Senate redistricting

The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Thursday issued an opinion upholding the Oklahoma Senate redistricting plan.  The vote was 9-0.  Sen. Jim Wilson, D-Tahlequah, challenged the plan in July when he filed suit against the measure, seeking to have a new plan drawn.  The state’s high court ruled that Wilson failed to show that the act did not comply with the Oklahoma Constitution.  But Wilson’s Oklahoma City attorney, Mark Hammons, said a case will be filed in Oklahoma County District Court.

Read more from the Tulsa World at

Council overrides council-city manager ballot veto

The City Council voted 8-1 on Thursday to override Mayor Dewey Bartlett’s veto, clearing the way for a resolution seeking a council-city manager form of government to be placed on the Nov. 8 ballot.  There was no council discussion prior to the vote, and G.T. Bynum was the only councilor to vote against the override.  Last month, the council voted 7-2 to place the proposal on the ballot.

Read more from the Tulsa World at

Abandoned, neglected properties are a drain on cities, lawmakers told

Vacant and abandoned properties are costing taxpayers in Oklahoma City and Tulsa millions of dollars a year, representatives with both cities told a legislative committee Thursday.  Tulsa officials are seeking legislation that would speed up the process in which cities could acquire ownership of identified vacant and abandoned properties.  The process in place now takes years and by that time, the condition or value of the property has deteriorated to the extent that rehabilitation is no longer an option. Tulsa and Oklahoma City officials said they would prefer abandoned and vacant houses be sold to investors or nonprofit groups that in turn would spruce them up so families could live in them and would increase the value of the surrounding neighborhood.

Read more from NewsOK at

Fearlessly forecasting–into the past

Looking back has helped us not only to better understand the dynamics of revenue and forecasting, but also to appreciate the changing dynamics of the budget cycle. When we started this project two years ago, we wanted to get a better picture of how far revenue would fall, for how long, and what the recovery might look like. Now that economic recovery, however halting, has set in, we need to turn our attention to whether the resulting revenue growth will make up for the end of one-time revenue fixes that balanced the last two budgets, as well as estimating how much revenue growth we can expect for how long. Our prior efforts have suggested that revenue will not return to pre-downturn levels until FY ’13 or ’14.

Read more from the OK Policy blog at

Quote of the Day

It’s not a recession, but boy it’s getting close.

Ernie Goss, an economics professor at Creighton University on the slowing national economy

Number of the Day

20 percent
Percentage of student loans in Oklahoma that are delinquent, compared to 12.3 percent nationally in 2011.
Source:  Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Uninsured Largely Unaware Of Benefits Coming From Overhaul

When it comes to last year’s Affordable Care Act, there’s not much people agree on. Except, says Kaiser Family Foundation President and CEO Drew Altman, this one thing: “It really does help the uninsured; 32 million uninsured people will get coverage.”  But according to the foundation’s latest monthly tracking poll, it appears that only about half of uninsured people have any idea that help is on the way. And fewer than a third (31 percent) say they think the law will help them obtain health insurance.  Those two things are clearly linked. Among those lacking insurance, 41 percent incorrectly think the law lacks provisions to help those with modest means pay for health insurance (7 percent said they didn’t know) and 37 percent incorrectly said the law doesn’t include an expansion of the Medicaid program to low-income, able-bodied adults (16 percent weren’t sure).

Read more from NPR at

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