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 firstname.lastname@example.org. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.
Today you should know that two commissioners have resigned from the DHS Commission after the state Ethics Commission accused Commissioner Steven Dow of a conflict of interest. Read Dow’s resignation letter here. Oklahoma City recorded the lowest unemployment rate in April among U.S. cities of 1 million people or more. Gov. Fallin vetoed a bill that would have removed salary caps for the heads of several state agencies.
David Blatt’s Journal Record column previews the next round of arguments over taxes in Oklahoma. The okeducationtruths blog discusses rising pressure on Oklahoma schools to meet new mandates without funding. A guest post on the OK Policy Blog discusses alternatives to GDP for measuring progress.
A doctor in Yukon refused to examine or provide emergency contraception to an Oklahoma City woman who had been raped. StateImpact Oklahoma examines the difficulties faced by female ex-felons in Oklahoma to find jobs adequate for supporting children. A federal judge declined to throw out the bribery conviction of former Senate leader Mike Morgan. Urban Tulsa Weekly examines the latest push for wine sales in grocery stores.
The Number of the Day is Oklahoma’s rank among the states for the number of major disaster declarations. In today’s Policy Note, the Asymptosis blog shows that millionaires do not congregate in states with low income taxes.
In The News
Two Oklahoma DHS Commissioners resign
Citing a recent state Ethics Commission rule interpretation and reprimand, two commissioners have resigned from the oversight board of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. Steven Dow, executive director of the Community Action Project of Tulsa County, and Anne Roberts, legislative affairs director for Integris Health, informed Gov. Mary Fallin on Wednesday of their resignations, which are effective immediately. Dow was reprimanded by the state’s Ethics Commission on Tuesday for serving on the DHS oversight board while leading a nonprofit organization that has a contract with the agency. However, a previous memo from the state Attorney General’s Office indicated that his service on the Oklahoma Commission for Human Services would not be an ethics violation. Dow said he also was given approval by the legal staff of former Gov. Brad Henry, who appointed him to the commission in 2010. Dow receives no compensation from the nonprofit organization or DHS and said he doesn’t vote on issues involving the Community Action Project that come before the commission. He said less than 1 percent – 0.5 percent – of the nonprofit’s revenues come from DHS.
See also: Stephen Dow’s resignation letter
Oklahoma City again posts lowest jobless rate among large US cities
Oklahoma City in April again recorded the lowest unemployment rate among U.S. cities of 1 million people or more, according to figures released Wednesday. Meanwhile, the April jobless rate fell in 76 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties from the previous month, the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission said. In March, the unemployment rate fell in every Oklahoma county. Oklahoma City’s 4 percent unemployment rate was the lowest among the nation’s 49 largest cities for the third straight month, the U.S. Labor Department said. The metro area’s jobless rate declined 0.4 of a percentage point from the March figure. Two sectors that help drive Oklahoma City’s employment growth over the past year were mining and logging, which includes energy and manufacturing. The former grew 10.8 percent over the 12-month period, while the latter was up by 6.5 percent.
Governor vetoes bill with agency head raises
Gov. Mary Fallin has vetoed a bill that would have given the director of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation more power to set his top executives’ salaries. The bill that passed in the waning days of the legislative session also would have removed the salary caps for director salaries at the Board of Dentistry, Board of Nursing, Teachers’ Retirement System and State Banking Department. The cap for the OTRS director is currently $116,500, while the head of the Banking Department can earn up to $137,200. Altogether, the bill would have removed the limits on nearly $650,000 in salaries. In her veto message, Fallin says there are state employees at all agencies that deserve raises and the bill “does not constitute good public policy.”
David Blatt: Tax debate continues
The Legislature’s failure to cut the income tax certainly ranks as the biggest surprise of this legislative session. Despite a popular governor who made tax cuts the centerpiece of her agenda and solid Republican control of both legislative chambers, what looked to be a slam-dunk ended up as a blocked shot. But this year’s failure is likely to provide only a brief timeout in the tug of war over taxes. And while income tax cuts have dominated the debate so far, we now have an opportunity for broader reforms that will put Oklahoma on a sounder footing to grow its economy and create jobs.
It takes money
The Oklahoman’s editorial page writers this morning came dangerously close to admitting that quality public education takes an adequate level of funding. They soon came to their senses and remembered that they are supposed to blame teachers, unions, and whiny superintendents for all the bad policy decisions they have made. Anybody who has ever taught students understands the difference that more instructional materials could make in the quality of instruction. Anybody who has ever held a leadership position has had to make uncomfortable choices between wants and needs. With the decrease in funding to schools over the last few years, that has become a choice between competing sets of needs. The things we want don’t even make it off the tips of our tongues anymore. Now the rules are changing.
Guest Blog (Michael Givel): Can Oklahoma replicate Maryland’s Genuine Progress Indicator?
What’s the best way to measure social progress? For decades, the United States and other nations have primarily measured social progress by the economic measure of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). However, recently, a growing chorus has expressed considerable concerns that GDP is an inadequate measurement of well-being because it fails to assess important factors like environmental degradation and social factors like poverty and income inequality. Dissatisfaction with GDP has led to a growing number of alternative indicators that now simultaneously measure economic, environmental, and social factors. In 2009, Maryland became the first state to develop an alternative GDP measure, when it created the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI). Oklahoma should consider moving down the same road.
Oklahoma doctor refuses to treat rape victim
A metro mom is outraged about the way she says a local doctor treated her daughter. She says her daughter was raped over the weekend. And when they came in to seek treatment and get a rape exam, the doctor refused to help them. The mother said she and her daughter did file a police report about the rape. She’s angry that she brought her 24-year-old daughter to the Integris Canadian Valley Hospital emergency room on Sunday, and that the doctor who came in and saw them refused to do any sort of exam or to provide them with any emergency contraceptives. Not only that, she says the doctor was less than sympathetic when dealing with her daughter, even though she was told she was a victim of a rape. This mother does say she and her daughter were treated much better when they went to Integris Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City and that they did get a rape exam done.
Female felons in Oklahoma face unique employment challenges
Oklahoma’s rate of female incarceration is about twice the national average. The state has held on to its number one spot in that category for most of the past two decades. It’s a distinction prison officials would rather not have, but isn’t easy to change. And there are unique challenges faced by women behind bars in Oklahoma. “My name is Sheila White. I’m 45 years old, mother of three and have a grandchild. I was a drug addict. Have been often to drug addiction for 20 years. This is my third time in incarceration.” What’s different about Sheila White’s prison experience this time is that she’s at the Kate Barnard Correctional Center in Oklahoma City, where up to 160 female inmates are allowed to hold jobs in the community as their release date approaches.
Former Oklahoma Senate leader Mike Morgan loses bid to throw out conviction
A federal judge on Wednesday declined to throw out the bribery conviction of a former leader of the Oklahoma Senate, saying prosecutors presented enough evidence at trial to support it. U.S. District Judge Robin Cauthron handed down the decision in the case of former Senate President Pro Tem Mike Morgan, 57, who was convicted of bribery on March 5 by a 12-member jury that also found him not guilty of related extortion and mail fraud counts and could not reach a verdict on other counts. Morgan was accused of illegally accepting more than $400,000 from three companies that sought his influence on pending legislation between 2005 and 2008. Morgan, a Stillwater attorney, insisted the money was legal fees for work he did for the companies and that he never sacrificed his “independent judgment” when voting on legislation. But prosecutors alleged Morgan did no legal work for the companies.
Latest push for wine sales in grocery stores has plenty of critics
Jack Bird has owned a liquor store for about 30 years. At Columbia Package Store, 2702 E. 15 St., he estimates that wine purchases make up roughly 40 percent of all sales. An initiative petition to sell wine in grocery stores might change that, with the group Oklahomans for Modern Laws hoping to get their proposal on the November statewide ballot. Wine and strong beer now can only be sold in package stores, also known as liquor stores, which, according to state law, must be owned by persons with at least 10 years of residency in Oklahoma, among other restrictions. It’s a system that’s kept large grocery stores out of the often lucrative alcohol sales they’ve enjoyed in other states. The petition could change that, for at least some retailers. The proposal would only affect counties with a population of 50,000 or more. If those counties then vote in a local election to approve it, they could allow wine sales only in large stores with at least 25,000 square feet of space. “It’s not going anywhere real quick,” said Bird, 76, explaining that he thinks business forces within the industry seem content with things as they are.
Quote of the Day
Steven and Anne are exactly the kind of volunteer public servants we need more of, and I’m sorry to see them leave the commission. Because of the relevant experiences both Steven and Anne brought to the commission, it made them extremely effective in helping prevent an ill advised trial in the Children’s Rights class-action lawsuit and in helping craft the first-of-its-kind plan to reform our child welfare system under the unique settlement agreement in the lawsuit.
–Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, on the resignations of Steven Dow and Anne Roberts from the DHS Commission
Number of the Day
Oklahoma’s rank among the states for the number of major disaster declarations issued since 1953 (70), behind only California and Texas.
Do millionaires vote with their feet?
Andrew Rosenthal points us to one of the most eye-poppingly specious arguments I’ve ever seen against high-earner taxes, from Scott Hodge at the Tax Foundation: “…612,520 people renounced their New York State citizenship and moved to Florida between 2000 and 2010. They took with them nearly $20 billion in adjusted gross income, after adjusting for inflation. During the same period, 208,784 Pennsylvania residents renounced their state citizenship and moved to Florida, taking $8 billion in income with them. Many of these New York and Pennsylvania residents no doubt moved to Florida for the warm weather, but many more may have moved their because the state does not have an individual income tax, an estate tax, nor an inheritance tax.” “May have” is certainly a strong piece of evidence. It’s hard to argue with. But let’s try. Back when we were trying to pass a high-earner tax in Washington State a couple of years ago (with Bill Gates Senior as the lead spokesman and cheerleader; it failed dismally), I got curious to know whether millionaires do actually congregate in low-tax states. It turns out they don’t. The correlation is -0.00003. Notice in particular the giant gaping hole in the upper left corner, where the millionaires should all be congregating. (Florida’s over there by the 5% mark.) Of the 12 states with the highest concentration of millionaires, 10 (83%) have above- or at-trend (in this case, median) income tax rates.
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