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 despite same-sex marriage becoming legal in several states, these couples often have to pay higher taxes because they are not allowed to file jointly. A child care center operator spoke to NewsOK about the importance of the child care tax credit for the working poor. The child care credit is one of those that was targeted for elimination to pay for another cut to the top bracket.
The Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office has cleared an autopsy backlog that had grown to more than 1,000 in March 2010, but to regain accreditation the agency still needs to more than double the number of pathologists and receive funds to move into a modern facility.
The OK Policy Blog compares how Oklahoma public and private universities and community colleges compare on two important measures of value. A study looks at the varying job prospects for Oklahomans with different degrees and majors. The lottery has paid $400 million to Oklahoma schools over the past six years, but the lottery money may just be supplanting funding that lawmakers use for other parts of the state budget.
The Tulsa World discusses how funding for meth treatment has eroded significantly during the state budget crises. Rep. Mike Reynolds is proposing a bill to ban former Oklahoma lawmakers from accepting state-government jobs unless they agree to take home a salary capped at the basic $38,400 legislative pay for the first two years after their term of office ends.
The Number of the Day is the amount by which oil consumption in Oklahoma exceeds the state’s production. In today’s Policy Note, Stateline previews how coming federal budget cuts will affect the states.
In The News
Study sheds light on same-sex tax disparity
Income tax season is the busiest time of the year for Tulsa certified public accountant Kelly Kirby, who prepares about 400 returns. It’s also a reminder that he and his partner of 14 years often pay more taxes, because they’re not allowed to file jointly as a married couple. “All of us want to pay our taxes but not more than we’re legally obligated to,” Kirby said. According to census data, there were more than 9,800 same-sex partner households in Oklahoma in 2010. A new study by CNN Money and H&R Block shows that same-sex couples could be paying thousands of dollars more in taxes than heterosexual married couples. Kirby, 58, married Charles Johnston, 53, in 2008 in California. They have a marriage license, but must file single returns because Oklahoma and the federal government only recognize marriage between a man and woman. He said it would be beneficial for the two to file together because they make significantly different salaries and the standard deduction for a married couple might save them money and put them in a lower tax bracket.
Group opposes recommendation to eliminate child care income tax credit
A recommendation to eliminate the state’s child care income tax credit would be devastating to many parents, the president of the Oklahoma Child Care Association said. “This would definitely hurt them because a lot of the parents turn around and sign over those income tax checks to pay for their child care in advance,” said Kathy Cronemiller, who operates six child care centers in the Oklahoma City metro area. “I have lots of parents that do it because that just helps them pay for their child care.” In 2010, the child care tax credit was claimed on 362,470 income tax returns, according to the Oklahoma Tax Commission. It resulted in the state returning $28.9 million to those taxpayers, or an average payment of $80. Taxpayers may elect to take the greater of the state’s child care credit or 5 percent of the federal child tax credit. In both cases, the federal adjusted gross income cannot exceed $100,000. Cronemiller said most of her clients who claim the child care tax credit are “the working poor.” All are working, and some also are going to school.
Previously: Task force proposes tax hike on the poor and middle class to benefit the wealthiest from the OK Policy Blog
Medical Examiner’s Office improves autopsy turnaround, still without accreditation
Almost three years after losing its accreditation, the state Medical Examiner’s Office has not regained that standing and remains in an aging building with deficient office space, records show. Last August, the World reported that the office had reduced its towering backlog of autopsy reports. After reporting a backlog of 1,111 autopsy reports in March 2010, the agency reported in late December that the backlog had been reduced to sero. In March 2010, the results of a special audit ordered by then-Gov. Brad Henry were released. The report appeared to pinpoint why some autopsy reports were delayed for months: Pathologists remained busy conducting autopsies but lacked sufficient time to write the reports. Meanwhile, to regain its accreditation, the Medical Examiner’s Office needs more than double the number of pathologists now on staff, Elliott said. The agency has six pathologists in its Oklahoma City and Tulsa offices, but accreditation calls for 14, she said. The agency is supposed to relocate from Oklahoma City to better facilities in Edmond, she said. Legislation was passed in May 2010 authorizing the office’s reorganization and move, but funds have not been available for the move.
Beyond tuition: Better measures for the cost and value of higher education
We’ve previously discussed the overwhelming evidence that college is a good investment both for students and the state as a whole. The need for at least some college education to get a good job is greater than ever. That’s reflected in Oklahoma by record-breaking college enrollment. Lawmakers are also taking a growing interest in Oklahoma’s higher education system, with much of their criticism focused on tuition increases. A bill has already been introduced to return the power to approve tuition increases to the legislature, reversing a 2003 change that gave the State Regents full control. Rising tuition is a legitimate concern. However, advertised tuition rates are not the best way to evaluate colleges and universities for a number of reasons. Due to scholarships and financial aid, fewer than half of all public university students and fewer than 18 percent of private college students pay the full “sticker price” for their education. What may be a better metric for how well students are being served by a school are the federal loan default rates. The federal government made or guaranteed more than 80 percent of all outstanding student loans this year. If a large proportion of students are unable to pay back their loans, that is a strong indicator that they are not able to find well-paying jobs after leaving school, with or without a degree.
Job prospects for recent Oklahoma grads vary by major
Although a bachelor’s degree is still a good hedge against unemployment, job prospects for recent college graduates vary drastically by major, according to a recent study. The study, “Hard Times, College Majors, Unemployment and Earnings: Not All College Degrees Are Created Equal,” was conducted by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. The jobless rate for recent college graduates with bachelor’s degrees stands at about 8.9 percent, the report states. Although the report characterizes that figure as “unacceptable,” recent graduates still fared better than job seekers with only a high school diploma, who saw an unemployment rate of 22.9 percent. High school dropouts saw an “almost unthinkable” 31.5 percent rate, according to the study. Even within recent college graduates, the statistics vary widely. In general, the study suggests, majors that are linked closely to occupations tend to have better employment prospects after graduation. Electrical engineering majors, for example, had a 7.3 percent unemployment rate, while the rate for philosophy and religious studies majors was 10.8 percent. But that trend doesn’t hold true across the board. Unemployment tended to be higher for majors in fields with low demand. Architecture majors, for example, saw the highest unemployment rate with 13.9 percent.
Lottery has paid $400 million to Oklahoma schools
Like clockwork for the past six years, the Oklahoma lottery — which includes Powerball, MegaMillions, Hot Lotto and a number of scratch games — has provided about $70 million a year to education. In May, the total contribution to education surpassed $400 million. Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Karl Springer said educators are grateful for the funding. But the money was never tracked properly, Springer said. The lottery law stipulates that the money is not supposed to supplant current education funding but is supposed to be in addition to education funding. For higher education, the money is easily tracked and there is a list of capitol improvement projects that the lottery has funded at colleges and universities across the state. But for common education the money goes directly into the state formula that distributes funding equally between school districts based on a student enrollment equation. The fear is that the lottery dollars didn’t mean more money for education, but rather allowed lawmakers to supplant the education funding with lottery dollars and use the funding elsewhere.
Meth treatment programs needed
Oklahomans are fixated on what will become one of the great debates of the coming legislative session: whether to make cold remedies containing pseudoephedrine by prescription only. The entire issue of methamphetamine and the fall-out it creates is almost overwhelming. Seizures of meth labs in Tulsa alone last year were at record levels. Crimes such as theft of copper wiring that are committed to raise money for purchase of meth are destroying homes and properties. Meth-related explosions and fires are taxing Tulsa Fire Department resources and endangering innocent lives. The Department of Human Services is struggling to protect children forced to live in dangerous and unhealthy environments created by parents or guardians who produce or use meth. Those all are major issues facing the state. And there’s another. Because of Draconian funding cuts forced on the state by the recession that began in 2008 and appears to be gradually easing, funding for treatment of meth addicts has eroded significantly.
Reynolds wants to close loophole he says wrongfully allows legislators to take high-paying state jobs
Former Oklahoma lawmakers could not accept state-government jobs—unless they agree to take home a salary capped at the basic $38,400 legislative pay for the first two years after their term of office ends—under a measure filed by Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City. HB 2194 would cover employment with a “state agency, political subdivision or other governmental entity.” Violation would be a felony. “For years, legislators have taken jobs, either while they’re still a legislator or shortly after they leave,” said Reynolds. “They justify it for various reasons, like ‘Oh, it’s not state appropriations, it’s fees, it’s postage-stamp money, it’s ratepayer money.’ I’m certainly sick of that kind of excuse, and I think the public is too.” Reynolds said that if lawmakers can be public servants for the lower salary while serving in the legislature, “Just keep doing it that way for the next couple of years. Then you’ll prove that you’re just trying to be a good public servant.” Under the language of the measure, the prohibition would not apply if the compensation involved “does not exceed the former member’s base legislative salary for the two years after the end of the term to which the member was elected.”
Quote of the Day
There’s lost opportunity every single day in this state.
–Terri White, commissioner of Oklahoma’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services
Number of the Day
Amount by which oil consumption in Oklahoma exceeds the state’s production.
Source: Oklahoma Geological Survey
Washington and the states: A year of uncertainty and foreboding
A long siege of deadlock and dysfunction in Washington has left states frustratingly unclear what to expect from the federal government in the coming year. About the only thing they know for sure is that it is not going to be a year of generosity. In fact, it’s likely to be quite the opposite. As a result of last summer’s deal to raise the federal debt ceiling, and the consequent failure of the congressional “super committee” to decide on budget cuts, states are bracing for automatic across-the-board cuts in education, social welfare and other programs for the upcoming 2013 fiscal year. Those cuts would come atop federal cuts in 2011 and 2012, not to mention the continuing wind-down of federal stimulus aid. Partisan standoffs between Congress and President Obama aren’t just related to the budget. Long overdue legislation setting federal policy for states on key issue areas remains stuck, making it difficult for states to know what to expect in 2012 and beyond. “For states, the uncertainty creates planning and budgeting problems in both the immediate and long run,” says Dan Crippen, executive director of the National Governors Association. “Governors will soon present budgets to their legislatures without knowing if, and in what form, programs such as transportation, ESEA (education) and TANF (welfare) will be reauthorized.”
You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.