In The Know: Superintendent opposes pre-K age increase

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 you should know that Superintendent Barresi spoke against a proposal to increase the age when children can enter pre-k and kindergarten because it would disadvantage parents who can’t afford quality day care centers. In response to a request from the state auditor, the Bixby Superintendent said his district is enforcing a public school voucher law for special needs students but still believes it is unconstitutional. Inspectors began enforcing Oklahoma’s new commercial pet breeder law yesterday, finding one breeder who did not have a license and citing another for violations.

A legislative panel discussed changing the state tax on low-point beer from a sales tax to a wholesale tax to make collection easier and increase state revenues by about $5 million. OK Policy previously examined whether Oklahoma should increase the alcoholic beverage tax to raise revenues while improving public health and safety. NewsOK reports that the state’s inability to collect online sales tax owed is costing the state millions. The OK Policy Blog previously looked at what other states are doing to close this sales tax loophole. September revenue collections show the Oklahoma economy is continuing its steady growth.

For the third part in a series on Oklahoma’s racial unemployment gap, the OK Policy Blog explains what the state can do to provide equal employment opportunities for all Oklahomans. A legislative panel debated whether to require a prescription for allergy medicine to fight meth. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission requested regular audits of the hundreds of millions in fees and taxes flowing through its accounts each year. OSU Vice President Stephen McKeever writes that recent criticisms of Oklahoma’s higher education system are flawed.

The Tulsa World seconds a statement by OK Policy that it is troubling for state leaders to call for more cuts to the income tax when the Governor’s plan to fix bridges relies entirely on income tax revenues. NewsOK also mentioned OK Policy’s concerns. NewsOK agreed with Rep. Ortega’s position that Oklahoma doesn’t need more immigration laws.

Today’s Number of the Day is the proportion of working-aged adults living in poverty in Oklahoma who were employed part-time or full-time in 2010. In today’s Policy Note, The Annie E. Casey Foundation has a new report demonstrating that incarcerating kids doesn’t work and recommending reforms to make juvenile correction systems better serve young people and the public.

In The News

Lawmakers, superintendent debate delaying pre-k and kindergarten eligibility

Moving the cutoff date for prekindergarten and kindergarten eligibility back two months would ensure young students are better prepared to learn, the author of proposed legislation said Tuesday. House Bill 1465, which easily passed the House of Representatives and the Senate earlier this session but then got bogged down because of proposed changes, would move the cutoff date for prekindergarten and kindergarten eligibility from Sept. 1 to July 1. About 9,200 students who entered kindergarten this year would not have been eligible had the measure passed. State schools Superintendent Janet Barresi spoke against the proposal. Barresi said parents who are struggling economically can’t afford to place their children in quality day care centers. Often, sitters come in to watch children, who are placed in a playpen in front of a television set and receive little learning interaction with adults. About 61 percent of Oklahoma’s public school students are receiving a free or reduced lunch, she said.

Read more from NewsOK at

Bixby superintendent responds to letter from state auditor over voucher compliance

“The Bixby District did, in fact, process all voucher requests received under the LNH Scholarship program during the 2010-2011 school year,” reported Dr. Kyle Wood, superintendent of Bixby Public Schools (BPS).” Wood was responding to an inquiry by the Bixby Bulletin regarding a letter to State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones dated Aug. 26, in which Attorney General Scott Pruitt asked the auditor’s office to assist his office “in monitoring compliance” with the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Act, passed by the state Legislature in 2010. The BPS District did comply with the statute governing the LNH Scholarship.  “While this information is certainly available at our schools, it is likewise available at the Oklahoma State Department of Education, just three city blocks or so from the AG’s office,” Wood said. According to Wood, the Bixby Board of Education (BOE) stated emphatically that it was their belief the legislation creating this voucher program was unconstitutional. Several requests were made by BPS for the statute to be reviewed by the Attorney General. “Unfortunately, this did not happen,” Wood said.

Read more from The Bixby Bulletin at

Oklahoma agency begins cracking down on unlicensed commercial pet breeders

Inspectors began enforcing the state’s new pet breeding law Tuesday, finding one commercial breeder who did not have a license. Twenty-six commercial breeders in the Oklahoma City metro area were checked, said William Brogden, executive director of the state Board of Commercial Pet Breeders. One citation was issued to a breeder for not having a state license, he said. A breeder who was licensed was issued a citation for another infraction, he said. Names of those issued the citations are not made public until the complaints are processed, he said. Inspections will continue for the rest of this month, he said. Thirteen commercial breeders filed applications for licenses in the days leading up to Tuesday’s inspections, Brogden said. That puts the total at 34 seeking applications; 160 breeders, or less than 10 percent of the estimated number of commercial breeders in the state, have their license.

Read more from NewsOK at

Legislative panel discusses tax on low point beer

Noncompliance among low-point beer retailers may be costing the state $5 million in revenue a year, a legislative panel was told Tuesday. “They’re collecting the tax but they’re not paying it (to the state),” Rep. Harold Wright said after holding an interim legislative study on ways to improve the efficiency of collecting taxes on low-point beer. Wright, R-Weatherford, said he’s looking at increasing the excise tax on wholesalers and eliminating the sales tax on retailers or making wholesalers responsible for collecting the sales tax from retailers. Wright said there are about 6,000 permitted low-point beer retailers, but only 26 licensed low-point beer wholesalers. Oklahoma Tax Commissioner Dawn Cash told members of a House of Representatives budget subcommittee on revenue and taxation estimates indicate the state is losing about $5 million annually because retailers are not paying the sales tax on low-point beer sales. State Tax Commission officials estimate counties would gain about $649,500 and cities about $3.5 million annually.

Read more from NewsOK at

Previously: Should Oklahoma raise the alcoholic beverage tax? from Oklahoma Policy Institute

Online retail sales costing Oklahoma millions each year

Despite years of efforts and a series of proactive moves, state officials say that Oklahoma governments are losing out on $185 million to $225 million each year as consumers avoid paying use tax on goods purchased online. Paula Ross, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Tax Commission, said the nine-digit figure is based on a recent University of Tennessee study that estimates, on a state-by-state basis, just how much use tax isn’t paid by consumers purchasing products via the Internet. Ross said the Tax Commission has tried for years to find ways to collect online use tax, which is a kind of levy placed on goods purchased in another state that would otherwise be considered tax-free. The problem, she says, is that states can’t collect the tax themselves because doing so would violate interstate commerce laws. Another issue, perhaps just as daunting, is that consumers are essentially on an honor system when they purchase items online. “The burden is on the consumers,” Ross said. “We cannot make them pay the tax.”

Read more from NewsOK at

Previously: More states push to end the Amazon sales tax loophole. Will Oklahoma join them? from the OK Policy Blog

Oklahoma economy continues steady growth

Oklahoma’s economy is showing steady growth more than 18 months after revenues began climbing from the national recession, state Treasurer Ken Miller said Tuesday. September collections were 7.1 percent higher than the same month a year ago based on the state’s monthly gross revenues, he said. Collections the past 12 months total $10.4 billion, the highest level in 27 months, when 12-month collections in June 2009 totaled $10.6 billion, he said. Twelve-month collections for September are about 8.6 percent higher than the 12-month period ending in September 2010. Collections over a one-year period peaked in December 2008 at $11.3 billion. Miller said it’s possible that one-year total could be matched before the end of this fiscal year, or June 30.

Read more from NewsOK at

Oklahoma’s unemployment gap (part 3): Equal opportunities for secure employment

One thing we know about the unemployment gap in Oklahoma is that black workers are jobless for much longer than white workers. Long-term joblessness is a severe impediment to employment. How do we get the long-term unemployed back on the job? One effective approach is to incentivize employers to hire them. Some Workforce Oklahoma centers participate in a temporary program that reimburses employers for hiring workers who have been laid-off or unemployed for an extended period. The program reimburses employers for ninety percent of the payroll costs of hiring a qualified worker for three months, and sixty percent of the costs for an additional six months. The employer wins because they get to write off the costs and risk of hiring an untrained new worker, and the employee wins by gaining employment and training under an employer that might not have hired them otherwise.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

Speakers acknowledge methamphetamine problem, differ on how to attack it

From law enforcement to industry representatives, speakers at joint interim study meeting Monday said they understand there is a methamphetamine problem in Oklahoma and other states that needs to be addressed. Where they disagreed was in how to address that problem. Darrell Weaver, director of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control, wants the state to upgrade pseudoephedrine, a precursor chemical in meth production, to a Schedule III drug, which means it would require a prescription to obtain it. Industry officials and some others said a better strategy would be to bring Oklahoma into the industry-sponsored NPLex program, which monitors drug purchases in participating states at the point of sale. Weaver said the number of meth labs in Oklahoma grew from 148 in 2007 to 818 last year, a rise he attributed to new the “shake and bake” method of producing meth. With no need of a heat source, labs for this one-pot method of making meth can be small, even mobile.

Read more from 23rd and Lincoln at

Okla. Corporation Commission eyes need for audit

Members of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission told the state’s top auditor Monday that the agency that handles hundreds of millions of dollars in fees and taxes likely would benefit from regular audits of the money that flows through its financial accounts each year. Commissioners Dana Murphy and Bob Anthony quizzed Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones on what steps his agency would need to take to begin conducting regular audits of some of the financial records at the agency that regulates the oil and natural gas industry, public utilities, trucking and railroads. Anthony said the agency was originally a regulatory body but that over the years it has been given collection and payment processing duties in which it receives and pays out large sums of money. Murphy said commissioners do not suspect that any money has been misappropriated or misapplied at the agency but want to take precautions following recent criminal charges involving auditors at other agencies.

Read more from the Associated Press at

Stephen McKeever: Criticism of higher education flawed

One thing on which generals, politicians and industry leaders agree is that no good decisions are ever made based on bad information. That thought should be at the forefront of the mind of anyone who reads “Oklahoma Higher Education: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom” published by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs but written by Matthew Denhart and Christopher Matgouranis of the Washington D.C.-based Center for College Affordability and Productivity. The authors set out to prove that increased state support for higher education in Oklahoma is wasteful, and use flawed “analysis” to solidify their argument. They claim that as revenues in higher education have risen, spending has increased to match it. However, the authors reverse cause and effect. The revenue increases have been caused by cost increases. These have been greater than inflation because of the need for new technology in the classrooms, replacement of old facilities beyond their useful life – a continuing problem – and mandatory cost increases, including health care, energy and federal compliance mandates.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Tulsa World: One troubling aspect to Governor’s bridge plan

Gov. Mary Fallin on Monday unveiled an ambitious plan to address the more than 700 structurally deficient bridges in the state by 2019, hoping to bring the number close to zero. Oklahoma for many years has had among the highest numbers of problem bridges in the nation. Fallin’s plan is forward-thinking and much-needed. But there is one troubling aspect. The plan relies entirely on existing revenue sources, which already are overburdened. Using more state funds for bridges necessarily means there will be less funding for other needs. The Oklahoma Policy Institute, which closely follows and analyzes tax issues in the state, noted that Fallin’s proposal “would be paid for entirely by diverting more income tax revenues from an already cash-strapped state budget. At the same time, Gov. Fallin and other state leaders are promoting further cuts or outright abolition of the income tax. This should remind us that the income tax remains vital for funding Oklahoma’s needs and that we cannot meet our obligations to pay our bills while undermining our revenue base.”

Read more from this Tulsa World editorial at

See also: Governor’s bridge plan an effort to get to finish line from NewsOK

NewsOK: Lawmakers should note what member says about immigration law

Pushed by Republicans and signed by a Democratic governor in 2007, Oklahoma’s immigration reform law was deemed the toughest in the country. And as far as state Rep. Charles Ortega is concerned, it’s tough enough. He’ll get no quarrel here. Ortega, R-Altus, is chairman of a legislative joint committee studying our immigration laws. His takeaway: House Bill 1804 covers plenty of ground, and the state needs to tread lightly before expanding any further. “We had better make sure that what we do addresses the issues that we have,” he said. Ortega also advised looking at how states such as Arizona and Georgia, which approved laws stronger than Oklahoma’s, have been adversely affected. Decisions on whether to pursue further immigration policy changes should be based “on the impact that that particular issue is having on the state of Oklahoma.” Or, put another way, not based solely on scoring political points.

Read more from NewsOK at

Quote of the Day

I had heard things about it but I’ve never gotten a bill like a few weeks later or anything like that, you know, telling me to pay taxes. Honestly, I wouldn’t know how to pay the tax if you told me to do it right now.
Rochelle Stevens, an Oklahoma college student who like many Oklahomans was unaware that she owes use tax for purchases made online.

Number of the Day

2 in 5

Working-aged adults living in poverty in Oklahoma who were employed part-time or full-time in 2010

Source: Census Bureau via Oklahoma Policy Institute

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

No place for kids: The case for reducing juvenile incarceration

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s new report, No Place for Kids: The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration assembles a vast array of evidence to demonstrate that incarcerating kids doesn’t work: Youth prisons do not reduce future offending, they waste taxpayer dollars, and they frequently expose youth to dangerous and abusive conditions. The report also shows that many states have substantially reduced their juvenile correctional facility populations in recent years, and it finds that these states have seen no resulting increase in juvenile crime or violence. Finally, the report highlights successful reform efforts from several states and provides recommendations for how states can reduce juvenile incarceration rates and redesign their juvenile correction systems to better serve young people and the public.

Read more from The Annie E. Casey Foundation 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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