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. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.
Today you should know that Grover Norquist accused Sen. Tom Coburn of standing “alone” when he wrote in a New York Times op-ed that solving the fiscal crisis requires more open-mindedness about taxes. A federal judge in Oklahoma City has combined 13 shareholder lawsuits against Chesapeake Energy. If control Chesapeake changes, contracts could obligate Chesapeake to pay millions in bonuses to 1,600 employees.
Sales growth remains robust in Oklahoma, but some officials warn the state eventually could follow the national trend downward. A new OK Policy blog post and fact sheet explains the basics of Oklahoma’s Rainy Day Fund. California plans to withdraw all of the inmates from a private prison in Sayre, Oklahoma by the end of next year.
State Rep. Sally Kern will lead an interim study on oversight of charter schools. okeducationtruths discussed tensions between school choice and accountability. The OKC school board is considering a time limit for the ban on volunteers who have been convicted of certain misdemeanors.
The Number of the Day is Oklahoma’s rank nationally for voter turnout in the 2010 midterm elections. In today’s Policy Note, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities debunks the latest attempt to derail the health care reform law on a technicality.
In The News
Tom Coburn clashes with Grover Norquist over anti-tax pledge
Anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist provided a fresh rebuttal to an old critic Monday, accusing Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) of standing “alone” in his claim that solving the fiscal crisis will require more open-mindedness when it comes to a balanced approach. In a New York Times op-ed published Sunday, Coburn accused Norquist of becoming “increasingly isolated politically” by pushing a no-new-taxes pledge on Congressional Republicans that forbids tax hikes unless accompanied by dollar-for-dollar deductions. Coburn also wrote that Norquist only gives Democratic legislators the political fodder they need to paint the GOP as receiving its “marching orders” from a stubborn ideologue.
See also: Tom Coburn’s New York Times op-ed
Federal judge in Oklahoma City combines Chesapeake lawsuits
A federal judge in Oklahoma City has combined 13 shareholder lawsuits against Chesapeake Energy Corp.’s board of directors, with a Louisiana firm serving as lead counsel. U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange agreed to consolidate the cases last week at the request of several plaintiffs who have filed breach of fiduciary duty lawsuits over the past few months. The Chesapeake shareholders sued the company’s board since April, when published reports detailed up to $1.1 billion in personal loans secured by CEO Aubrey McClendon against his stake in Chesapeake wells. Some loans came from companies that have invested in Chesapeake.
Chesapeake board changes could trigger windfall for many
Chesapeake Energy Corp often boasts that it’s one of America’s best workplaces, offering its 13,500 employees such benefits as Botox injections, NBA tickets and a fitness center with an Olympic-sized pool and a rock-climbing wall. What the company hasn’t disclosed is perhaps the most extraordinary perk of all: A group of about 1,600 employees is guaranteed a unique type of payment if the company changes hands, internal Chesapeake documents reviewed by Reuters show. The provision is included as boilerplate contract language for almost 12 percent of the company’s workforce, mainly mid-level employees. If control of the company changes, the change obligates Chesapeake to pay the group a total of at least $100 million and as much as $140 million in cash. Perhaps most unusual, the Chesapeake employees would be entitled to these “change-of-control” payments even if they kept their jobs at Chesapeake after the company changed hands.
State economy growing, defying national trend
National financial news took a pessimistic turn Monday after release of a U.S. Department of Commerce report showing three straight months of decline in national retail sales. Sales growth remains robust in Oklahoma, but some officials warn the state eventually could follow the national trend downward. The Commerce Department report released Monday indicated a 0.5 percent drop in June sales, following 0.2 percent drops in sales in both May and April. The three-month decline sent stock prices downward Monday and led to a number of media reports describing “anemic growth,” and “poor consumer confidence.” Meanwhile, in the Enid trade area and throughout Oklahoma, sales growth remains positive, with strong growth compared to last year.
Rainy Day Fund Basics
Last week, State Finance Director Preston Doerflinger announced that the state was set to make a $307 million deposit into the Rainy Day Fund. This short primer explains how the Rainy Day Fund works and traces its rising and falling balances in recent years. Oklahoma’s Rainy Day Fund helps protect against economic downturns. The Rainy Day Fund (formally known as the Constitutional Reserve Fund) was created in 1985 in response to a dramatic revenue downturn. It is designed to collect extra funds when times are good and to spend those funds when revenues cannot support ongoing state operations.
Private Oklahoma prison losing California inmates
All of the inmates currently at the North Fork Correctional facility in Sayre, Okla. will be gone by the end of next year. Why? Because California’s prison overcrowding problem isn’t as bad as it used to be. Corrections Corporation of America, which runs the private facility, told Elk City’s KECO radio it’s too early to tell whether any of the 400 workers employed at the prison will be affected. California Department of Corrections spokeswoman Dana Simas says the move has nothing to do with the October 2011 riot, which sent at least 46 offenders to area hospitals. California moved 2,000 inmates to the North Fork prison to ease overcrowding, which became so bad by the end of the last decade that a federal court intervened and ordered a reduction in the state’s prison population.
Kern to investigate charter school oversight
State Rep. Sally Kern of Oklahoma City will investigate “safeguarding charter schools.” (Interim 12-068) Her request contends: “Charter school laws in Oklahoma and across the nation are designed to serve public school students free from many of the mandates imposed upon existing public schools. This situation can provide a lack of oversight in teacher credentialing and bonding for example. We propose a number of oversights for Charter schools in Oklahoma to provide accountability to students and taxpayers.” She indicated she will call a trio of witnesses, including a Texas attorney, and will invite the state Department of Education to testify, as well. Kern will also lead Interim 12-063, focused on Student Rights to Privacy and Education Reform.
Choice and accountability
I am an unabashed supporter of public education, so it may seem somewhat contradictory that I also support school choice. I do not, however, support School Choice. Allow me to elaborate. It’s human nature to want better things for our own kids than we want for all kids. I have heard urban and suburban parents say they would never send their kids to school in small towns, and I have heard rural parents say they would never send their kids to large high schools. The preferences come down to the environment you want for your kids. We select where we live, in part, based on the schools that our children will attend. We expect the state-supported schools to meet minimum standards, both in terms of curriculum and community values. But there is a difference between school choice in principle and School Choice – the movement. Advocates of the movement also favor full-on vouchers that will allow federal, state, and local dollars to follow their children into any educational environment.
OKC Public Schools proposes time limit on volunteer ban
Criminals with certain misdemeanors may soon be allowed to volunteer with children in Oklahoma City Public Schools. The Oklahoma City School Board heard another version of proposed changes to the district’s volunteer policy at its meeting Monday night. The board has been discussing possible changes for several weeks, and it took no vote on the measure Monday night. Felons and those convicted of misdemeanors related to violence, sex or child abuse, neglect or endangerment still would not be allowed to volunteer directly with children. But those convicted of other misdemeanors would be allowed to volunteer with children five years after the conviction or probation.
Quote of the Day
The problem with the pledge is that it is powerless to prevent future automatic tax increases and has failed to restrain past spending. The “starve the beast” strategy to shrink the size of the federal government by cutting revenue but not spending was a disaster.
-Senator Tom Coburn, on Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge
Number of the Day
Oklahoma’s rank nationally for voter turnout in the 2010 midterm elections, 29.9 percent of the voting eligible population
Health reform law makes clear that subsidies will be available in states with federally operated exchanges
Some health reform opponents claim that the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) premium tax credits to help low- and moderate-income uninsured people buy coverage through the new health insurance exchanges are only available in states that have set up their own exchanges, not in states with federally operated exchanges. A group of Republican members of Congress led by Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) have urged governors to forgo establishing their own exchanges on this ground in order to undermine ACA implementation and thus assist their efforts to repeal health reform. The argument that premium credits are not available to purchase coverage offered through a federally operated exchange rests on a distorted and incorrect reading of the ACA. The federal exchange is the state exchange in states not establishing their own exchange.
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