In The Know: Tribes protest Gov. Fallin’s handling of tobacco compacts

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. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that Native American tribal leaders are asking for an explanation of why Governor Fallin is participating in the tobacco compact negotiations or allowing the extension of existing compacts set to expire June 30. A letter by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and his counterparts in 12 other states is asking the EPA not to regulate fracking, while six northeastern states are threatening to sue the agency if it does not. Bloomberg reports that George Kaiser is exploiting a loophole in IRS regulations that allows his for-profit businesses to benefit from activities of his charity.

The Legislature approved an extended tax credit for converting cars to hydrogen and compressed natural gas. The Oklahoman writes that this year’s state budget deal puts Capitol office space ahead of public safety. The Tulsa County Commission on Monday approved the purchase of 200 new portable beds to ease crowding at the Tulsa Jail.

A guest post on the OK Policy Blog discusses a new study out of Oregon which shows that extending Medicaid coverage greatly improves economic security and access to preventive care for low-income Americans. The Tulsa World writes that the Oklahoma plan being developed by two Republican legislators to accept federal funds for health care is a decent compromise.

The Number of the Day is the number of households in Oklahoma who rent, about 33 percent of the state’s households. In today’s Policy Note, the Tulsa Initiative Blog discusses a new paper showing that common Payday loan industry practices put consumers at long-term financial risk and often serve as “debt traps.”

In The News

Tribes protest Gov. Fallin’s handling of tobacco compacts

Despite a written request from multiple tribal leaders, Oklahoma’s governor is staying quiet on how her office is handling tobacco compact negotiations with the state’s tribes. On April 23, the United Indian Nations of Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas sent a letter to Gov. Mary Fallin’s office, asking for an explanation by April 30 as to why she has not been participating in the tobacco compact negotiating process and why extending existing compacts is not an option for the more than 20 tribes whose agreements with the state expire June 30. Gov. Fallin’s general counsel, Steve Mullins, has been the state’s lead negotiator in compact talks.

Read more from the Native American Times.

Oklahoma AG Scott Pruitt asks EPA not to regulate fracking

A letter by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and signed by his counterparts in 12 other energy-producing states tells the EPA it should not allow threats of litigation by six Northeast states to provide a back-door entry for federal oversight of fracking. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been studying the effects of hydraulic fracturing but so far has stayed out of an enforcement role. The Pruitt letter, however, noted that New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, Delaware and Rhode Island have threatened to sue the agency and perhaps force it into a regional regulatory role that eventually could set a precedent.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Billionaire Kaiser exploiting charity loophole with boats

When Oklahoma energy billionaire George Kaiser opened the Northeast Gateway liquid natural gas terminal in 2008, the floating depot’s first delivery was shipped on the Excellence, a 909-foot supertanker that holds 138,000 cubic meters of LNG — enough gas to meet more than 4 percent of daily U.S. demand. The Excellence is owned by the George Kaiser Family Foundation. The nonprofit organization paid $110 million for the tanker in 2003. It later gave control of the vessel to Woodlands, Texas-based Excelerate Energy LP, a for-profit gas delivery company Kaiser owns with publicly traded German electric utility RWE AG, according to RWE’s 2012 annual report. The Excellence is also an example of how federal laws and U.S. Internal Revenue Service regulations forbid forms of self- dealing in one kind of tax-exempt organization while creating loopholes that allow them in another.

Read more from Bloomberg.

Legislature approves extending natural gas tax credit

The Oklahoma House has approved an extended tax credit for converting cars to cleaner fuels like hydrogen and compressed natural gas. The chamber approved the bill and its Senate amendments Monday on a 63-29 vote. The measure now heads to Gov. Mary Fallin. The tax credit covers 50 percent of the costs of converting motor vehicles and 75 percent of the costs of setting up fueling stations for the alternative fuels. The bill extends the cut until 2020. Democratic Rep. Richard Morrisette and Republican Rep. Mike Reynolds — both of Oklahoma City — questioned whether Oklahoma taxpayers should be footing part of the bill for conversions.

Read more from the Associated Press.

Oklahoma budget deal puts office space ahead of public safety

This year’s state budget agreement is notable not only for what it contains, but what it doesn’t. No one seriously denies prison funding needs, yet the Department of Corrections didn’t get an extra dime. That may be due to the governor and legislative leaders’ displeasure with DOC Director Justin Jones, who’s been accused of playing fast and loose with money in revolving funds. Still, if this budget snub targets Jones, thousands of correctional officers are paying the price. Their starting salary is $11.83 per hour, lower than rates in neighboring states and local oil field jobs. That leaves prisons significantly understaffed. Only 62 percent of correctional officer positions are filled, a situation that can be life-threatening for officers.

Read more from NewsOK.

Tulsa County Commission OKs buying 200 portable beds to combat jail crowding

The Tulsa County Commission on Monday approved the purchase of 200 new portable beds to ease crowding at the Tulsa Jail. The beds, sometimes referred to as “boats,” will be purchased for about $29,000 from Norix Group Inc., which was one of three companies that submitted bids. Officials have been using the temporary beds since the jail began exceeding its 1,714-bed capacity late last summer. The jail population Monday afternoon was 1,898, according to an online report. The jail has exceeded its capacity every month since August, according to the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office. Some jail officials predict that the inmate population could reach 2,000 by this summer.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Oregon Medicaid study strengthens case to expand Medicaid

The New England Journal of Medicine reported encouraging new findings last week from the Oregon Health Study, a landmark, ongoing study of the state’s Medicaid program. Medicaid beneficiaries were more likely than the uninsured to access preventive care, such as mammograms for women, and they had far less financial hardship caused by health care spending. In fact, Medicaid coverage “almost completely eliminated catastrophic out-of-pocket medical expenditures.”

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Health-insurance measure a decent compromise

Right on cue, Obamacare opponents have pounced on a proposed compromise to the Medicaid expansion controversy, claiming it will drive up the federal deficit, increase state costs and probably bring about the end of life as we know it. Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, who is an emergency room physician, and Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, recently drafted Senate Bill 640, which would modify the Insure Oklahoma program to cover more Oklahomans. Gov. Mary Fallin so far has rejected the Medicaid expansion, citing possible cost increases, and no doubt also because of Obamacare’s unpopularity in the state. But does that mean we sit back and do nothing about the 600,000-plus uninsured in the state? So far, nobody’s offered any comprehensive alternative – until Cox and Crain came up with SB 640.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Quote of the Day

Oklahomans are left to wonder if the governor and lawmakers value refurbished offices more than public safety.

The Oklahoman editorial board, on a budget deal that set aside $5 million to remodel unused Capitol offices while providing no pay increase for state troopers or correctional officers.

Number of the Day


Number of households in Oklahoma who rent, about 33 percent of the state’s households

Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

New paper sheds light on Payday loans

A new study by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) should catch the attention of anyone advocating for stronger regulation of the payday loan industry and deposit advances. Initial findings were recently released under the title Payday Loans and Deposit Advance Products. According to CFED, it is one of the most comprehensive studies conducted on the subject so far, as it included data on millions of borrowers. As stated by CFPB Director Richard Cordray, the study shows common industry practices put consumers at long-term financial risk and often serve as “debt traps” instead of a simple short-term, emergency loan. The individual who borrows the money may find it necessary to take out another loan to pay off the first, and it creates a cycle of indebtedness.

Read more from the Tulsa Initiative Blog.

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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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