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Today you should know that increasing education funding was number one on the list of legislative priorities for the Tulsa Metro Chamber and its partners in the OneVoice lobbying initiative. Speaking in a panel at the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, Republican legislative leaders urged caution before reducing or eliminating the top income tax rate. Democratic leaders warned about the harm a tax shift would do to middle-class families. Find more on the issue at OK Policy’s tax reform information page.
Rep. David Dank proposed extending a tax credit moratorium for another two years to give lawmakers time to consider the worthiness of each credit. The Oklahoma Regents for Higher Education requested funding for an initiative to combat a shortage of doctors in rural Oklahoma. The OK Policy Blog features remarks by Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley about how health care reform helps improve business competitiveness.
High-stakes test scores for six schools were invalidated due to cheating during the 2010-11 school year. Over the last 20 years, the Oklahoma’s Promise Scholarship has helped about 50,000 students obtain access to a college education. Two members of Governor Fallin’s cabinet write in NewsOK that Oklahoma needs to do more to increase the number of college graduates.
Tulsa Emergency Infant Services, which provides diapers, food, and formula to families in serious need, is serving 6 times as many families as it did five years ago. The 2011 count of the homeless in Oklahoma City totaled 1,221 individuals living in shelters, transitional housing or without shelter, up almost 13 percent from 2010. It’s estimated the full population of homeless is up to five times higher. StateImpact Oklahoma looked at poverty in Okfuskee County, where 27.3 percent live at or below the poverty line.
The Number of the Day is the amount needed to repair sewer lines and make major improvements to two facilities slated for closure that house medically fragile, mentally disabled Oklahoma residents. In today’s Policy Note, the Center for Economic and Policy Research shares five reasons we should be concerned about the rising share of low-wage work.
In The News
Tulsa Chamber calls for more education funding
Education funding leads the legislative priorities listed Thursday by the Tulsa Metro Chamber and its partners in the OneVoice lobbying initiative. Listed in order of priority behind education funding were: Quick Action Closing Fund; Gilcrease Expressway; municipal funding; funding for uninsured care at the Tisdale Specialty Health Clinic and the OSU Center for Health Services; road funding; OSU Medical Center funding; bond issue for capital investment, including the proposed Oklahoma Pop museum in Tulsa; matching funds for federal reimbursement programs such as Medicaid; and $2 million for a Tulsa community supercomputer. The wish list is likely to run smack against an already tight budget and proposals to eliminate the state income tax. While proponents say it can be done with little or no long-term loss of revenue, skeptics – including some in the Legislature – are many. The summary accompanying the list of priorities says OneVoice opposes “diversion of educational revenue sources such as property tax caps and tax exemptions and further reduction in the income tax rate.”
Legislative leaders urge caution in reducing or eliminating state personal income tax rate
More study is needed before deciding whether and how much the state personal income tax can be further reduced, legislative leaders told members of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber on Thursday. Most people don’t like the income tax and want to see it eliminated, but “we need to look at this very calmly,” Senate President Pro Tem Bingman said during the chamber’s annual legislative breakfast. “We should take a methodical, logical approach, a systematic approach,” House Speaker Kris Steele said. Steele, R-Shawnee, and Bingman, R-Sapulpa, both said they welcome a thorough discussion on various proposals to reduce the income tax rate during this year’s session, which starts Feb. 6 and runs through late May. Some proposals call for the personal income tax’s gradual elimination, but the GOP legislative leaders said they want to make sure reducing that stream of revenue won’t harm the funding of core governmental services such as transportation, education, health and human services and public safety.
Extension of Oklahoma tax credit moratorium proposed
Economic tax credits no longer would be transferable and an existing moratorium on nearly 30 economic tax credit programs would be continued for another two years under proposals to be taken up by lawmakers this year, the chairman of a legislative task force on tax credits said Thursday. “This extended moratorium will give the Legislature additional time to consider the worthiness of each individual tax credit and to put in place specific criteria which the task force believes must apply to all tax credits, be they existing or future proposals, said Rep. David Dank, chairman of the Task Force for the Study of State Tax Credits and Economic Incentives. The existing moratorium is scheduled to expire Dec. 31. Tax credit programs in the moratorium include those for coal, railroads and the film industry. Two incentive programs, the small business tax credit program and the rural venture capital program, which have caused the state to lose more than $275 million in revenue during a three-year period, are also in the moratorium.
Initiative aims to add rural doctors in Oklahoma
An initiative designed to combat a shortage of doctors in rural Oklahoma is headed to the state Legislature. The Oklahoma Regents for Higher Education approved a budget request Thursday that would fund the Oklahoma Healthcare Physician Shortage Initiative. The funding request would give $1 million each to the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine and Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine, as well as $2 million to regional and community colleges to help increase the number of medical school students. The regents’ office will submit the request to the Legislature for consideration. America’s Health Rankings for 2011 places Oklahoma at No. 48, two spots lower than the previous year. Only Mississippi and Louisiana fell behind Oklahoma in the rankings, which are released annually by the United Health Foundation. The rankings cite a high prevalence of smoking and obesity, limited availability of primary care doctors and low use of prenatal care in the state.
Gov. Martin O’Malley: The business case for health reform
These comments were excerpted from a speech by Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley to a plenary session of an annual healthcare conference hosted by FamiliesUSA. We are ready in Maryland to turn the corner on the healthcare costs that have been sapping our productivity as a people and as a nation. Sapping the productivity of our businesses. Taking from them the ability to reinvest in their own plants and their own opportunities and their own markets. Costs that force moms and dads to choose between health care and paying for groceries, or tuition, or school supplies, heat, rent, mortgage payments. In Maryland we believe we are gaining a competitive advantage by being an early implementer [of health care reform].
Cheating on Oklahoma exams leads to resignations, retesting
Test scores for six schools were invalidated for major infractions during the 2010-11 school year, according to a report given Thursday to the state Education Board. Every year the state Education Department screens test results for irregularities that may indicate cheating on Oklahoma’s high-stakes exams. The results are used for federal accountability and, this year for the first time, serve as a graduation requirement. Maridyth McBee, interim assistant state superintendent, said every year the state randomly inspects classrooms where tests are being administered, screens every test for too many questions being changed from wrong to right, and receives tips from schools and the public. “We can’t be in every classroom across the state as the tests are being administered, but … we do make it more inconvenient for people to not follow the procedures,” McBee said.
Oklahoma scholarship program celebrates 20th anniversary
When D’Andre Fisher attended Edmond Santa Fe High School, he knew he wanted to go to college. He just wasn’t sure how to make it happen. At the time, Fisher was living with his grandmother. She hadn’t been to college herself, he said, and she wasn’t able to pay for him to go to school without help. Still, she supported him and pushed him academically. “She didn’t know much about college,” Fisher said. “But she knew enough to know that a C is not acceptable.” When he graduated in 2007, Fisher received a scholarship through Oklahoma’s Promise, a program sponsored by the Oklahoma Regents for Higher Education. The program gives scholarships to Oklahoma students who meet certain criteria and demonstrate financial need. That scholarship allowed Fisher to enroll at the University of Oklahoma, where he received a bachelor’s degree in human relations. Now he’s pursuing a master’s degree in human relations and adult higher education at OU. “The scholarship really opened up doors for me as far as pursuing a higher education,” Fisher said. “It really was a blessing.”
More quality college graduates needed in Oklahoma
Affordability and quality are two words rarely found together, particularly with respect to higher education. Higher ed is more often spoken about in terms of increasing tuition costs and falling standards. However, recent independent reports indicate that Oklahoma higher education institutions are providing excellent service and producing sought-after graduates at an affordable cost. A recent report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ranks Oklahoma eighth nationally in higher education efficiency and college affordability. This reinforces analyses by Forbes and the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, which rank Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma among the best college buys in the nation. Despite some opinions that the number of graduates from Oklahoma colleges is far in excess of the available jobs within the state and therefore funding for higher education needs to be reduced, detailed analyses reveal the opposite — especially in the area of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Tulsa’s Emergency Infant Services sees growing need
Emergency Infant Services provided more than 225,000 diapers, 250,000 pounds of food and 139,000 of formula to area families last year. In total, it provided services to nearly 14,000 infants and children, a 14 percent increase from the previous year and a 600 percent increase from nearly five years ago. When the agency moved to its current location at 222 S. Houston Ave., in 2008 it served 2,000 children. Executive Director Tom Taylor credits the increase to a number of factors including its location near the bus station and other social service agencies, word of mouth, referrals from other agencies and increased need. “We’re seeing clients who have never had to ask for help before. They have jobs but are having trouble making ends meet,” he said. Because of the emergency nature of the agency, clients can only receive assistance four times a year.
Volunteers count Oklahoma City’s homeless
The man who friends call “Uncle Billy” lives in a tent in the woods near Interstate 40 and S Eastern Avenue. He’s been homeless in Oklahoma City for almost 17 years. Volunteers tried to reach people like Billy Ball, 58, Thursday in an annual tally of Oklahoma City’s homeless population. The census of homeless individuals is organized by the Homeless Alliance, the Coalition for the Needy and the city of Oklahoma City. The one-day, point-in-time count is required every two years by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It’s used as part of an application for about $2.5 million in federal funds used for street outreach and housing. Doing the count every year helps address the ongoing needs of the homeless community, said Dan Straughan, executive director of the Homeless Alliance. The 2011 count totaled 1,221 homeless individuals living in shelters, transitional housing or without shelter, up almost 13 percent from the 2010 count of 1,081 individuals. Straughan said it’s estimated the population of homeless is up to five times higher than that.
Paid off, but peddling to pay bills
Boley’s biggest employer is a state prison, the John Lilley Correctional Center, which houses about 800 inmates on any given day, officials there say. Technically, more than half the town is behind bars. You’ve heard of a one-horse town. Boley is a one-restaurant town, and its owner has a lot of perspective on life in the most poverty-stricken county in Oklahoma. McCormick’s Grill is the only restaurant in Boley, Okla. Everyone calls her “Pookie,” and her eponymous hamburger and soul food Sunday dinners are legendary. “Business is so slow,” she says. “Businesses is not like it used to be.” Poverty in Oklahoma is at a 10-year high. Things are particularly bad in Okfuskee County, where 27.3 percent of its residents lived at or below the poverty line in 2010, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Statewide, the poverty rate is 16.8 percent.
Quote of the Day
There is no tax fairy.
–House Minority Leader Scott Inman, in reference to the fact that states with no income tax have to make up the revenue with very high sales and property taxes.
Number of the Day
Amount needed to repair sewer lines and make major improvements to two facilities slated for closure that house medically fragile, mentally disabled Oklahoma residents.
Source: OKDHS via NewsOK
Over the last two decades, high – and, in some countries, rising – rates of low-wage work have emerged as a major political concern. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in 2009, about one-fourth of U.S. workers were in low-wage jobs, defined as earning less than two-thirds of the national median hourly wage (see first figure below). About one-fifth of workers in the United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, and Germany were receiving low wages by the same definition. In all but a handful of the rich OECD countries, more than 10 percent of the workforce was in a low-wage job. If low-wage jobs act as a stepping stone to higher-paying work, then even a relatively high share of low-wage work may not be a serious social problem. If, however, as appears to be the case in much of the wealthy world, low-wage work is a persistent and recurring state for many workers, then low-wages may contribute to broader income and wealth inequality and constitute a threat to social cohesion. This report draws five lessons on low-wage work from the recent experiences of the United States and other rich economies in the OECD.
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