In The Know: Tulsa Chamber won't reveal how companies benefit from proposed airport tax

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 the Tulsa Metro Chamber, citing nondisclosure agreements, will not detail how Tulsa airport industrial complex tenants would benefit from improvements funded by taxpayers.  An ethics watchdog has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate whether energy firms, including Chesapeake Energy, conspired to fix natural gas prices by cutting production this year. Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon has hired a former SEC assistant director to represent him in a securities regulatory inquiry into $1.3 billion in personal loans.

The State Board of Education hammered out a budget that restores funding to some programs but leaves reading sufficiency and adult education programs unfunded. The Tulsa Street School for at-risk teenagers was restored funding cut in previous years. The Board of Education granted 2 waivers to allow students to graduate despite not having passed a required test, but denied 7 others. A group is seeking volunteers to advocate for abused and neglected children in the court system.

Oklahoma’s total revenue collections remain above the previous year, but collections from gross production taxes on oil and natural gas prices continue to fall. On the OK Policy Blog, State Treasurer Ken Miller writes that we need to expand the tax reform discussion beyond the personal income tax. The Oklahoman endorsed OK Policy’s call for a more honest discussion of what we expect from state government and how we will pay for it.

The Number of the Day is Oklahoma’s rank nationally for the rate at which its residents die from heart disease. In today’s Policy Note, a Pew Center on the States report shows that the length of time served in prison has increased markedly over the last two decades. In Oklahoma, average time served increased by 83 percent from 1990 to 2009.

In The News

Tulsa Chamber won’t release specifics on how companies would benefit from airport tax

The Tulsa Metro Chamber after repeated requests from the Tulsa World has released a generic list of airport industrial complex improvements that could be funded by a proposed $329.4 million tax package. Of that total, $254.4 million would be used for the improvements and $75 million would be used to establish a “deal-closing fund” to offer incentives to businesses that locate and grow in the region. However, chamber officials, citing nondisclosure agreements, will not detail the level to which each of the complex’s four tenants – American Airlines, Spirit AeroSystems, IC Bus of Oklahoma which is owned by Navistar, and the Oklahoma Air National Guard – would benefit. Also, they will not specify which of the complex’s 76 buildings encompassing 6,520,016 square feet and spread across 639 acres would receive which improvements.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Ethics watchdog urges investigation into natural gas price manipulation

A Washington-based ethics watchdog has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate whether energy firms conspired to fix natural gas prices by cutting production this year, an allegation the producers deny. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) said simultaneous production cuts by companies including Chesapeake Energy and ConocoPhillips in the face of decade-low prices may amount to collusion and violate competition law. “These companies are conspiring to restrict the nation’s supply of natural gas in order to raise its price,” CREW executive director and former federal prosecutor, Melanie Sloan, said in a letter to the DOJ on Tuesday.

Read more from Reuters.

Chesapeake CEO McClendon hires ex-SEC lawyer

The embattled chief executive of Chesapeake Energy Corp. has hired a top defense lawyer to represent him in a securities regulatory inquiry into $1.3 billion in personal loans, three people familiar with the situation said. CEO Aubrey McClendon has retained Marvin Pickholz, a partner with Duane Morris and a former assistant director of enforcement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. He is counseling McClendon in connection with the SEC inquiry into loans he obtained from an investment firm doing business with the natural gas company. The SEC is looking into whether the loans posed a conflict of interest or should have been disclosed to shareholders.

Read more from Reuters.

Education budget hammered out; some programs unfunded

Oklahoma State Board of Education hammered out a budget Tuesday it said makes the best of the circumstances — but leaves some programs unfunded. Reading sufficiency programs and adult education are among those left empty-handed. According to a statement released by Damon Gardenhire, communications director, OSBE was under legislative direction to spend $445 million on items such as flexible benefits allowances for teachers and school support personnel, early childhood education, alternative education and bonuses for board-certified teachers. A portion of funding was restored for some programs that were cut a year ago, including Great Expectations, FIRST Robotics competition and A+ Schools.

Read more from the Enid News and Eagle.

Tulsa Street School funding restored

The state Board of Education on Tuesday restored funding to Tulsa’s Street School and for certified teacher bonuses. In a special meeting, the board voted to restore $185,000 to the Street School, which in previous years has been nearly 15 percent of its overall revenue. Street School is a nonprofit organization that annually serves about 140 students, age 14 to 19, who have dropped out, or who are at risk of dropping out, because of homelessness, abuse, family dysfunction or poverty. Its combination of alternative education classes and therapeutic counseling is a national model for helping at-risk youths succeed. Executive Director Lori McGinnis-Madland thanked lawmakers and others who helped “impact” the state education budget so that Street School could be funded.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Board of Education grants 2 graduation testing waivers, denies 7 others

Two Oklahoma high school seniors will receive their diplomas even though they did not pass state-mandated academic exams. The students — both from Broken Arrow Schools — were given a pass by the state Board of Education at a special meeting Tuesday morning. One student had been accepted to a university; the reason for granting the second student’s waiver was not disclosed. A 2005 law called Achieving Classroom Excellence requires students to pass four of seven end-of-instruction exams, also known as EOIs. Each senior must pass the exams to receive a diploma. A new law passed in April required the state Education Department to set up an appeals process if a student is denied a diploma. Broken Arrow Chief Academic Officer Janet Dunlop told the board about four Broken Arrow students who were appealing. One was homeless and supporting two siblings and a disabled mother. Another was supporting himself after losing both parents. One boy was an immigrant from Ghana who received a community college scholarship for community service and academics. The fourth is working to become a mechanic and has taken 18 tests in an effort to meet the requirements.

Read more from NewsOK.

Funding intact for Oklahoma’s former EDGE grant recipients

Researchers at four Oklahoma startup companies breathed a collective sigh of relief Tuesday when they realized they could count on $6.2 million in grant money awarded in November by a state program killed in budget cuts last month. Senate Bill 1969 transfers $161 million in principal from the Economic Development Generating Excellence (EDGE) fund — a five-year program that funded high-tech startup companies in the state — to the state higher education budget to match a backlog of privately funded endowed chairs, mostly at the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University, with state funds. November grant winners include Altheus Therapeutics Inc., $1.6 million for innovations in inflammatory bowel disease; Sigma Blood Systems LLC, $1.5 million for development of integrated process management software for blood centers and cell therapy; David Albert, $1.5 million for development and launch of a Smartphone-enabled electrocardiogram device and Paul DeAngelis, OU biochemistry professor and chief scientist of Heparinex LLC for process development of sugar therapeutics.

Read more from NewsOK.

Court advocates for abused children looking for more volunteer help

Court Appointed Special Advocates of Oklahoma County is raffling off four children’s playhouses on display at Penn Square Mall as part of its latest fundraising effort and effort to recruit volunteers. The playhouses were donated by area homebuilders and the University of Oklahoma School of Architecture. The houses will be on display through Sunday. Representatives at the mall also are fielding questions about CASA and how people can become a special advocate on behalf of abused or neglected children in the court system. Volunteers currently serve about 30 percent of the available pool of children in the court system, recruitment director Alex Corbitt said. It costs about $850 to train and supervise a CASA volunteer for one year, he said. “If we had another 350 volunteers we could potentially serve about 75 percent of the children,” Corbitt said. “We are gradually working toward that goal but it takes willing volunteers and money.” The organization is also in need of more case managers, which requires additional funding.

Read more from NewsOK.

Oklahoma revenue grows but oil, gas prices remain low

Oklahoma’s revenue collections continued to rise last month despite declining crude oil and natural gas prices, the state treasurer said Tuesday. Treasurer Ken Miller said revenue collections in May were up 5.8 percent compared to the previous May. The average growth over the past 12 months has been 9.2 percent per month. Miller said the revenue increase was driven primarily by income and sales taxes. Income tax collections have shown double-digit increases from the same time the previous year in nine of the past 12 months, while sale tax collections have averaged 8 percent growth, he said. But collections from gross production taxes on oil and natural gas were less than the same month last year for a sixth consecutive month and the seventh time in the past eight months.

Read more from NewsOK.

Ken Miller: Tax reform revisited

Oklahoma is doing more than fine with unemployment three percentage points below the national average, the third best job creation rate, and fourth highest growth in per capita income. Even so, we could better encourage entrepreneurial activity, productivity and growth by reforming our entire tax code. Unfortunately, some are singularly focused on the personal income tax. A May 15 Wall Street Journal editorial lamented the Oklahoma Legislature’s recent failure to eliminate the state income tax, asking: “Do Republicans stand for economic growth and tax reform or not?” Tax reform should not be confused with simply eliminating the state’s largest revenue source on a wing and a prayer. Tax cut promises are easy to make when necessary cuts in spending and tax incentives are ignored.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

NewsOK: How much should we expect from state government, and at what cost?

We lamented recently that a seminal conversation about education funding failed to ensue following the crushing defeat of State Question 744 two years ago. A similar conversation needs to take place about overall state spending and how we finance government. The Oklahoma Policy Institute, which vigorously — and successfully — fought a personal income tax cut this year, laments the standstill budget for education. It lays out the need for additional funding in core state services and concludes, “This makes the need all the more critical for an honest, well-informed debate about what we expect from state government, how much our obligations will cost, and how we will pay for them.” It’s a good suggestion and we say that not only because The Oklahoman has reached similar conclusions for years, coming at the issue from a position not in alignment with OK Policy’s usual anti-tax cut stance.

Read more from NewsOK.

Quote of the Day

Tax reform should not be confused with simply eliminating the state’s largest revenue source on a wing and a prayer.
State Treasurer Ken Miller

Number of the Day


Oklahoma’s rank nationally for the rate at which its residents die from heart disease, 2007

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The high cost, low return of longer prison terms

Over the past 40 years, criminal justice policy in the U.S. was shaped by the belief that the best way to protect the public was to put more people in prison. Offenders, the reasoning went, should spend longer and longer time behind bars. Consequently, offenders have been spending more time in prison. According to a new study by Pew’s Public Safety Performance Project, the length of time served in prison has increased markedly over the last two decades. Prisoners released in 2009 served an average of nine additional months in custody, or 36 percent longer, than offenders released in 1990. Those extended prison sentences came at a price: prisoners released from incarceration in 2009 cost states $23,300 per offender–or a total of over $10 billion nationwide. More than half of that amount was for non-violent offenders.

Read more from the Pew Center on the States.

See also: Time served in the Oklahoma fact sheet

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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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