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. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.
Today you should know that Oklahoma has been heavily dependent on an energy boom for our economic well-being, but this also brings serious dangers of a bust. House Speaker Kris Steele filed a bill to implement reforms to Oklahoma’s criminal justice system. Rep. Mike Sanders proposed a bill that could allow state workers to face criminal charges, even negligent homicide, if a child is killed or seriously injured after being reunited with their biological family. House Republicans are pushing more changes to pensions and consolidation of state agencies.
Four lawmakers filed a bill based on the plan by Arthur Laffer to phase out the personal income tax. OK Policy previously discussed how the Laffer proposal provides a highly inaccurate economic assessment in order to tell politicians what they want to hear. Sen. Charles Wyrick writes in the Pryor Daily Times about how the tax reform task force proposal would increase taxes for most Oklahomans. David Blatt did a live video interview with This Land Press about history of OK Policy, its notable accomplishments, and some of the work it’s doing now.
The Regents voted to request a 3.7 percent appropriation increase for higher education. Oklahoma’s regional universities are lagging behind OU and OSU in their six year graduation rates. OK Policy previously examined how Oklahoma’s public and private universities and community colleges compare on two important measures. A North Texas Water District asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its lawsuit against Oklahoma. Scott Carter argues that we need more cooperation over water issues.
On the OK Policy Blog, Fab Lab Tulsa founder Matthew Norris discusses the economics of personal fabrication. KOSU looks at how community newspapers are bucking the downward trend in the newspaper industry. Egypt’s largest newspaper used the example of the courts’ rejection of Oklahoma’s Sharia law ban to explain why religious pluralism should be protected in the new Egyptian constitution.
The Number of the Day is Oklahoma’s rank among the states in amount of state and local taxes collected as a share of personal income. In today’s Policy Note, the White House profiles the diversity of approaches and progress being made to establish state-based insurance exchanges.
In The News
Oil, gas, and what a ‘boom’ means to big-energy Oklahoma
Oklahoma’s unemployment rate is well below the national average, and it’s among those adding jobs the fastest. Oklahoma is as much an energy state today as perhaps it’s ever been, according to one economist, and finance officials agree that revenues from oil and natural gas have helped shelter the state from the worst of the recession. “Booms” are subjective things, but Oklahoma’s energy industry is definitely booming. But does a boom beget a bust? “We are at a period of time where our economy is as concentrated on the energy industry as it’s really ever been,” said Mickey Hepner, an economist and Dean of the University of Central Oklahoma’s College of Business Administration. Roughly a quarter of all jobs in Oklahoma are tied — either directly or indirectly — with the energy industry, said Hepner, citing figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
House Speaker files corrections reform bill
House Speaker Kris Steele on Thursday filed what he calls the most pro-law enforcement initiative in recent history. House Bill 3052 would implement many recommendations detailed last week in the Oklahoma Justice Reinvestment Initiative. State leaders worked with the Council of State Governments Justice Center in developing the findings and recommendations. Some of the recommendations, such as increasing the number of beds for those in mental health crisis, will be put in appropriations bills, Steele said. The bill would require anyone leaving prison to be under supervision for at least nine months. The bill also would give judges more discretion in altering sentences. Now, within a year of sentencing, judges can alter a sentence if an offender meets certain conditions. The measure would extend that period to two years, with the district attorney’s approval if the sentence is to be modified, Steele said.
Bill could result in criminal charges for DHS workers
A proposed bill could allow state workers to face criminal charges, even negligent homicide, if a child is killed or seriously injured while in the care of the Department of Human Services. State Rep. Mike Sanders (R – Kingfisher) submitted the bill Thursday. House Bill 3051 calls for DHS workers to be held accountable in the death or near death of a child if a worker knowingly places a child in a home where an adult has “a criminal conviction of a violent nature, drug use, or a public recording indicating a risk of imminent harm to the child was present.” The bill states child welfare workers, supervisors and any other DHS employee involved in the case could face prosecution for “negligent homicide or other criminal or civil consequences.” Sanders said too much pressure has been placed on caseworkers to reunite children with their biological families and his legislation will make DHS — from caseworkers to supervisors — seriously review their decisions.
House Republicans push more agency consolidations, pension changes
After taking aim on shoring up the state’s pension funds for public school teachers and public employees, attention now will be given to plans affecting public safety officers, a lawmaker who shepherded last year’s proposals into law said Thursday. Another legislator announced at the same news conference that efforts will continue this year to make state government share services and consolidate agencies. House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, said he will file a measure, House Bill 3053, that would consolidate the Merit Protection Commission and the state bond adviser’s office into the state finance office; it would rename the finance office as the Office of Enterprise and Management Services. The measure also would also consolidate the Oklahoma State and Education Employees Group Insurance Board and the Employment Benefits Council Board into the Oklahoma Health and Wellness Board. Rep. Randy McDaniel said he will focus on the state’s three pension systems for firefighters and law enforcement officers. Changes were made last year to the pension plans for teachers, public employees and judges that increased the retirement age for new hires by an average of three years.
Lawmakers file ‘Laffer Plan’ bill to phase out income tax
Four first-term senators filed a bill Thursday that would phase out the state’s income tax over 10 years, starting with cutting it by more than half by next year. [ITK NOTE: The proposal would not cut the income tax in half. It would cut the top rate in half, but increase taxable income by eliminating the standard deduction, personal exemption, and all credits. This would cut taxes at the highest income levels but actually increase taxes on a majority of Oklahomans.] The proposal has the support of Arthur Laffer, an economist who first gained prominence as a member of former President Ronald Reagan’s economic policy advisory board. “We hope that by introducing the Laffer plan, we’re ensuring that its ultimate goals remain part of the debate, not just this year, but beyond,” said Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City. Other authors are Sens. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, Rob Johnson, R-Oklahoma City, and Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate.
Previously: Why the Laffer proposal is like an ice cream diet from the OK Policy Blog
Reformed tax law not a break
Last month a task force report outlining ways to reform Oklahoma tax law was released. It contained several recommendations for ending special interest tax breaks and eliminating numerous credits so that the state could reduce the personal and corporate income tax rates and still fund core services such as schools, roads and public safety. That sounds great on the surface, but as more analysis is done, we’re learning the net effect of these recommendations would be that most Oklahomans would wind up paying more taxes as a result of these changes. Further, those who would be hurt the most would be low-income seniors and families with children. Under the recommendations made by the task force, everyone in Oklahoma would lose their personal exemption. The state’s child-care credit would be eliminated along with other breaks for families and individuals who are barely making ends meet as it is. A new report analyzing the impact of the task force recommendations should raise red flags for most Oklahomans.
This Land Live with David Blatt
This Land News Editor Holly Wall interviewed David Blatt, co-founder and director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a think tank that conducts research and analysis and dispenses information pertaining to public policy in Oklahoma. Today David told us about the history of OKPolicy, its notable accomplishments, and some of the work it’s doing now— especially as it relates to the state income tax. We also discussed the difference constituents can make in legislators’ voting decisions (it’s more significant than you might think).
Regents to ask legislature for more funding
Oklahoma higher education Chancellor Glen D. Johnson presented the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education’s legislative agenda for fiscal year 2013 to an audience of lawmakers, community leaders, and educators, according to a media release. The Regents voted recently to request a 3.7 percent appropriation increase for FY13. The state’s public higher education institutions are requesting $27.8 million in operating funds to address ongoing obligations, such as increases in health insurance premiums and retirement costs. The Regents will also propose a series of bond issues over the next five years to eliminate the $271 million backlog in the Endowed Chairs Program.
Oklahoma regional universities’ graduation rates lag behind OU and OSU
Oklahoma’s regional universities lag far behind larger institutions in seeing their freshmen graduate within six years, according to data from the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. For the 2009-10 academic year, Oklahoma’s regional universities had a six-year in-state graduation rate of 37.1 percent, the data show. While that’s a slight uptick from the 2008-09 rate of 36.9, it still represents a substantial decline from previous years. The rate for regional universities was 40.1 percent in 2004-05 and 40.3 percent in 2005-06. Within the regional category, Oklahoma Panhandle State University topped the list with 44.5 percent. At the bottom of the list were Rogers State University with 21.4 percent and Cameron University with 20.2 percent. All of the state’s regional universities lagged well behind OU and OSU. For 2009-10, OU saw a six-year graduation rate of 71.3 percent, while OSU’s rate was 66.4 percent.
Previously: Beyond Tuition: better measures for the cost and value of higher education from the OK Policy Blog
Fight for Oklahoma water may go to Supreme Court
In the latest twist in its five-year legal battle, the Tarrant Regional Water District on Thursday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its lawsuit against Oklahoma. There are no guarantees that the justices will hear the case, but the water district still believes that it is sound despite recent legal setbacks. The water district sued Oklahoma in January 2007 to capture water from three river basins in south-central and southeastern Oklahoma. It wanted to divert more than 130 billion gallons from river basins just north of the Red River. At the same time, the district sued the Oklahoma Water Resources Board and the Oklahoma Water Conservation Storage Commission to keep its permit applications from being dismissed while the matter was in court. In July 2010, an Oklahoma federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, and the district appealed the case to the 10th Circuit. During the litigation, Oklahoma legislators passed a bill in 2009 to clarify that the water was not available to other states without approval from the Oklahoma Legislature. In September 2011, a three-judge panel upheld a lower court’s dismissal of the 2007 lawsuit.
See also: M. Scott Carter: It’s time to talk about sharing from The Journal Record
Guest Blog (Matthew Norris): City 5.0 – The Economics of Personal Fabrication
Fab Lab Tulsa opened on a hot September 13th in 2011 amid the bustle of central Tulsa’s Kendall-Whittier Neighborhood. It is incorporated as a 501(c)3 non-profit operating a 3,500 square foot public access fabrication facility, making it one of the largest Fab Labs in the world. Its organization, its size and its location make Fab Lab Tulsa a truly unique enterprise. This is all the more important because we are encountering a rapidly changing social and economic world. When dealing with change I like to quote the Executive Director of the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Randall Suffolk: “if you dislike change then you’re going to hate irrelevance.” Economically, our nation, our states and cities must confront the notion of irrelevance with a robust response. This response, I believe, should be in the form and practice of personal fabrication.
Community newspapers bucking steep downward trend
The Lawton Constitution employs about 125 people, 30 of them as journalists. Some only pitch in a couple hours a week at the office. But since 2002, the Constitution has barely lost any readers. Why? Because national stories from the Associated Press were largely dropped in favor of local coverage. Michael Owensby is the General Manager for the paper. In 2002, Lawton Constitution circulation was just short of 21 thousand. The latest numbers show it’s selling just 400 fewer papers. At another small paper, the Enid News and Eagle, they’ve lost about twenty percent of their readers. The Tulsa World and Oklahoman are shedding readers faster. The World’s lost 30,000, about 25%. The Oklahoman’s down 70,000, nearly 33%.
American ruling on Sharia may hold lesson for Egypt
I must admit I was surprised by news from Oklahoma that a US federal appeals court upheld a state court ruling in Case 755 (Awad v Ziriax) reversing an amendment that undermined a constitutional principle, although a popular referendum voted against allowing state courts to use sharia (Islamic law) as a legal source to guide judges. The ruling by the federal court reinforces the principle of not discriminating among various religious references for legislation or court rulings in the state, and was a result of cooperation among civil society groups that rarely agree on any issue, including the Anti-Defamation League, Union for Reform Judaism, the Interfaith Alliance, American Jewish Committee, the Centre for Islamic Pluralism, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. These civic groups come from different backgrounds and represent not only the three Abrahamic religions, but also those calling for the separation of state and church or religious institutions. At the same time, they believe in liberty of faith and belief, and that religious sources can be incorporated into legal discourse without exclusions – despite a popular referendum – since there is no sanctity for a decision that is based on discrimination or is prejudiced towards one religion over another.
Quote of the Day
At the same time, they believe in liberty of faith and belief, and that religious sources can be incorporated into legal discourse without exclusions – despite a popular referendum – since there is no sanctity for a decision that is based on discrimination or is prejudiced towards one religion over another.
–al-Ahram, Egypt’s largest newspaper, using the example of the courts’ rejection of Oklahoma’s Sharia law ban to show how religious pluralism should be protected in a new Egyptian constitution
Number of the Day
Oklahoma’s rank among the states in amount of state and local taxes collected as a share of personal income, 2009
Source: Oklahoma Policy Institute
2012 Progress Report: States are implementing health reform
In the nearly two years since President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, all States have taken some action to implement health reform. For example, forty-four States are participating in the new premium rate review system where insurers must justify the rationale for any double-digit insurance premium increase. And 28 States and the District of Columbia are on their way toward establishing their own Affordable Insurance Exchange – an essential component of the law. This report summarizes the actions taken by States to establish Exchanges and focuses on examples of the legislation and executive actions, public meetings, and other activities undertaken by States across the country to create these new health insurance marketplaces. It profiles ten States that cut across the spectrum of geography, demographics, and political leadership. The States profiled are not necessarily the States most advanced in establishing an Exchange; instead, they illustrate the diversity of approaches and progress being made.
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