In The Know: Baker, other tribal leaders endorse Fallin for interior secretary post

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

Baker, other tribal leaders endorse Fallin for interior secretary post: Bill John Baker, principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, is among the American Indian voices in Oklahoma who have endorsed Gov. Mary Fallin as secretary of the interior for the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump. Fallin also has the sanction of the oil and gas sector. The relationships of her political campaigns with companies such as Devon Energy and Chesapeake Energy are well-documented in donation disclosures. “Given all the choices and potential nominees for secretary of the interior, the most advantageous for Oklahoma is Gov. Mary Fallin,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker [Tahlequah Daily Press].

Federal appointments could leave limited replacement options: If any of Oklahoma’s statewide elected officials are tapped to join the president-elect’s administration, the vacancies could have the governor pulling candidates from the private sector. Gov. Mary Fallin could be a finalist to lead the Department of Interior and Attorney General Scott Pruitt is rumored to be angling for the Environmental Protection Agency administrator’s job. If Fallin leaves Oklahoma, Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb would assume her office. Lamb would then be able to appoint his choice for lieutenant governor without legislative confirmation. However, despite the long line of eager politicians who could benefit from holding that office, the governor would not be able to elevate a state senator or representative to the position [Journal Record].

Indian cultural center to resume construction in spring: The Chickasaw Nation and Oklahoma City Hall are resolving the last legal obstacles in developing the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum near downtown with expectations of movement on the project by spring, officials said. Craig Freeman, the city’s finance director, said the Chickasaws are in the process of confirming the state government has cleared the site of other obligations. Since 2006, the state has spent more than $90 million to create a site near the Oklahoma River to showcase Oklahoma’s wide mosaic of American Indian heritage, but politics over budgeting stopped construction by 2012. In its current incomplete form, the center is still costing the state about $7 million per year for property maintenance and payments on earlier construction bonds [Journal Record].

Limiting Oil-Field Wastewater Injection Effective Strategy to Reduce Earthquakes, New Research Suggests: Scientists may have a promising seismic forecast for Oklahoma over the next few years: A lot less shaky with a smaller chance for damaging earthquakes. Newly published research bolsters a growing body of scientific findings linking the state’s earthquake boom and the underground injection of large amounts of wastewater from oil and gas production, but suggests the shaking could taper off after 2016 [StateImpact Oklahoma].

Governor’s attorney says Oklahoma will not consider earlier parole of people convicted of violent offenses: A task force created by the governor to come up with solutions to prison overcrowding is not considering shorter prison stays for violent criminals, the governor’s general counsel said Thursday night. Prosecutors across the state have worried the task force will recommend releasing certain criminals from prison after they have served only 70 percent of their sentences. Offenders convicted of violent crimes must now by law serve 85 percent of their sentences in prison, before becoming eligible for parole [NewsOK].

Taking scissors to the safety net: In the holiday season, many Oklahomans give extra attention to our poorest neighbors. Through our churches, synagogues, mosques and various charitable organizations, we serve meals, donate canned goods, and buy gifts for those in our communities who would otherwise go without. The large number of Oklahomans who must line up for a Thanksgiving meal or whose only Christmas toys will be delivered by a stranger may come as a shock for many of us. Considering only food needs, one in six Oklahomans, including one in four children, experiences food insecurity, which means they don’t have consistent year-round access to enough food [David Blatt / Journal Record].

Merits of generous scholarship tax credit at issue: Five years ago, the Oklahoma Legislature approved a generous tax credit for those who contribute to private school scholarships. It is so generous, in fact, that the tax benefit can completely offset the taxpayer contribution, but relatively few people utilize the credit or even know about it. Some people question the value of the tax credit at a time when the state has faced budget shortfalls and has had trouble funding public education [NewsOK]. With this tax credit, certain businesses and high-income taxpayers are able to generate a profit by making a so-called “donation” to a private school [OK Policy].

Oklahoma school voucher advocates see a political opening: President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary manages a political action committee that successfully backed several Oklahoma candidates last month, potentially giving the state Legislature enough votes to pass through a school voucher plan. Trump tapped Betsy DeVos to head the U.S. Department of Education, despite not having worked as an educator. Instead, DeVos has operated the American Federation for Children, a nonprofit that spent nearly $170,000 in Oklahoma campaigns this year, often in opposition to public school teachers who were also running [NewsOK].

State Representative Tom Newell Announces Resignation: Less than one month after his re-election to a state House seat in Seminole, a Republican state legislator is stepping down. Rep. Tom Newell released a statement Friday saying he is resigning his House District 28 seat effective Dec. 31 to pursue an opportunity in the private sector. Within the next 30 days, Gov. Mary Fallin is expected to announce the dates for a special election. State election officials say the special election will cost between $30,000 and $40,000 if it includes a primary [NewsOn6].

State seeks proposals for Medicaid managed care program: Companies can now offer proposals to run a privatized system of Medicaid management for the aged, blind and disabled populations. The goal is to reduce state spending on health care. There could be up to six contracts for Medicaid management for the eastern and western sides of the state, or as few as two, according to a request for proposals. Sean Voskuhl, state director of AARP, said he’s met with some potential applicants who are eyeing the contracts. He hopes that the new managed care system prioritizes in-home or community-based care [Journal Record].

Insure Oklahoma gets federal extension: The federal government has approved a one-year extension for the Insure Oklahoma program, which helps small businesses provide health insurance for their employees. Insure Oklahoma provides coverage for about 19,500 people, about 15,000 through insurance in which the employer pays 25 percent of the cost, the employee 15 percent and the state 60 percent. About 4,000 small businesses participate. Insure Oklahoma, which began in 2005, also provides individual plans for about 4,500 people, including those who are self-employed or temporarily unemployed [NewsOK].

Retail liquor group preparing lawsuit challenging State Question 792: An organization representing several retail liquor store owners is continuing to work on its lawsuit against the state. Attorney Ann Gervais Richard is representing the Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma. She said she plans to file the lawsuit within the next few weeks. SQ 792 was approved by 65 percent of voters. It included several changes to Oklahoma’s liquor laws, including eliminating references to 3.2-percent beer, allowing for the sale of cold high-point beer and wine in grocery and convenience stores and the sale of non-alcohol items at retail liquor stores [Journal Record]. See OK Policy’s fact sheet on SQ 792.

Oklahoma budget request restores lost funding for higher education: Higher education officials approved a 2017-18 budget request Thursday that restores most of the $153 million cut from their current budget. The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education voted to seek $957,922,109 in state appropriations, an increase of 18.3 percent or nearly $148 million from the current budget. The request will be submitted to the governor and Legislature for consideration. Last session, officials cut state funding for higher education by 16 percent [NewsOK].

The precarious finances of an Oklahoma classroom teacher: The holiday season traditionally marks the start of a time to celebrate the family and friends who make our lives so rich. For many, it means it’s time to start hanging holiday decorations, write lists for Christmas shopping, and make plans to visit with loved ones both near and far. For our teachers, it means that their already very limited funds have to stretch even further to make the season bright for their children and families [Shawna Mott-Wright / Tulsa World].

Quote of the Day

“Imagine that you are a parent of two and you’ve just received your monthly paycheck. After you pay your bills to keep your family housed and fed, you have $268.78 left, or just under $3 per person per day until your next paycheck. What will you do if you get a flat tire? What if you have to cover the co-pay on an emergency room visit? While you’re figuring that out, do you know which bills you can pay late without interruption of service or penalty fees?”

-Shawna Mott-Wright, vice president of the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association, writing about the precarious finances of Oklahoma classroom teachers (Source).

Number of the Day

$180.4 billion

Oklahoma’s total gross domestic product in 2015.

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Cigarette Smoking In The U.S. Continues To Fall: The number of cigarette smokers in the United States has dropped by 8.6 million since 2005 — and that fall could be accelerated by a tobacco tax just passed in California. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says smoking rates have fallen from 21 percent of the adult population in 2005 to 15 percent in 2015, when the agency conducted its latest survey. The smoking rate fell by 1.7 percentage points between 2014 and 2015 alone — a substantial decline, according to a report Thursday in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report [NPR].

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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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