In The Know: Moody’s downgrades Kansas’ credit rating, citing sluggish economy & risky tax cuts

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 or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

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Today you should know that Moody’s has downgraded Kansas’ credit rating, citing a sluggish economy in the state following the passage of huge tax cuts. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a major tax cut bill that would have followed the Kansas model. The Tulsa World editorial board wrote that Oklahoma’s decision to schedule automatic tax cuts in future years was a poor choice.

Governor Fallin vetoed a bill that would have allowed a noncustodial parent to take back child support payments if the custodial parent refused visitation for six months. The Oklahoma Senate has no plans to override Governor Fallin’s veto of a bill that sought to make it easier to purchase silencers, fully automatic machine guns, and short-barrel shotguns. The Tulsa World examined the debate over what alternative academic standards should look like if Oklahoma repeals Common Core.

The New York Times examined the politics of Senate candidate TW Shannon’s connections to and support from Native American tribes. Oklahoma Watch reported that a measure being considered in Oklahoma to require doctors to check patients’ drug-taking histories before writing new prescriptions was successful at reducing narcotics usage in Kentucky. The OK Gazette reported that city leaders in Oklahoma are troubled by recent measures by state lawmakers to restrict local control. The Tulsa World reported that women are few and far between as part of the elected leadership of cities in Oklahoma.

The family of an inmate whose execution was botched by the state of Oklahoma this week said they are exploring options for a civil lawsuit against the state. Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton defended Governor Fallin’s choice of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Thompson to lead an investigation into the botched execution, after some questioned his independence. President Obama said the botched execution was “deeply disturbing” and directed the US attorney general to review how the death penalty is applied in the United States. Former state Senator Andrew Rice wrote an op-ed questioning what the public gains from capital punishment.

Chesapeake Energy must pay $121 million to three Texas lease holders after a verdict was upheld that the company reneged on deals to buy mineral rights. The U.S. Department of Justice has ended a probe of possible antitrust violations by Chesapeake Energy and Canadian energy company Encana with no charges filed. A continuing severe drought in western Oklahoma is creating a desperate situation for farmers and ranchers.

The Number of the Day is the Tulsa and Oklahoma City metro areas’ 2014 rankings for ozone pollution among major U.S. cities. In today’s Policy Note, the Center for American Progress examines disparities between the demographics of the teacher workforce and an increasingly diverse student population.

In The News

Moody’s downgrades Kansas’ credit rating, citing sluggish economy, risky tax plan

Citing a sluggish recovery from the recession, risk inherent in the governor’s tax plan and uncertainty over the Legislature’s ability to keep cutting spending, one of the nation’s two major debt rating agencies downgraded Kansas’ credit rating Thursday. Moody’s Investors Service dropped Kansas from its second-highest bond rating, Aa1, to its third highest, Aa2. The Kansas Department of Transportation also took the same downgrade. The lowered rating could mean that Kansas and KDOT will have to pay higher interest rates to borrow money for public spending.

Read more from The Wichita Eagle.

Missouri Gov. vetoes tax cut bill

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a huge tax cut bill on Thursday afternoon, possibly setting up another veto session during the summer. Nixon said he is vetoing Senate Bill 509, a bill that aims to modify the Show-Me State’s tax codes, on the grounds that it will drain the state’s revenue and affect its ability to provide basic services. “(The bill) is an unfair, unaffordable and dangerous scheme that would defund our schools, weaken our economy, and destabilize the strong foundation of fiscal discipline that we’ve worked so long and hard to build,” Nixon said in a release.“Weakening support for vital public services … in order to shower windfalls on the well-heeled is wrong and would take our state backward.”

Read more from the Kansas City Business Journal.

State tax cut was a poor choice

On Monday, Gov. Mary Fallin signed into law a measure reducing the state’s top income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 4.85 percent over several years. It’s a political victory for Fallin, who has worked to cut the state’s income tax rate since she came into office, but it was a bad choice for a state that is desperately short on money for essential services, including schools, roads and public safety. Fallin and her allies argue that cutting the state tax burden on potential employers is key to the state’s economic development, but we think having an educated workforce, adequate transportation network and safe public climate are more important tactics for achieving that same goal.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Gov. Mary Fallin vetoes misguided effort to enforced divorced parents’ rights to visitation

Gov. Mary Fallin did the right thing when she vetoed House Bill 3001 last week. The proposal would have allowed a noncustodial parent to go to court to recover child support payments if the custodial parent refused visitation for six months or more. Click Here Let’s unwind that a bit with an example: If a mother refused to live up to a divorce decree and allow her ex-husband to visit their child for at least six months, he would be able to go to court and force her to pay back his child support for that period. We can see how that idea was appealing on one level. If dad is living up to his end of a divorce decree and is paying the freight, he should be able to see his child under the terms of the same order. But, as Fallin pointed out in her veto message, the proposed solution to the problem would deal with mom’s actions by taking away money meant to support the child.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Senate will not pursue veto override of gun bill

The Oklahoma Senate has no plans to pursue the House’s veto override of a gun bill, leaders of the upper chamber said last week. Gov. Mary Fallin on Tuesday vetoed 15 House bills, saying the lower chamber was ignoring important issues facing the state while wasting time on meaningless bills. Her action set a record for her use of the veto pen on a single day. She said work on the budget and passage of a plan to repair the Capitol, among other items, were not getting enough attention. A day later, the House voted 86-3 to override her veto of House Bill 2461. In her veto message, Fallin said HB 2461 was an attempt to regulate the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Alternatives to Common Core raise concerns in Oklahoma

If Oklahoma lawmakers approve a measure to repeal Common Core academic standards in the state, their replacements are likely to look similar, supporters of Common Core say. In a letter to Gov. Mary Fallin on May 1, a leader of a conservative think tank that supports widespread implementation of the Common Core standards warned that reverting to Oklahoma’s previous English and math standards would be a “significant mistake.”

Read more from the Tulsa World.

GOP hopeful finds tribal ties cuts both ways

T. W. Shannon will be Oklahoma’s first black senator if he wins the Republican nomination and is elected this November, but the quiet campaign stirring here about Mr. Shannon’s racial loyalties is not aimed at the African-American branch of his family tree. Mr. Shannon, whose first name is Tahrohon, is a member of the Chickasaw Nation, the most influential tribe in a state where Native Americans are not merely the inheritors of a poignant history but also collectively constitute the state’s largest nongovernment employer outside of Walmart.

Read more from the New York Times.

Narcotics Prescriptions Fall in States With Required ‘Doctor-Shopping’ Checks

When the state of Kentucky decided two years ago to require doctors to check their patients’ drug-taking histories before writing new narcotic prescriptions, some physicians were adamantly opposed. The doctors said mandatory checks would cause them to waste valuable time and money running checks on patients with legitimate pain and anxiety problems. They said they didn’t need an online database to help them spot “doctor-shoppers” who might be obtaining prescriptions from more than one doctor. Then, a funny thing happened. During the first 12 months after Kentucky’s mandatory checks took effect, the volume of prescriptions began falling.

Read more from Oklahoma Watch.

Cities feel the squeeze from state lawmakers

In a state in which lawmakers commonly preach local control, the opposite can feel like the status quo to municipal leaders. “I’m troubled by it,” said Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett of the trend of state lawmakers increasing control over cities across Oklahoma, especially the large urban centers of OKC and Tulsa. A recent rash of state legislation has barred cities in the state from certain activities. A grassroots effort to urge OKC leaders to increase the minimum wage was soon snuffed by state lawmakers who passed a bill barring cities from setting wage standards. While the minimum wage increase effort had yet to gain support from city leaders, OKC has moved forward on creating an abandoned and vacant property registry, which is also under threat from the Statehouse.

Read more from the Oklahoma Gazette.

Women rare in local Oklahoma government leadership

Broken Arrow was ahead of the game when it came to women in public office. In 1931, the city elected Phenie Lou Ownby as mayor, making her the first female mayor in the state and only the sixth in the nation. But since then, the city has fallen behind. Councilwoman Jill Norman said her research shows she is only the third woman to serve on the five-member council, after Ownby and Melissa Mahan, who served from 2003 to 2006.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Family of Oklahoma inmate killed in botched execution may sue state

The family of an inmate whose execution was botched by the state of Oklahoma this week said they are exploring options for a civil lawsuit against the state. LaDonna Hollins condemned the Tuesday procedure that left her stepson, Clayton Lockett, writhing and groaning in the execution chamber before he was declared dead of a heart attack, 10 minutes after the execution was officially called off. “We are not to torture people to death,” Hollins told the Guardian. “Not thrashing and convulsing. That makes them no better than the murder he committed. That makes us in Oklahoma look like savages. Come on, America. Look at this.”

Read more from The Guardian.

Gov. Fallin’s choice to lead investigation into botched execution questioned

DOC Director Robert Patton said Sunday he has full confidence that Public Safety Commissioner Michael Thompson can lead an investigation into a botched execution. Patton, speaking on OETA’s “Oklahoma Forum” with Dick Pryor Sunday, was asked whether an outside entity other than Thompson should investigate events surround the botched execution. Some have questioned Thompson’s ability to conduct an independent probe into the execution of Clayton Lockett because he oversees DOC and used to work for the agency. Additionally, Thompson was a witness to the execution Tuesday and could be among those interviewed by his own employees about what he saw.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Obama orders policy review on executions

President Obama declared this week’s botched execution in Oklahoma “deeply disturbing” and directed the attorney general on Friday to review how the death penalty is applied in the United States at a time when it has become increasingly debated. Weighing in on a polarizing issue that he rarely discusses, Mr. Obama said the Oklahoma episode, in which a prisoner remained groaning in pain after sedatives were apparently not fully delivered, underscored concerns with capital punishment as it is carried out in America today. While reiterating his support for the death penalty in certain cases, Mr. Obama said Americans should “ask ourselves some difficult and profound questions” about its use.

Read more from the New York Times.

Andrew Rice: What is gained from the death penalty?

Many Oklahomans support the death penalty. That won’t change any time soon. However, the troubling circumstances around Tuesday’s execution of Clayton Derrell Lockett present us with questions about our values and pragmatism that we can’t ignore. What becomes of a person like Lockett isn’t an issue here. What we should be concerned with is what happens to us as result of what we do, or do not do, to him. Lethal injection was created as a means of “more humanely” killing reprehensible offenders. But of course it is still the act of killing, no matter how we mask it. We mask it for us, not for the offender’s comfort. Lockett may have deserved to die for the unthinkable things he did, but what does the public gain from it?

Read more from NewsOK.

Chesapeake loses appeal, must pay $121 million to leaseholders

Chesapeake Energy Corp. the second-largest U.S. natural gas producer, must pay $121 million to three Texas lease holders after failing to persuade an appeals court to overturn a verdict that it reneged on deals to buy mineral rights when prices plunged in 2008. A federal judge in Houston ruled in 2012 that Chesapeake couldn’t escape contracts to lease more than 500 oil and gas properties from Preston Exploration Co. and two affiliates. The Oklahoma City-based company began negotiating the leases in June 2008, only to see gas prices plunge by as much as 50 percent in the weeks before the contract closing that November. The lawsuit is one of hundreds of landowner claims filed in federal and state courts in Texas, Michigan, Pennsylvania and other states alleging Chesapeake broke contracts for oil and gas leases.

Read more from Bloomberg.

Justice Department ends antitrust probe of Chesapeake with no charges filed

The U.S. Department of Justice has ended a probe of possible antitrust violations by Chesapeake Energy Corp related to the company’s land-leasing activities in Michigan, the company said. A spokesman for Chesapeake said the company has received a closure letter from the Department of Justice, ending the government’s criminal probe into alleged antitrust violations in Michigan. The Justice Department investigation began in 2012 after a Reuters report found that executives from Chesapeake and Canadian energy company Encana Corp discussed dividing up bidding responsibilities in Michigan involving nine private landowners and nine counties in Michigan.

Read more from Reuters.

Oklahoma drought creates desperate situation for farmers, ranchers

Terral Tatum’s family has been raising cattle since his father bought his first cow in 1963. But unless things change in a hurry, Tatum could be out of the cattle business by the end of the year. Tatum, 47, and his father raise cattle and grow wheat near Grandfield, about 40 miles southwest of Lawton. Grandfield, like much of southwestern Oklahoma, is in the grip of a persistent drought.

Read more from NewsOK.

Quote of the Day

“I also would like see our income tax under five percent, but one must consider the timing of passing a $200 million per year income tax cut when the state is unable to balance its budget with the tax and spending structure it has today – even in an economic expansion – without using ever-increasing amounts of one-time sources of revenue.”

– State Treasurer Ken Miller (Source:

Number of the Day


The Tulsa metro area’s 2014 ranking for the worst ozone pollution in major U.S. cities. The OKC metro had the 19th worst pollution.

Source: The American Lung Association

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Teacher Diversity Revisited: A New State-by-State Analysis

In the fall of 2011, the Center for American Progress released an issue brief looking at teacher diversity, and the findings were stark. We found that the demographics of the teacher workforce had not kept up with student demographics. In that study, we showed that students of color made up more than 40 percent of the school-age population. In contrast, teachers of color were only 17 percent of the teaching force. Since we released our first report on teacher and student demographics, the nation has only grown more diverse. At the same time, states have not being doing nearly enough to increase the diversity of their teaching ranks.

Read more from the Center for American Progress.

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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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