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. 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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Average earnings in the Oklahoma City metro area dropped as a surge in low-wage jobs are replacing a shrinking number of jobs at the top end of wages. Governor Fallin’s top budget official Preston Doerflinger said he agrees with State Treasurer Ken Miller’s analysis of shortcomings in Oklahoma’s budget planning. Miller said the state has balanced the budget with one-time fixes, sometimes ignored the long-term consequences of a deal, misapplied a temporary windfall, shortchanged pension obligations and ignored financial checks and balances. The jobs of 16 state workers’ compensation system employees have been eliminated as Oklahoma continues the transition from a court-based workers’ compensation system to an administrative system.
Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman, has asked for an interim study on the possibility of increasing the speed limit on the Turner Turnpike, but the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority director said the road would not be safe at a higher speed limit. The Tulsa World praised Tulsa Public Schools’ efforts to catch up the hundreds of third graders who did not pass a reading test. The principal of a school for homeless students in Oklahoma City wrote that third grade retention won’t solve the reading problem in Oklahoma without broader support for basic needs. Tulsa World columnist Ginnie Graham argued that Oklahoma does not provide adequate job protections for pregnant women and new parents.
Members of Tulsa’s faith community have scheduled a second meeting designed to help the children being housed at Fort Sill. A bipartisan group of business and policy leaders in Oklahoma said the migrant children crisis is further proof that the United States needs comprehensive immigration reform. David Blatt’s Journal Record column and Carly Putnam on the OK Policy Blog discussed how a one-year extension of Insure Oklahoma still leaves hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans without coverage. OK Policy previously discussed how Insure Oklahoma can become a long-term solution for the uninsured if we accept federal funds to extend it.
The president of AARP Oklahoma praised a new state law that allows patients admitted to the hospital to designate a caregiver who will be informed of how to care for them when they go home. Senator Inhofe said a deal has been reached between the EPA and the Department of Defense that will allow local firefighters to continue receiving surplus military equipment. Oklahoma’s tourism and recreation department is considering selling or leasing three state parks in northeast Oklahoma to make up for budget cuts. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission has begun a study of wind farms at the request of Senate leader Brian Bingman, who previously sought to put a moratorium on all new wind farms in east Oklahoma.
The Number of the Day is the number of utility-scale wind turbines in Oklahoma as of 2013. In today’s Policy Note, a report by Good Jobs First examines what metro regions are doing to end job piracy, where companies play nearby communities off each other for escalating subsidies.
In The News
Oklahoma City’s sales tax exceeds expectations, but salary outlook is dim for metro-area workers
Oklahoma City’s budget year is off to a good start, a sharp reversal from this time last year. The picture is cloudier for working people, though, based on the latest federal economic reports for the metro area. The metro area added 3,600 jobs between April and May, bringing total employment to 626,600, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. But employment in mining and logging — in Oklahoma, primarily the oil and gas industry — was flat for the month and down 2.9 percent from the same time last year. Service-providing jobs grew by 4,000 for the month and showed a 2.9 percent increase over May 2013. Quoting the city’s consulting economist, Russell Evans of Oklahoma City University’s Steven C. Agee Economic Research and Policy Institute, Dowler wrote that “it looks like the mix of jobs has been changing with more of the jobs on the lower end of the pay scale and fewer jobs at the top end.”
Oklahoma treasurer points out state fiscal pitfalls
State Treasurer Ken Miller points out five fiscal shortcomings in Oklahoma state government in his latest monthly report. Specifically, he said the state has balanced the budget with one-time fixes, sometimes ignored the long-term consequences of a deal, misapplied a temporary windfall, shortchanged pension obligations and ignored financial checks and balances. Preston Doerflinger, Gov. Mary Fallin’s secretary of finance, administration and information technology, said Miller’s criticisms are well-founded. “If I could have attached my name to the treasurer’s commentary I would have,” Doerflinger said. “It was spot-on and needed to be said.”
Oklahoma workers’ compensation system eliminate 16 jobs
The jobs of 16 state workers’ compensation system employees were eliminated Wednesday as Oklahoma continues the transition from a court-based workers’ compensation system to an administrative system. Wednesday’s job cuts dropped the number of state workers’ compensation system employees from 75 employees to 59, said Rick Farmer, executive director of the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission. All of the affected employees were offered voluntary buyouts and some are still considering the offer, Farmer said.
Senate interim study requests include raising the speed limit on the Turner Turnpike
Proposals to increase the speed limit on the Turner Turnpike are not being endorsed by the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority. Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman, has asked for an interim study on the possibility of increasing the speed limit on the Turner Turnpike. Standridge said he will pursue the study despite the OTA’s concerns but welcomes their input. He said he has not decided whether he will pursue legislation to raise the speed limit. Tim Stewart, Oklahoma Turnpike Authority executive director, said increasing the speed limit on the Turner, which is currently 75 mph, raises safety concerns for his agency.
TPS working on third grade reading issues
When you’re knee-deep in the ocean and all you have to deal with the incoming tide is a teaspoon, get busy with that spoon. Tulsa Public Schools are working their spoon as hard as they can these days, trying to deal with the tidal wave of third-graders who didn’t pass the state’s reading test. More than half of the 1,141 third-graders from the district who are at risk of being held back are attending a special one-month summer school session taught by veteran reading specialists.Another 400 who scored unsatisfactory on the state-mandated test in April have qualified for promotion to fourth grade on the basis of “good-cause” exemptions, such as that they have limited English proficiency after less than two years of English instruction.
Third-grade retention won’t solve the reading problem in Oklahoma
According to “OKC district to promote 514 third-graders who failed test” (News, July 2), Oklahoma City Public Schools will retain 636 third-graders next year because they failed the state reading test and don’t qualify for exemptions. Statistics reported in April show that 31 percent of third-graders in Oklahoma failed the test. When you look at how individual school districts did, it’s clear that districts with the highest numbers of poor children are those with the highest failure rates. To be fair, some poor households raise children who are well-prepared for academic success. However, strong families in poverty are rare due to problems such as little family support, addiction and mental health issues. Waiting until third grade to require success in a “sudden-death” test is far too late.
Oklahoma is failing new parents, study shows
A decade ago while pregnant, I was told by a former human resources staffer that I was not guaranteed my job after giving birth. I went into a tailspin that did nothing to help my already high blood pressure. After a few tense follow-up questions and my own research, I found it was a true statement. My exact position was not legally reserved upon my return from family leave, only that an equivalent job at my same pay would be held. Because I work with highly supportive supervisors in my department, my reporting job was not taken away in my absence. They welcomed me back with plenty of assignments waiting and have been family-friendly in my daily dance as a working mom. Not every parent is as fortunate.
Faith Community To Hold Second Meeting To Help Children At Fort Sill
Members of Tulsa’s faith community have scheduled a second meeting designed to help the children being housed at Fort Sill. The Executive Director of Tulsa’s Metropolitan Ministry, Ray Hickman, said some of the children will be deported, but for others it’s far too dangerous to send them home. With hundreds of children who were caught illegally crossing the border being housed at Fort Sill, Hickman called it a humanitarian concern, not a political one. So the group is working with members of Tulsa’s faith based community to figure out how to help the children.
Undocumented children prove need for immigration reform, Oklahoma leaders say
The recent crush of Central American children trying to cross the U.S. border illegally is further proof that approval of an immigration reform package is crucial, according to business and policy leaders in Oklahoma. A national coalition held a Day of Action for Immigration Reform on Wednesday in 16 states among more than 60 congressional districts to argue the case for a bipartisan and “sensible” approach to strengthening the border and updating the laws regarding immigration. A teleconference of Tulsa leaders hosted by Partnership for New American Economy included polling results showing 89 percent of Oklahomans believe the immigration system is in need of fixing and 86 percent say Congress needs to take action.
An extension, but not a solution
Two major stories about health coverage in Oklahoma made the news last week. One was the announcement that the Obama administration has granted a second one-year extension for Insure Oklahoma, a Medicaid-funded health insurance program that provides coverage to some 18,500 low-income working-age Oklahomans and their families. The other was the release of a study by the White House Council of Economic Advisors. It reported that some 123,000 uninsured low-income Oklahomans – more than six times as many people as are covered under Insure Oklahoma – could have health insurance by 2016 if the state accepts federal Medicaid funds.
Insure Oklahoma extended – but we could do so much more
A rare bright spot in health care-related news came early last week with the announcement that Insure Oklahoma, a public-private partnership providing health insurance for some 18,500 low-income Oklahomans and their families, has been given permission by the federal government to continue operating for another year. The program had been expected to be discontinued at the end of 2013, with the understanding that the state would accept federal funds to extend health insurance coverage to all eligible low-income Oklahomans, thus negating the need for Insure Oklahoma. But Oklahoma refused to accept the funds, and for the past two years, the state has negotiated extensions with the federal government.
See also: Insure Oklahoma extension paves way for longer-term solution from the OK Policy blog.
New law will help older Oklahomans, family caregivers
By signing Senate Bill 1536, informally known as the CARE (Caregiver Advise, Record & Enable) Act, Gov. Mary Fallin has helped thousands of older Oklahomans and family caregivers. And for that, I want to say “thank you.” SB 1536, which will become law in November, is one of the most important accomplishments of this legislative session. It’s a simple idea that patients should be allowed to designate a caregiver when they’re admitted to the hospital and those caregivers should be notified and consulted on how to care for patients after they go home. As a retired nurse and a former caregiver, I know firsthand how this new law will help many older Oklahomans continue to live independently in their own homes.
EPA And DOD Come To Agreement To Benefit Rural Fire Departments
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe says a deal has been reached between two federal agencies that will allow local firefighters to continue receiving surplus military equipment. Oklahoma’s senior U.S. senator issued a statement Wednesday praising the agreement reached between the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Defense. Oklahoma forestry officials say rural fire departments across the state would be devastated if the agencies had moved forward with a plan to stop providing thousands of surplus military vehicles and equipment to local departments over concerns about vehicle emissions.
Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department explores selling or leasing state parks
Oklahoma’s tourism and recreation department is considering selling or leasing three state-owned parks in northeast Oklahoma. The parks being considered for sale or lease are Disney, Snowdale and Spring River. Leslie Blair, a spokesperson for the department, blames budget cuts and low park revenue as the reason. Blair said the tourism and recreation department’s budget has been cut 26% since 2009. Park visitors say they are worried about public access and fees should the parks be leased or sold.
Corporation Commission begins study of wind farms
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission has begun a study of wind farms. The action comes at the request of Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa. Bingman was the author of the Senate Bill 1440 which would have created a three-year moratorium on the building of wind farms east of Interstate 35. The measure failed to advance. Interested parties met with commission staff Wednesday. Another meeting is set for Friday. “I would say we are having meetings with interested parties to identify topics of discussion in a Notice of Inquiry to be filed,” said Brandy Wreath, Oklahoma Corporation Commission public utility division director. A notice of inquiry is a public process for input, he said. “It is really a way for the Commission to ask questions and get answers from all parties and sides so they can consider future action that might need to be taken,” Wreath said.
Quote of the Day
“We cannot support open borders for trade but not for people. We cannot support the unfettered exchange of goods and ideas while building razor-wired walls that separate children from their parents. We cannot make America stronger and more prosperous by excluding tomorrow’s talent and industry.”
– Former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating arguing in favor of compassionate immigration reform in the L.A. Times (Source: http://lat.ms/1lVRR7o)
Number of the Day
Number of utility-scale wind turbines in Oklahoma as of 2013.
Source: American Wind Energy Association
Ending job piracy, building regional prosperity
Local job piracy – the use of subsidies to attract businesses from nearby communities in the same metro area – generates heavy costs for regions in terms of both lost tax revenues and externalities associated with sprawl while failing to create new jobs. Although many metropolitan areas struggle with the challenge of intra-regional job piracy, few have attempted to proactively remedy the problem. But anti-piracy agreements used by the Denver, Colorado and Dayton, Ohio regions have cultivated an economic development ethos that is focused on shared regional prosperity.
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