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 Zebre.
Download today’s In The Know podcast here or play it in your browser:
Today you should know that Oklahoma gross tax collections grew more than 4 percent in March, state Treasurer Ken Miller announced on Thursday. Rep. Seneca Scott wrote a Tulsa World op-ed about his bill (HB 1581) to accept federal funds to cover uncompensated care at facilities serving Native Americans. The bill has passed the House and is awaiting a vote in Senate committee. On the OK Policy blog, we debunked recent assertions that Oklahoma’s per-pupil school revenues are at an all time high. The claim depends on adding up a lot of funds that aren’t part of the day-to-day budget for schools.
Gov. Mary Fallin has signed a bill (HB 2850) incentivizing movie production in Oklahoma and another bill (HB 2711) that reimburses Oklahoma communities for some expenses in attracting national and international events. A bill extending the Aerospace Workforce Tax Credit, which subsidizes aerospace companies and aerospace engineers, is awaiting her signature. Public employees are concerned about a bill that would transform Oklahoma’s pension system from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan (HB 2630). OK Policy has previously warned that closing down defined benefit pensions could increase unfunded liabilities.
The House Public Safety Committee passed a measure that would subject Highway Patrol dashcam video to the Open Records Act (SB 1513). A new report finds Oklahoma has the highest homeowner’s insurance premiums in the nation. Several other Tornado Alley states placed within the list’s top 10. In the Tulsa World, President Obama wrote an editorial in support of raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. Wendy Kopp, the founder and chairwoman of Teach for America, will be delivering OU’s commencement address in May.
Wind power generation in regional grids including parts of Oklahoma and Texas reached record highs last month. In a letter to the EPA, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt protested a planned study of the environmental impacts of fracking, calling it “unnecessary.” State audits suggest that a commissioner’s district in Rogers County submitted fraudulent claims to FEMA totaling $286,000 over two years.
Oklahoma Department of Transportation crews filled the sixth hole to open in a bridge in Sperry since February. Following their removal from state Tourism Department control in 2011 due to a budget shortfall, all seven Oklahoma parks are still open and thriving. Oprah is developing a miniseries focusing on the 1921 Tulsa Race Riots. OK Policy Legislative Liason Damario Solomon-Simmons spoke to Tulsa People about his upcoming book with the working title, “How the Sports Lottery is Destroying Black Communities.”
The Number of the Day is the average homeowners insurance rate in Oklahoma in March 2014. In today’s Policy Note, the Center for American Progress suggests steps for increasing transparency in health care prices.
In The News
Oklahoma tax collections increase in March
State tax collections grew more than 4 percent in March, boosted by double-digit growth in revenues from personal income taxes and oil and gas production, state Treasurer Ken Miller announced Thursday. State revenue collections were $985.02 million in March. That’s an increase of $40.46 million, or 4.3 percent, over March 2013. “Clearly, Oklahoma’s economy continues to do relatively well,” Miller said, noting that state revenues for the past 12 months also are up more than 4 percent. March personal income tax collections and revenues from gross production taxes on oil and gas were particularly strong, he said.
We can do better on health care for Oklahomans
We as state leaders need to come forward with solutions for improving the health status of Oklahomans. Oklahoma still remains at the bottom for health outcomes, ranking 45th out of the 50 states, suffering the worst rates for obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease to name a few issues. While we can debate about how to address health care needs in our state, we cannot lose sight of why we need to improve health care for Oklahomans.
That’s a Whopper: Total revenue is a false measure of school funding
In making the case against additional funding for public schools, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) has recently asserted that “Oklahoma’s per-pupil revenues – a whopping $12,206 in fiscal year 2013 – are at record levels.” The $12,206 figure has been cited in numerous editorials and articles, and was a common talking point among some legislators at last week’s education rally. In looking at the actual numbers used by OCPA, one sees that they generated their “whopping” $12,206 per-pupil average by considering the lump-sum total of all school revenues, include revenues that have little or no bearing on school operating budgets.
Gov. Mary Fallin signs bills to attract filmmakers and national events to Oklahoma
Gov. Mary Fallin on Wednesday signed bills into law that will extend a tax incentive program designed to attract more movie productions to Oklahoma and reimburse Oklahoma communities for some of their expenses in attracting national and international events. The extension of the rebate bill for filmmakers sparked controversy as it passed through the House and Senate, with some lawmakers complaining about providing incentives to producers of films such as “August: Osage County” that portray Oklahomans in a less than favorable light.
Legislature renews tax credit for aerospace engineers
A law passed Thursday by the Oklahoma Legislature should help the pipeline of aerospace engineers keep flowing to the state. The Oklahoma Senate extended the Aerospace Engineer Workforce Tax Credit program through 2017. The House already passed the bill and now its headed to Gov. Mary Fallin’s desk to be signed.
Burning Concerns: Pension bill clears committee as firefighters, others, express concerns
John Soos is a retired firefighter, and he’s worried about his pension. Retired after 35 years as an Oklahoma City firefighter, Soos said he’s afraid that the move to change Oklahoma’s pension systems is the beginning of the end.“My concern is that the state will try to take them away,” he said. “The year before last they said we had some problems. We (state firefighters) didn’t disagree. We worked closely with the Legislature and changed our benefits and changed how things were done and we haven’t had a chance for all that to impact.” The bottom line, he said, is that teachers, public employees and firefighters have all agreed with legislative requests to change their pension systems, but now the Legislature wants more changes. “Those things (previous bills) haven’t had time to take effect, to have a real impact,” he said. “The actuaries guess what they’re going to do, but they’re not sure.”
Oklahoma ranks atop list of highest homeowners’ insurance premiums
Tornado Alley is top of the heap when it comes to homeowners’ insurance costs.A new report by industry aggregator HomeownersInsurance.com ranked Oklahoma as having the most expensive annual premiums. Neighboring Kansas was No. 2, while Texas, Arkansas and Missouri all ranked in the top 10.
Time to give America a raise
As Americans, we believe that honest work should be rewarded with honest wages. That certainly means that no one who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty. And in the coming weeks, your senators will have a chance to stand up for that principle by voting yes or no on a bill to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour. It’s important to remember that most workers who would get a raise when Congress passes this bill aren’t teenagers taking on their first job. They average 35 years old. A majority of lower-wage jobs are held by women. Many of these Americans work full-time to support a family, and if the minimum wage had kept pace with our workers’ productivity, they’d be earning well over $10 an hour today.
Education advocate Wendy Kopp to deliver University of Oklahoma commencement address
Wendy Kopp, a national education advocate, will deliver the University of Oklahoma’s commencement address next month, university officials announced Thursday. Kopp is the founder and chairwoman of Teach for America, a nonprofit group that places teachers in high-need and urban schools nationwide. She is also the co-founder of Teach for All, a global network of more than 30 independent educational advocacy organizations.
Wind generation sets records in regional grids for Oklahoma, Texas
Helped by long-awaited investments in transmission infrastructure and new projects, wind power generation hit new highs last month in the regional grids that serve Oklahoma and Texas. The American Wind Energy Association, a Washington-based trade group, said wind power accounted for more than 7,200 megawatts of electricity generated on March 18 for the Southwest Power Pool, the regional regional transmission organization that covers Oklahoma and parts of eight other states.
Oklahoma attorney general says EPA study of fracking is unnecessary
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt isn’t high on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s latest review of hydraulic fracturing regulations. Pruitt on Wednesday sent a letter to the office of the inspector general at the EPA in response to a Feb. 5 memorandum detailing plans to evaluate how the agency and states have done in regulating the process’s impact on water resources.
State Audits Reveal FEMA Ripped Off
Two state audits say that one commissioner’s district in Rogers County over billed the Federal Emergency Management Agency by $250,000 and submitted a false invoice for $36,000. State Auditor Gary Jones said Thursday that the reports would be forwarded to the local district attorney and to Attorney General Scott Pruitt for consideration of possible criminal charges.
Sixth hole opens in Sperry bridge since February
Oklahoma Department of Transportation crews were back out on State Highway 11 in Sperry filling a hole on a bridge over Hominy Creek. FOX23 learned this is the sixth hole to open up on that bridge since February. FOX23’s Angela Hong learned what ODOT could consider doing in order to prevent this bridge from getting worse. The bridge is not set to be replaced until 2017, but some drivers in this area say that’s not soon enough.
Some Parks Oklahoma Offloaded to Save Money Are Thriving Under Local Control
In April 2011, Oklahoma was dealing with a half-billion dollar budget shortfall, and the state tourism department had just decided to offload seven of its parks to save money.Three years later, StateImpact finds that all seven parks are still open, and at least two — Brushy Lake Park and Beaver Dunes Park — are thriving. During the budget crisis, Tourism and Recreation Department Director Deby Snodgrass said the parks were chosen — in part — because they had the best chance of staying open with the help of cities, tribal governments, and private landowners. She said the move would save the agency abound $700,000.
Oprah developing race riot miniseries starring Octavia Spencer
Oprah Winfrey’s OWN cable network is developing a two-part miniseries chronicling one of the ugliest and least-known chapters in U.S. history. In Tulsa, Academy Award-winning actress Octavia Spencer (The Help) plays a journalist who investigates the 1921 Oklahoma race riots, where an estimated 300 people were believed to have been murdered amid post-WWI racial tension surrounding segregation laws and the prosperous black community of Greenwood.
Five questions: Damario Solomon-Simmons
Damario Solomon-Simmons is a Tulsa native, an attorney and legislative liaison for the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a recent Booker T. Washington Hall of Fame inductee, a University of Oklahoma graduate and a former OU linebacker. He also is writing a book with the working title, “How the Sports Lottery is Destroying Black Communities,” that suggests a paradigm shift in the ways young African-American men approach decision making about their futures.
Quote of the Day
For the average person and the average kid (athletics) should be seen as a plan B. The purpose of this book is to change the paradigm … People ask, “What is your plan B if sports doesn’t work out?” They should be asking, “What is your plan A?” And sports should be your plan B.
-Damario Solomon-Simmons, OK Policy’s legislative liaison who is also writing a book with the working title, “How the Sports Lottery is Destroying Black Communities” (Source: http://bit.ly/1ja4Aot).
Number of the Day
Average homeowners’ insurance rate in Oklahoma in March 2014. Oklahoma average annual insurance rates are the highest in the nation.
Shining Light on Health Care Prices
As a nation, we pay too much for health care, in large part because of the excessive prices charged by health care providers, manufacturers, and suppliers. A key reason why those prices are so high is because almost all health care prices are hidden, which hinders market competition and keeps patients and their health care providers from making fully informed decisions. Imagine receiving a bill for $8,000 for car or home repairs without having first had a chance to receive a price estimate or the opportunity to comparison shop. That scenario is preposterous, yet it is exactly how we pay for our health care.
You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.