The Weekly Wonk

Since it’s such a busy time for Oklahoma Policy Institute, we’ve decided to dedicate a blog post to this week’s events, publications, and blog posts.

In state budget news, Tuesday’s blog reviews the latest monthly report of General Revenue (GR) collections, where for the 11th straight month revenue collections surpassed those of the same month a year ago.  Two caveats are in order: personal income tax collections remain sluggish, and revenues continue to come in far below pre-downturn levels.  Click below to watch our Director David Blatt on OETA this past week analyzing the latest budget numbers or see our newly-updated Budget Trends and Highlights for a concise overview of the state’s fiscal situation.

The latest edition of our monthly bulletin of key economic and budget trends, Numbers You Need, shows some encouraging signs that the economic recovery may finally be gaining steam in Oklahoma – although the news is still mixed.  Oklahoma’s jobless rate declined to 6.8 percent in December 2010, although an average of 45.3 percent of the state’s jobless were without work for 15 weeks or more in 2010.  February’s Numbers You Need also contains updated data on inflation, bankruptcy filings, work supports and public benefits, and decennial population changes.

Oklahoma is one of 9 states that has not taken advantage of an unemployment insurance extension known as Extended Benefits.  We argue in Wednesday’s blog post that the state should act on an opportunity to aid the long-term jobless that would provide 13 additional weeks of assistance for over 29,000 long-term unemployed Oklahomans and inject $101 million in federally-funded benefits to help support Oklahoma families and businesses.

Guest blogger Shelley Cadamy made the case yesterday that state spending on mental health services earns a substantial return on investment when considering all of the costs of untreated mental illness, including health care expenditures, loss of earnings and productivity,  disability benefits, and corrections.  While Governor Fallin’s proposed budget increased funding for specific mental health services programs, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services saw their total appropriation reduced.  Last week on our blog we reported on the tough choices facing the State Department of Health, and all state agencies, dealing with the cumulative effect of successive years of budget cuts.

Also this week:

  • Director David Blatt testified yesterday at the first meeting of the Senate Select Committee on Pensions, tasked with addressing an estimated unfunded liability of $16 billion in the state’s seven public retirement systems.
  • We took a trip down memory lane in response to Rep. David Dank’s calls to reform Oklahoma’s tax system to look more like Texas and reviewed the state’s efforts in the early 2000s to do exactly that.
  • This week’s Number of the Day featured statistics on Oklahomans with disabilities, the national jobless rate, and income eligibility for subsidized child care.

Click here to check out our newest daily feature, In the Know, for a synopsis (almost) every weekday morning of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs.  And with the 53rd Legislature now in full swing, make sure you brush up on committee assignments and budget process details with our fully updated 2011 Oklahoma Legislative Overview.