What’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk shares our most recent publications and other resources to help you stay informed about Oklahoma. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The Know. Click here to subscribe to In The Know.
This week’s edition of The Weekly Wonk was published with contributions from Communications Intern Lilly Strom.
This Week from OK Policy
Time for Care: Celebrating Medicaid Expansion in Oklahoma: Thanks to voter-approved Medicaid expansion, more than 120,000 Oklahomans and counting will finally have health care coverage starting on July 1. To celebrate this historic milestone, Oklahoma Policy Institute hosted a June 30 virtual event to reflect on the journey to this point and how it will positively impact our state moving forward. [OK Policy / YouTube]
HHS Secretary Becerra visits Oklahoma to celebrate Medicaid expansion: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra visited Tulsa on July 1 to help celebrate Medicaid expansion in Oklahoma, calling it a victory for the 200,000 residents who could now have “peace of mind” through access to life-changing health care. [Dave Hamby / OK Policy]
Is it good for the children? (Capitol Update): Several years ago, some business and community organizations in Kansas decided to urge policymakers in making decisions to ask the question, “Is it good for the children?” The question in some political circles might bring hoots of scorn as not hard edged enough for serious public policy. On the other hand, we have a governor who talks about making Oklahoma a “top 10” state. We have a way to go. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]
Policy Matters: Making a difference starts locally: When it comes to thinking about politics, the national landscape tends to hog the spotlight. However, for most day-to-day activities, Oklahomans feel decisions made at the local and state level much more acutely. That’s why Oklahomans who want to create change should focus their attention on issues closer to home first. [Ahniwake Rose / Journal Record]
Weekly What’s That
Quality Jobs Program
The Quality Jobs program is a state tax incentive program that provides a quarterly cash payment to qualified companies of up to 5 percent of new taxable payroll. The incentive targets manufacturers and certain other industries that have a new payroll investment of $2.5 million or more, with a lower payroll threshold for certain industries and for companies located in targeted areas. Qualifying companies must meet wage requirements of the lower of the average county wage or the state index wage, and must provide their employees with health insurance. In most cases, companies qualifying for the Quality Jobs program are ineligible for the Investment/New Jobs credit.
The Quality Jobs program was created in 1993. Through the end of FY 2014, the Quality Jobs Program had paid out over $955 million. Quality Jobs payments increased from $50 million in 2010 to a peak of $80 million in 2015 before falling to $56 million in 2016. Oil and gas companies were made eligible to receive Quality Jobs payments in 2005, and in fiscal year 2013 they received over 53 percent of incentive payments, compared to 28 percent for manufacturing companies.
In a 2017 report, the Incentive Evaluation Commission concluded that “In recent history, the program has performed well in terms of economic impact and appears to be a net benefit to the State,” while recommending several reforms to improve the program.
Quote of the Week
“I think finding child care right now is quite difficult. I anticipate what you’ll see is more parents, maybe dropping out of the workforce, particularly women.”
-Rachel Proper, president of the Oklahoma Child Care Association, speaking about the shortage of daycares in Oklahoma as a result of the pandemic [CNHI via Norman Transcript]
Editorial of the Week
Open records lawsuits are piling up
Four and counting.
That’s how many open records lawsuits have been filed so far on behalf of Oklahoma news organizations through the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press (RCFP).
A grant written through a collaborative effort of Oklahoma news organizations has supplied state journalists with a Freedom of Information legal expert to go to bat for the public in holding governing bodies’ feet to the fire, so to speak, in complying with the state’s open meetings and open records laws.
Open records lawsuits have been filed by CNHI sister paper Muskogee Phoenix, to prevent recordings considered by state law as public records from being sealed as part of an ongoing proceeding; state investigative organization Oklahoma Watch, against Epic Charter Schools for release of emails under the Open Records Act; NonDoc, a nonprofit news organization against the University of Oklahoma for release of the Jones Day reports regarding allegations of sexual misconduct by former university president David Boren; and The Frontier, another nonprofit news organization, seeking surveillance video and other documents in connection with the death of an inmate at a Pottawatomie County jail.
These lawsuits likely are just the tip of the iceberg in what RCFP Oklahoma attorney KatieBeth Gardner calls “a culture of noncompliance or willful disobedience” in Oklahoma when it comes to governing bodies complying with open records and open meetings laws.
For many years, governing bodies have become more and more complacent in complying with the law on open records. They’ve tried charging exorbitant fees for records (illegal by the way) or using the excuse of an “ongoing investigation” to thwart open records requests. They’ve been able to get away with it because news organizations have experienced lean financial times and have not been able to cover expenses associated with filing lawsuits. In OU’s case, the university said that the information on the Jones Day investigation is not in the public interest. Wrong! The Jones Day investigation cost Oklahoma taxpayers more than $1 million.
As Freedom of Information Oklahoma said in a statement, “The University of Oklahoma has neither the responsibility nor the right to determine what is in the public’s interest . . . The university should uphold their ethical and legal obligation to transparency in their operations.”
We will keep shining a light on these lawsuits as they are filed because it’s important that the public and government agencies know that compliance with open records and open meetings laws is not voluntary — it’s mandatory.
Numbers of the Day
- 84,054 – The number of Oklahoma workers impacted by the state cutting off federal unemployment benefits. [Source: The Century Foundation]
- $292.1 million – Dollars lost to Oklahoma’s economy by prematurely ending federal pandemic unemployment benefits [Source: United States Congressional Joint Economic Committee]
- 64% – Percentage of children under age 6 with all parents in the labor force in Oklahoma. Lack of available childcare is a major expense that impacts parents and caregivers returning to the workforce [Source: KIDS COUNT]
- 60.7% – Oklahoma’s labor force participation rate in May 2021, which is the same rate as in Nov. 2018. [Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve]
- 74,600 – Oklahoma reported having 74,600 fewer non-farm jobs in April 2021 compared to the February 2020 pre-pandemic report. [Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics]
What We’re Reading
- Fact Sheet: What’s at Stake As States Cancel Federal Unemployment Benefits [The Century Foundation]
- Acts of Congress and COVID-19: A Literature Review on the Impact of Increased Unemployment Insurance Benefits and Stimulus Checks [Federal Reserve System]
- Dollars and Sense: Affordability of Childcare [Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta]
- Cutting off unemployment benefits early is not pushing people to find work, data suggests [CNBC]
- Where Jobless Benefits Were Cut, Jobs Are Still Hard to Fill [New York Times]