Senator Patrick Anderson today said he was shocked that the State Department of Education spent $33,268.00 on its annual report. The report, which is 60 pages in length and includes 50 glossy color photos and charts, was delivered to legislators Wednesday.
According to the document, the Department of Education printed 2,000 copies, meaning each copy of the report cost taxpayers $16.63.
“This is a total waste of taxpayer dollars,” said Anderson, R-Enid. “The State Department of Education is simply required to make an annual report to the members of the Legislature, not produce a coffee table book. The fact that our limited education dollars are being spent on projects like this is mind-boggling.”
Anderson was the author of Senate Bill 1697, which directed state agencies to issue such reports in electronic format to save taxpayer dollars. SB 1697 was signed into law in 2010.
Apr 24 2014 | Posted in Education
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The ebb and flow of crude oil and natural gas prices mark the first contraction of the Oklahoma Energy Index (OEI) in 2014.
A record-setting bout of bitter cold weather that swept through the Midwest and across most of the country early in the year drove demand for natural gas and pushed prices above $6, a five-year high. Warmer weather has pushed those prices down and with them, the energy index.
The index of oil and natural gas industry activity fell using data collected in March to 257.27, a 0.44 percent decrease from the previous month. Year-over-year growth, however, has increased by 5.54 percent.
The energy index is a comprehensive measure of the state’s oil and gas production economy established to track industry growth rates and cycles in one of the country’s most active and vibrant energy-producing states. The OEI is a joint project of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association (OIPA), Bank SNB and the Steven C. Agee Economic Research and Policy Institute.
“While changes in crude oil and natural gas prices are expected due to seasonality, we have continued to see strong momentum in the energy markets across our footprint,” said Chris Mostek, Vice President of Energy Lending for Bank SNB. “In fact, we recently added an energy lender to our team in Dallas to meet the banking needs and provide further insight into the industry activity in the mid-continent region.”
Dr. Russell Evans, executive director of the Steven C. Agee Economic Research and Policy Institute, said the influence of short-term weather impacts will be gone by May, but positive momentum from the temporary increased prices has been felt in the Oklahoma Energy portfolio, a hypothetical stock portfolio of equity assets from Oklahoma companies that saw a 5 percent increase.
“Oklahoma energy companies have benefited,” Evans said. “The real test of industry strength may come as spring employment and rig activity is realized. Early data trends point to the possibility of a strong Oklahoma oil and gas summer season.”
OIPA President Mike Terry said the small downturn in the energy index is a reminder of the impact commodity prices can have.
“Like farmers and ranchers selling their wheat or cattle, Oklahoma oil and natural gas producers are at the mercy of the market,” Terry said.
Apr 24 2014 | Posted in General
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A measure that calls for state employee salaries to reach 90 percent of private-sector pay over a four-year period cleared the Senate today.
House Bill 3293, by state Rep. Leslie Osborn, removes salary structures from statute and gives authority to the Human Capital Resource Division of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services to set pay structures and determine if targeted pay band adjustments are necessary, rather than the state doling out across-the-board pay raises as in years past.
“The state of Oklahoma is losing skilled and educated employees to retirement and the private sector,” said Osborn, R-Mustang. “Our state agencies need productive minds and ingenuity to fill those gaps, provide better services and address the problems of the future. This step towards creating competitive wages will greatly enhance the state’s ability to choose from the top recruits.”
House Speaker Jeff Hickman praised HB 3293, calling it a commitment to attracting and retaining quality employees who will provide efficient services to the people of Oklahoma.
“As stewards of the taxpayers’ money, it is our duty to provide core government services in a cost effective and productive manner,” said Speaker Hickman, R-Fairview. “To do so, we need to attract and keep great employees with competitive compensation.”
A recent study requested by the governor and state leaders found state employee salaries to be up to 20 percent below market, particularly in the areas of public safety, corrections and social services.
HB 3293 now moves to the House for review.
UPDATE: Ernest Istook will air the protest rally live on his show on KZLS-1640AM, www.kzlsam.com.
Channel 2, Tulsa
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has canceled plans to deliver a speech to a group of Oklahoma City police cadets amid a planned protest by conservative lawmakers and organizations.
Oklahoma City Police Department Capt. Dexter Nelson confirmed Thursday that Holder’s appearance had been canceled. U.S. District Judge Vickie Miles LaGrange will speak to the 42 graduating cadets instead.
Holder’s planned visit to Oklahoma City drew the ire of several conservative lawmakers, including two-term U.S. Rep. James Lankford, who said Holder’s visit was “incredibly inappropriate.”
Republican Rep. Mike Turner of Oklahoma City was among several GOP legislators who planned to attend a protest downtown.
The protest rally will be held as planned, with numerous legislators scheduled to speak.
Nelson said he was unaware why Holder’s planned visit was canceled, but said additional security personnel will remain in place because of the protest.
Apr 24 2014 | Posted in General
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A Claremore businessman, Chad Choat, has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission aimed at 5th District congressional candidate Mike Turner.
Writing on his Facebook page, Choat writes, “Yesterday I filed a complaint with the Federal Election commission regarding Mike Turner’s violation of campaign finance law. As of March 31st Mr. Turner had failed to create a legal campaign committee. …To date, all of Mr. Turner’s campaign activities have been conducted outside of the FEC legal framework. Failing to adhere to the rule of law at worst disqualifies him as a candidate and at the very least raises serious questions about his viability as a candidate for congress, and leaves no confidence amongst the public that he will be a reformer when he fails to submit himself from day one to the same rules that apply to everyone else. This should cause all Oklahomans to ask why he failed to file proper paperwork and has not been transparent about the source of his campaign funds.
“Some may ask why a business owner from outside the fifth congressional district would file a complaint with the FEC. We as Oklahomans say that we want to reform how Washington does business. That starts with obeying the law. There is an unfortunate habit in Congress of people exempting themselves from the regulations that apply to everyone else. If our candidates can’t obey the law while they are running for office how can we expect them to change Washington? I look forward to the findings of the FEC and I would encourage all voters to be well informed as we seek what is best for the future of this great nation.”
Congressman James Lankford has based a fund-raising appeal on a new survey that shows him trailing opponent T. W. Shannon in the Republican primary for the U. S. Senate.
In an email sent yesterday, Lankford wrote, “A new survey released today shows us in a very close race.
“I need your help now more than ever. It is critical that we get our message out and that we are clear about what is at stake in this election.
“Oklahoma is not for sale, we must raise the necessary funds to counter the DC-based superPACs who are on the attack against me, we need to raise $33,170 in the next 24 hours.
“I cannot thank you enough for what you have done for me in the past, but I really need your help on this occasion.
“Please consider contributing anything you can afford here: JamesLankford.com/Donate/
“I am eternally grateful for your help and prayers.
“Together, we can ensure that Tom Coburn’s conservative agenda continues in the U.S. Senate.
“In God We Trust,
“Congressman James Lankford
“Chairman of the Republican House Policy Committee”
Lankford previously downplayed an earlier survey showing Shannon gaining on him. The new survey, conducted by a firm hired by a Shannon support group, showed Shannon leading Lankford, 42-32 percent.
Auditor Gary Jones has issued a report addressing the short-term impact on the current state budget resulting from an overestimate of corporate tax revenues.
“It’s as important to understand how the overestimate occurred as it is to respond with a short-term solution and long-range plan,” Jones said. “This report points out that any miscalculation is attributable to an inability to know the number of tax credits issued, the financial impact of those credits, and when those credits are going to be cashed in.”
The State Equalization Board certifies revenue to be appropriated by the legislature based on estimates ultimately provided by the Oklahoma Tax Commission. As noted in the report, the estimate was ultimately decreased more than $174 million over a six month period when taxing officials became aware of a number of corporations taking advantage of perfectly legal options available to them to decrease their tax liability.
Estimate made on June 24, 2013 $481 million
Estimate made on December 19, 2013 $375 million
Estimate made on February 18, 2014 $307 million
“The intent of this report was to provide, critical information in a timely fashion and is not an in-depth analysis of corporate tax liability,” Jones said. “Oklahomans get two pictures each month of the financial health of the state. One picture paints a rosy place in which collections are up and all is right in the world of revenue.
“The official report usually follows the rosy characterization and is more accurate with regard to actual collections compared to the estimate and the authorized spending power of public entities.”
The Special White Paper Report notes the historical accuracy of the Oklahoma Tax Commission and the numerous OSU economists with whom it contracts to devise the estimate. The current revenue shortfall is more indicative of an inability to both know the number of tax credits in existence and the timing in which they will be utilized.
The Special White Paper Report, Estimating Corporate Income Tax Revenues in Oklahoma, is online at www.sai.ok.gov.
Access the report directly at: http://www.sai.ok.gov/docs/press/Estimating%20Corporate%20Income%20Tax%20Revenues%20-%20Special%20White%20Paper%20Report.pdf
President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman issued the following statement after the House voted to approve SB 1246. Bingman is principal author of the income tax cut legislation, which now goes to Governor Fallin for her consideration.
“This plan represents a fiscally responsible way to lower Oklahoma’s income tax rate, fulfilling a commitment we made to our citizens last year. It’s going to bolster our ongoing efforts to help Oklahoma better compete for high pay jobs that will help our citizens, communities and state prosper. With the House giving its final approval, we look forward to Governor Fallin signing this tax relief measure into law.”
“When fully implemented, this bill will provide Oklahoma taxpayers with $200 million in tax relief. This is good legislation for the citizens of our state.” –Senator Mike Mazzei, R-Tulsa.
SB 1246 will reduce the state’s income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 5 percent beginning with tax year 2016, if certified revenues for FY 2016 at least equal the certification level for FY 2014. The legislation would further reduce the state’s top income tax rate no sooner than two years later to 4.85 percent if there is sufficient revenue growth to fund the reduction.
~ Congressman James Lankford has praise for Kansas Governor Sam Brownback after he signed state bill H.B. 2553, which allows Kansas to join the Health Care Compact. Lankford recently introduced H.J. Res 110 in the U.S. House of Representatives to provide the required congressional approval for Member states to enter into the Health Care Compact.
~ Language is needed to clarify the intent of the right to bear arms in the Oklahoma Constitution, according to the author of a constitutional amendment approved in the Senate. House Joint Resolution 1026, by Rep. Dan Fisher and Sen. Greg Treat, was approved 37-6. Written in 1907, the Oklahoma Constitution, Article II, Section 26, reads: “The right of a citizen to keep and bear arms in defense of his home, person, or property, or in aid of the civil power, when thereunto legally summoned, shall never be prohibited; but nothing herein contained shall prevent the Legislature from regulating the carrying of weapons.”
The legislation would allow voters to change Section 26 to read: “The fundamental right of each individual citizen to keep and to bear (that is, to carry) arms in defense of his home, person, or property, or, including handguns, rifles, shotguns, knives, nonlethal defensive weapons and other arms in common use, as well as ammunition and the components of arms and ammunition, for security, self-defense, lawful hunting and recreation, in aid of the civil power, when thereunto legally lawfully summoned, or for any other legitimate purpose shall never not be prohibited; but nothing herein contained shall prevent the Legislature from regulating the carrying of weapons infringed. Any regulation of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.”
The constitutional amendment would also add two subsections to Section 26: “This section shall not prevent the Legislature from prohibiting the possession of arms by convicted felons, those adjudicated as mentally incompetent, or those who have been involuntarily committed in any mental institution.”
“No law shall impose registration or special taxation upon the keeping of arms, including the acquisition, ownership, possession, or transfer of arms, ammunition, or the components of arms or ammunition.”
The proposal will now appear on the November ballot.
~ The full Senate has approved legislation that will ultimately increase public school funding by $600 million annually. Senators Jim Halligan, R-Stillwater, and John Ford, R-Bartlesville, are Senate authors of House Bill 2642, the Securing Educational Excellence Fund (SEEF). The measure was approved unanimously on Wednesday.
“We recognize the need for additional resources for Oklahoma schools. This plan is a fiscally responsible way to generate an additional $600 million annually that will go directly into the school funding formula,” Halligan said. “This bill is an important step in helping Oklahoma students get the quality education they need to compete and to succeed.”
HB 2642 directs a dedicated appropriation of $30 million in fiscal year 2015, which begins on July 1, 2014. That amount would then increase by $30 million each year through FY ’18. In FY ’19, the ROAD Fund will reach its statutory maximum of $575 million, freeing an additional $60 million which can then be dedicated to SEEF.
In order to address concerns about an additional off-the-top earmark, the plan includes triggers for the specified increases:
- FY ’16 – ’18 funds would only be added if there is growth of at least one percent in General Revenue (GR).
- FY ’19 – GR growth of one percent would trigger $30 million, two percent would trigger the full $60 million.
- If GR funds decline, there will be no additional allocation to SEEF until the previous high in GR is exceeded.
In addition, the measure has safeguards that will prevent SEEF funds from taking the place of additional appropriations—Halligan noted that had occurred with the lottery funds that were supposed to have dramatically increased education funding. HB 2642 requires the State Board of Equalization to find that the funds are not supplanted, meaning they can’t take the place of previous appropriations.
~ The president of Transportation Revenues Used Strictly for Transportation (TRUST) commended the state Senate for protecting the Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s eight-year highway and bridge construction plan by not including a committee substitute to HB 2642 which would have diverted 50% of funding from the Rebuilding Oklahoma Access and Driver Safety (ROADS) Fund. HB 2642 passed the Senate today. Neal McCaleb said, “On behalf of the members of TRUST, I commend the leadership of the state Senate and its members for their commitment to continue the tremendous progress made over the past few years to rebuild and modernize Oklahoma’s transportation infrastructure. By not diverting monies from the ROADS fund, senate members have made a strong statement for improved public safety and economic development all across Oklahoma.”
Some Tea Party activists and others have weighed in on the U. S. Senate race: http://www.muskogeepolitico.com/
Apr 24 2014 | Posted in Politics
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