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When to Watch

On OETA main
Oklahoma Forum Sunday Apr. 20 @ 12:30pm
On OETA okla
Oklahoma Forum Sunday Apr. 20 @ 2:30am
Oklahoma Forum Sunday Apr. 20 @ 3:00pm
Oklahoma Forum Sunday Apr. 20 @ 7:00pm
Oklahoma Forum Monday Apr. 21 @ 4:00am
Oklahoma Forum Monday Apr. 21 @ 9:30am

The Sheet

The Blog for Oklahoma Forum

Oklahoma's weekly, statewide discussion program, Oklahoma Forum, provides civil, meaningful discussion of news and issues that impact citizens statewide. Hosted by Emmy Award-winning journalist Dick Pryor and produced by Emmy Award-winner Mickie Smith, Oklahoma Forum is more than sound bites and spin. It is purpose-driven television - seeking answers, providing insight – about life in Oklahoma and its people.

Legislative Leadership

Written by Dick Pryor on Thursday May 12, 2011

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Things move quickly at the state Capitol. Bills can come and go in the blink of an eye, and new language can pop up in bills with little notice. There are lots of moving parts that make up the engine of state government, and the budget is what makes everything go.

This week on Oklahoma Forum, we again welcomed members of the Oklahoma legislative leadership to discuss the status of budget negotiations and more as the legislature heads into the final month of this year's session. Our guests were Speaker of the House Kris Steele, House Minority Leader Scott Inman, Senate Minority Leader Andrew Rice and Senate Assistant Floor Leader Clark Jolley.

The Democrats complained that as the minority party they have been left out of the process; the Republican leaders felt confident that they would be able to craft a balanced budget, even as the state faces a revenue shortfall of about $500 million. The negotiations seem to be nearing an end, with the status of agency and IT consolidation and bond issues being the biggest outstanding elements. Budget negotiators in the House and Senate are still working with the governor's office to reach a resolution.

It does appear that the cuts may be higher than Governor Fallin requested in her Executive Budget for the next fiscal year. In that plan, so-called "core" functions would receive a cut of about 3%, while most other agencies and departments would be cut about 5%. However, those percentages are contingent on the extent to which the House and Senate agree to reduce the budget hole through other means. It is beginning to look as if the 5% money that some hope will be used in the calculations will not be in play.

While the budget dominated the discussion, we also had time to talk about redistricting and the reprimand of Rep. Sally Kern for remarks she made that many African Americans and women found to be objectionable. And, whether the legislators will end their work before the legally-mandated deadline of May 27 (the last Friday in May), remained an open question.

This program is another example of how we bring open, transparent government to the people of Oklahoma. And, it also shows how leaders on both sides of the aisle, regardless of policy differences, have shown this year that they can disagree without being disagreeable. In the overheated political environment that is so prevalent across America today, that is quite remarkable indeed.

Until next time,

Dick Pryor

(Pictured above, left to right: Host Dick Pryor, Rep. Kris Steele, Rep. Scott Inman, Sen. Clark Jolley, and Sen. Andrew Rice)

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The Immigration Debate

Written by Dick Pryor on Wednesday May 11, 2011

When we heard about the National Issues Forum's plan to conduct a series of community discussions about immigration and immigration policy enforcement, we knew we had to follow up with an Oklahoma Forum making that The Big Topic.  So, we gathered a group of people who participated in some of the discussions held at six sites around the state - in Ada, Norman, Purcell, Shawnee, Stillwater and Weatherford.

Our guests were not established "experts" on immigration, but thoughtful citizens who participated in a serious discussion about immigration, without the inflammatory rhetoric.  They brought their thoughts and those of the Oklahomans involved in the community debates to our studio, and confirmed our belief that the citizens know more and have more legitimate solutions to such a thorny issue than some people may believe.

We tracked the three approaches used in the National Issues Forum dialogue, with good results and a discussion that generated more light than heat, which is our goal every week on Oklahoma Forum.  Our guests were:  Dr. Frederick Gates, Associate Professor of History at Southwestern Oklahoma State University; Rilla Askew, author and Artist-in-Residence at the University of Central Oklahoma's English Department; Ari Nuncio, writer, certified translator and consultant; and Lisa Schmidt, Director of Community Engagement for The Xenia Institute.

Watch the show, and give us your thoughts.  We want to hear from you on The Sheet.

Until next time,

Dick Pryor

 

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Capitol Reporters Roundtable

Written by Dick Pryor on Monday May 9, 2011

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Even as Oklahoma's economy continues to bounce back from the recession, state government is facing a revenue shortfall of about half a billion dollars.  Lawmakers and Governor Fallin are working behind-the-scenes to craft a balanced budget, but the process is slow and tedious.  The deadline for funding education (April 1) has already come and gone and now the best legislators can hope for is to get a budget agreement in place by the end of April. 

The budget is the primary focus of this week's program featuring reporters who cover state government on a regular basis:  Sean Murphy of the Associated Press, Michael Cross of KOSU Radio, David Meyer of KCCU Radio and John Estus of The Oklahoman and NewsOK.com.  Governor Fallin's executive budget called for a 3% budget cut for "core" services, with 5-7% budget cuts for other agencies.  However, her budget also reduced the deficit with a bond issue, agency consolidation and consolidation of state information technology systems that she hoped would save about $140 million. 

As our guests told us, negotiations are ongoing about those methods of reducing the deficit and the other way to fill in the hole is not gaining traction.  That plan would use the so-called 5% money that is money over and above the 95% that can be appropriated each year.  The 5% money would be available as early as July 1, and would cut the deficit by as much as one-half.  Former state treasurer Scott Meacham estimated the 5% money would total about $245 million to only $226 million.  Another funding source being considered is about $1.2 billion in agency "revolving" funds.  These are funds dedicated for specific purposes; tapping the revolving funds would be another way to reduce the hole without raising taxes.

Other topics on our agenda were federal dollars for a health insurance exchange program, abortion, gun rights, collective bargaining, and state pension systems.  Heading into the final weeks of the session, the bills and votes will be coming fast and furiously, and this week's program sets the table for the main course that will soon be served. 

If you have any questions about the legislative session, let us hear from you.  We will be talking to legislative leaders in just a couple of weeks to get their take on this year's session. 

Until next time,

Dick Pryor

(Pictured above, left to right:  Host Dick Pryor, Sean Murphy, Michael Cross, David Meyer, and John Estus.) 

 

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Energy Update

Written by Dick Pryor on Monday May 9, 2011

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Crude oil futures and gasoline prices are soaring and it's not even summer.  While higher prices in the oil patch are good for many in Oklahoma, the ripple effect that rising prices has on individuals cannot be ignored.  Oil and gas producers and royalty owners see a benefit, but even for them that benefit is offset by the increased price for goods and services.  How high will the prices go?  How long will they last?  How do higher prices affect the economy?  These are just some of the questions posed to our guests this week on Oklahoma Forum - Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony, Oklahoma City University Economics Professor David May, and the senior writer for Devon Energy Corporation, Tony Thornton.

While rising prices encourages more drilling and the higher state gross production taxes that comes with it, there is some concern that at some point, consumers will cut back on their driving and a gasoline glut will begin to drive prices down.  Oklahoma's economy is in better shape than many states, but without reliable and widespread public transportation, most employees drive to work, and the high gasoline prices are taking a bite out of their paychecks.  Nationally, the cost of a gallon of regular unleaded is heading toward $4.00 per gallon. 

As often happens when energy prices skyrocket, there are renewed calls for the exploration of renewable non-fossil fuel.  Still, the most attractive "new" energy source is natural gas.  Boone Pickens and other Oklahoma energy leaders are pushing increased reliance on natural gas.  Bob Anthony addressed the concerns about hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" as a method of releasing natural gas from shale.  Despite efforts in other states to limit "fracking" pending further environmental study, Anthony maintained that "fracking" is a safe way to tap into America's plentiful supply of natural gas.

For more information on alternative energy and hydraulic fracturing, I recommend a couple of websites.  One for the Pickens Plan,  and the other for a site dedicated to explaining hydraulic fracturing.  The Environmental Protection Agency also has information about hydraulic fracturing.   There's also a new website in the fracking "library," called FracFocus.

Pennsylvania officials maintain that the chemical-infused water used in fracking is safe; in fact, Pennsylvania allows treated water to be released into streams.  However, an EPA study is pending, and with 60-80% of wells in the next ten years expected to require fracking, the results of that study could have a major impact on the industry. 

We don't have any answers about the high price of gasoline, but this week's program will give you a good idea of the conversations currently going on about energy production and policy.

Until next time,

Dick Pryor

(Pictured above, left to right:  Host Dick Pryor, Bob Anthony, Tony Thornton and David May)

 

 

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Taxes and Tax Policy

Written by Dick Pryor on Wednesday April 13, 2011

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It's mid-April, and time to think about taxes, but not in the traditional way.  At least on Oklahoma Forum.  While many Oklahomans are working on preparing their tax returns, our approach was to discuss the role of taxes and tax policy in state government and economic development. 

One of the most enlightening portions of the program is the comparison of Oklahoma's tax burden to other states.  According to the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, which is engaged in luring business to our state, Oklahoma's combined local and state tax burden is 41st in the nation.  That is to say that 40 states have higher tax burdens than Oklahoma.  Statistics from other organizations tell a similar story. 

In 2008, MSN ranked Oklahoma as 50th in overall tax burden.  The Tax Foundation scores Oklahoma's state and local tax burden as 37th highest, and well below the national average.  That's one of the reasons Oklahoma is climbing the charts in terms of business-friendly climate.  In 2009, The Tax Foundation rated Oklahoma 30th in its business climate index, and while that is lower than several other studies, that placed our state higher than Texas, Colorado and Missouri. The Tax Foundation scored Oklahoma 32nd in individual taxes and sales taxes, 40th in corporate taxes, 45th in gasoline taxes, and 47th in property taxes.

With those figures as a backdrop, our discussion centered on the importance of tax incentives to the economy and job creation, the trigger that will further reduce the top state income tax rate in 2012 (from 5.50% to 5.25%), the Bush tax cuts, and the state budget deficit.  There was a lot more that we didn't have time to discuss, including a proposal to eliminate the income tax altogether (OCPA supports that idea, as does former Oklahoma governor Frank Keating).  Plus, we didn't talk about gross production taxes, reviews of tax credits and incentives, property taxes (which are 4th-lowest in the nation), and the use of tax policy to influence state priorities.

It became clear by the end of the program that this needs to be just the first in a series of programs devoted to tax policy.  Our guests came from different perspectives, but there was a common thread that connected them:  that tax policy is a reflection of our priorities as a state, and that there needs to be further debate over just what those priority items should be, and how they should be ranked.  We plan to flesh that out on a future Oklahoma Forum program.  If you have a program suggestion, let us know by e-mail at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .  We would love to hear from you.  And for those of you who have let us know how much you appreciate our fact-based approach and civil discussion of important issues - thank you!

Until next time,

Dick Pryor 

Guests are (pictured above, left to right) Jonathan Small, Fiscal Policy Director for the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs; Kyle Dean, Professor of Economics at Oklahoma City University and the Director of the Meinders School of Business Economics Research and Policy Institute; and (not pictured) David Blatt, Director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute. 

 

 

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