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.
Written by Dick Pryor on Thursday April 1, 2010
Oklahoma’s legislative leaders have some heavy lifting to do in the next several weeks. The biggest item on their agenda is developing the state’s budget for the next fiscal year, beginning on July 1. House Speaker Chris Benge ® Berryhill said the state is facing a $1.2 billion shortfall, and after about $225 million in Rainy Day funds and $515 million in federal stimulus dollars are spent, that will leave a budget hole of about $500 million that must be filled.
None of the leaders on this week’s Oklahoma Forum program were eager to talk about “revenue enhancements,” although Governor Brad Henry has gone on record as saying that any budget bill must use some kinds of “enhancements” to help balance the budget. Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee admitted that discussions are underway to look at the state’s tax credits and incentives. They number around 450 and have been estimated to cost the state more than $5 billion per year. Clearly, determining whether the incentives and credits are providing an appropriate return on investment would be an important part of that discussion.
I don’t want to give any more details now (you need to watch the program!), but we did have a little post-recording chat about other legislation that each of our guests thought would be worth following the rest of the session. Speaker Benge said that for him it would be alternative energy. House Democratic Leader Danny Morgan (D) Prague said the bill that is especially important to him would prohibit texting while driving. President Pro Tempore Coffee ® Oklahoma City remains bullish on the Office of Accountability. And, Senate Democratic Leader Charlie Laster (D) Shawnee said the issue most important to him for the rest of the session is insurance reform.
So, enjoy the program and let us know what you think. And, welcome to KCCU-FM Radio at Cameron University in Lawton. They will be airing Oklahoma Forum at 6:00 p.m. each Monday night. We’re glad that listeners in southern Oklahoma and northern Texas will now be able to hear Oklahoma Forum on KCCU!
Until next time,
Written by Dick Pryor on Friday March 26, 2010
Governor Brad Henry has seen this before. In 2003, as he was entering office for his first term as governor, the state faced a revenue shortfall of more than $700 million. Henry worked with legislative leaders to find a way to balance the budget and set the stage for several years of state economic growth and increased state revenue.
Then, came the economic downturn of 2008 and 2009. As the economy lagged, state revenues shrank. Many state agencies were forced to take budget cuts at the end of the FY 2009 budget year. All agencies were hit with mandatory, across-the-board cuts from the beginning of FY 2010. Those cuts were first 5%, then bumped up to 10%. Legislative leaders and the governor worked out a fix for the 2010 budget to provide additional money for education, public safety and mental health, using federal stimulus dollars and money from the state’s Rainy Day Fund.
However, the 2011 budget is expected to shrink even more, resulting in a budget hole of anywhere from $850 million to $1.5 billion dollars. In our discussion on Oklahoma Forum, Governor Henry said the budget hole is about $1.0 billion dollars. How to fill in that hole and balance the budget is the monumental task facing Henry and legislative leaders in the remaining weeks of the legislative session.
The governor sees about $225 million available from the Rainy Day Fund, with around $515 million that can be used from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. Even with those funds added in, all agree there will be “painful cuts” to state government.
In February, Henry proposed raising about $725 million through “revenue enhancements,” such as fees and issuance of bonds. However, he cannot place a dollar figure on the size of the “revenue enhancements” that the legislature will ultimately adopt. Likewise, he cannot yet tell how much the legislature is willing to save by reducing or eliminating tax incentives and credits. Some reports indicate the state spends more than $5 billion per year on about 450 tax credits. Henry has proposed delaying some of those credits a year to help the state weather the storm, but it is too early to tell whether that option will be included in the final budget deal.
Henry told me he realizes that cuts of an additional 10-15% would be devastating to state government and the services the state provides to its citizens. He sees government services as important, and pledges to do what he can to ensure that through targeted cuts essential services can be maintained. There are signs that the Oklahoma economy is beginning to bounce back, so the final budget picture may not look as grim as many lawmakers have predicted. But, even with the end of the legislative session just about eight weeks away, it’s still too early to tell what will happen.
In addition to the budget, we also talked about increasing “anti-government” rhetoric and how he handles bills that may be unconstitutional as he decides whether to sign or veto. It’s a full program, with the state’s chief executive. Don’t miss it - beginning Sunday at 1:00 p.m.
In addition to its original airing on OETA Main, and numerous showings on OETA’s OKLA channel each week, we are glad to announce that Oklahoma Forum will be available outside of OETA, too. KCCU-FM in Lawton, providing public radio to southwestern Oklahoma and Texas, will begin airing Oklahoma Forum on Mondays at 6:00 p.m. The first program is scheduled to air on KCCU on Monday, April 5. And, beginning on April 3, ION Media in Oklahoma City, Channel 62, will begin airing Oklahoma Forum at 5:30 a.m. on Saturdays (following the original air date on OETA).
As Oklahoma Forum continues to gain viewers and popularity, remember you can still catch it on OETA and on our web site, www.oeta.tv.
Thanks for reading.
Until next time,
(Pictured above, left to right: Host Dick Pryor, Governor Brad Henry)Add a comment
Written by Dick Pryor on Monday March 1, 2010
There’s little doubt that this is a time of upheaval for the news media. Declining viewership and readership, falling revenues, and lack of trust from the public has most news organizations doing some full-on soul-searching, if not wholesale reorganization. But the news is not all bad. In fact, if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that some of the new trends in journalism actually provide hope for the news business and the democracy it serves.
Charles Self, Gaylord Chair and Professor at the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communicatons at the University of Oklahoma sees this as a time of great opportunity for journalists. Technology is expanding the ways media organizations can communicate with citizens, and has allowed those citizens to become more engaged in the communications process.
We didn’t have time to go into all the ways the media are changing, but we can provide some homework for those of you who want to know more. After watching this week’s Oklahoma Forum program, we encourage you to visit the web site of the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism to read its report on the State of the News Media 2009 and its just-issued study on Understanding the Participatory News Consumer. That report, released March 1, 2010, has some fascinating findings on how “netizens” access their news, and what they like.
Guests on this week’s program, in addition to Self are: Kelly Burley, Director of KOSU Radio; Mark Hanebutt, Professor of Journalism at the University of Central Oklahoma; and Jason Collington, Web Editor of The Tulsa World.
We are always interested in hearing from you. Let us know what you think about our news media. How do you get your news? What most interests you? Do you watch on-line, on-air, or both? Do you read newspapers, and if so, which ones? Join the conversation. That’s another new trend in journalism. Conversation. What a concept!
Until next time,
(Pictured above, left to right: Host Dick Pryor, Kelly Burley, Mark Hanebutt, Charles Self.Add a comment
Written by Dick Pryor on Friday February 19, 2010
Oklahoma has 532 school districts, and of those about 480 are considered rural. To be considered “rural,” districts must have an enrollment of fewer than 2,500 students. Of those rural districts, 400 of them have 1,000 or less. This week, we talked about the issues confronting rural schools with the superintendents of three of those school districts: Kathryn Turner of Fletcher, Roger Hill of Hobart, and Scott Parks of Howe.
A common problem for rural schools is isolation. Clearly, a huge number of Oklahoma schools find themselves isolated from urban areas and the opportunities that those urban areas provide. Scott Parks said, “when you are isolated, it’s hard to bring real experiences to your students.” Each of the superintendents believes that technology helps bridge the gap and level the playing field with urban and suburban districts. Technology enables smaller districts to offer instruction that would be impossible to provide otherwise.
In Fletcher, Turner says, they are looking at using the free video conferencing program, Skype, to allow conferences with parents who are located in theaters of war. Imagine. Not too many years ago, video conferencing was a new and costly luxury. Parental engagement is important in the progress of students, and technology is now making that possible from anywhere in the world, for free.
Roger Hill pointed out that community pride, and willingness to support school districts through bond issues as has been done recently in Hobart, is also critical to a school district’s success in educating its students.
During our program we also discussed consolidation, the effect of shifting population on rural schools, and charter schools. This program is a follow-up to one we did late last year with the superintendents of Oklahoma’s two urban districts in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. That program is available on-line on the Oklahoma Forum website. Watching them together, you will get a good picture of what is facing school districts in this year of declining revenues.
Let us know what you think, by commenting on this blog. And, be sure to follow OklahomaForum on Twitter.
Until next time,
(Pictured above, left to right: Host Dick Pryor, Kathryn Turner, Roger Hill, Scott Parks.)Add a comment
Written by Dick Pryor on Friday February 12, 2010
The term is a fairly new one: food insecurity. People who are “food insecure” don’t receive enough daily nutrition to meet their minimal health needs. And, according to information from the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, our state is the 6th worst state in the nation for food insecurity, with one in five Oklahoma children at-risk for hunger on a daily basis.
As pointed out in an outstanding 2006 report from the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture:
• Oklahoma is last in the nation in the percentage of adults who eat the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables each day;
• More than 1/3 of Oklahoma adults are overweight and 1/4 are obese;
• About 1/4 of high school students are overweight or obese;
• In 2004, Oklahoma ranked first among the states in the percentage of households with people who are hungry; and
• Oklahoma has the highest incidence of death from heart disease.
Another study reinforces those findings. “Food Hardship: A Closer Look at Hunger,” released in January by the Food Research Action Center (FRAC) indicates that Oklahoma is 8th worst in the nation in terms of food hardship, which is a lack of money to buy food that families need. And yet another study, released last year by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, ranks Oklahoma as the 6th most obese state in the nation.
These alarming statistics prompted us to do a program on food insecurity and hunger in Oklahoma with our guests: Johnny Roberts, Market Development Coordinator for the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture; Ashley Stokes, Advocacy and Public Policy Manager for the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma; and Doug Walton, Coordinator of Community Food Projects at the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture, who was also researcher and writer for the Kerr Center’s 2006 report, “Closer to Home: Healthier Food and Families in Oklahoma, A Centennial Report.”
We identified several reasons for Oklahoma’s poor showing in hunger studies. The principle reason is not a surprise: poverty. Doug Walton said there is a direct correlation between income and hunger, or put another way, economic insecurity is closely related to food insecurity. Walton said people with less income load up on cheaper foods, which tend to be higher in carbohydrates, and that leads to weight gain. Fresh fruits and vegetables and lean meat are more expensive.
“The cheapest, least expensive calories are also those that are the least nutritious,” Walton said. “The better, more healthy food items are more expensive in the market place. That limits access right there. Even if it’s available, it’s not as affordable right now to purchase fruits and vegetables as it is to purchase high sugar drinks or the processed food items that are much less nutritious.”
In addition to poor nutrition, lack of exercise is also a contributing factor to weight gain and the resulting problems that are prevalent in Oklahoma: heart disease and diabetes.
The Regional Food Bank distributed over 28.5 million pounds of food and products over most of Oklahoma in 2009; the majority of those served are seniors, children and the working poor. Ashley Stokes indicated that the need for food is increasing, while funding and other resources are dropping.
Johnny Roberts told us that the Department of Agriculture is promoting various programs, including Farm to School, to encourage greater use of local food products. One of the problems the state faces, however, is that it doesn’t produce as many different crops as it used to and the local products are not readily available, meaning that residents must rely on more agriculture products from out-of-state.
“As a whole,” Roberts says, “as far as producing enough for the state, we don’t. Traditional crops have been wheat, cow-calf operations, soybeans, some corn, and it’s a different mindset, a different economy of scale that is involved in the small farm to market type gardens and in some cases, large production. The other side is the environment. We just can’t grow the things year-round to supply that steady supply of produce fresh that folks demand.”
During the program we discussed the food problems faced in rural and urban areas, the work and recommendations of the Oklahoma Task Force on Hunger (created by State Rep. Kris Steele and State Senator Andrew Rice), community gardens, SNAP (formerly called the food stamp program), and farmers markets.
It is interesting to note that the FRAC Report breaks down food hardship by state, municipal area and Congressional district. Nationally, food hardship dropped slightly in 2009 to about 18.5% from a high of 19.5% in the fourth quarter of 2008. Oklahoma stood at 22.2% in 2009, good for 8th worst in the nation. Among metro areas, Oklahoma rated 12th and Tulsa was 23rd.
It is probably no surprise that Oklahoma’s 2nd Congressional District, comprising the eastern quarter of the state from the Red River to the Kansas line, was the worst district for food hardship, at 25.4%. That made the 2nd District the 32nd-worst in the United States. But, it is also one of the poorest districts in the nation.
Somewhat surprisingly, the second-highest rate was in the 5th Congressional District, comprised largely of Oklahoma City. The 5th had a food hardship rate of 22.3% and a national ranking of 82. The most “food secure” Congressional District in Oklahoma is the Tulsa-based 1st district, with a rate of 18.3% and a national ranking of 206.
If you have any suggestions about how to solve Oklahoma’s food insecurity, let us know (after you watch the program, of course).
Until next time,
(Pictured above, left to right: Host Dick Pryor, Ashley Stokes, Doug Walton, Johnny Roberts)Add a comment