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 Friday February 5, 2010
Now that the second regular session of the 52nd Legislature has begun, we brought together four of the reporters who are following the activities at the state Capitol to give their takes on the first week of the session. The budget, as you would expect, dominated the conversation.
Governor Henry delivered his final State of the State address on Monday, and shortly afterward distributed his Executive Budget for the 2011 fiscal year. He called for some agency consolidation, a move that would affect 16 state agencies. He also urged revenue enhancements, such as charging sales tax on out-of-state telephone and Internet sales. He expects that to bring in about $95 million, if enacted. The governor also plans to use most of the available money in the Rainy Day Fund, draining it down to about $43 million.
There already is disagreement with legislative leaders about the extent of the use of the Rainy Day Fund. Speaker of the House Chris Benge and Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn want to spend considerably less than that and use federal stimulus dollars to fill in the gap. It’s an issue that will be debated for some time. Rather than tell you more, I suggest you catch the show, featuring our guests: Shawn Ashley of eCapitol, Michael McNutt of The Oklahoman and NewsOK, David Meyer of KCCU Radio in Lawton, and Michael Cross of KOSU in Stillwater.
Enjoy the show!
Until next time,
(Pictured above, left to right: Host Dick Pryor, Shawn Ashley, Michael McNutt, David Meyer, Michael Cross.)Add a comment
Written by Dick Pryor on Friday January 29, 2010
Oklahoma’s legislature returns to the state capitol on Monday, February 1 to begin the 2010 legislative session. The state’s budget crisis will be the dominant issue of the session, as state leaders struggle to fill a budget hole of more than $700 million in the current fiscal year and an expected revenue shortfall of more than $900 million for FY 2010-11.
All agencies are concerned about the shortfall and the resulting cuts. This week’s guests, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Commissioner Terri White and Office of Juvenile Affairs Executive Director Gene Christian, are concerned about reduction in services and the increased expenses involved in cost-cutting. Such is the conundrum they face, and discuss on the program.
White has had to cut about $7.5 million from her agency’s budget, which has resulted in furloughs of senior staff, reduction in private contracts, loss of about 100 substance abuse beds (with a waiting list of 600-900 for in-patient treatment) and has laid off more than 50 employees from facilities in Norman and Tahlequah. She says as the number of direct care providers is reduced, patients not receiving treatment will stress the juvenile and adult corrections systems.
“When we don’t serve folks, they end up in more expensive systems, whether it’s the juvenile corrections system, whether it’s the adult corrections system, whether kids wind up in foster care, because their parents are neglectful because of their addictions,” said White. “So, the state ends up paying more tax dollars in the end and those folks don’t get help. Our waiting lists go up and emergency room use is increased, and law enforcement sees a huge demand on its services.”
Christian is concerned with the potential increase in juvenile offenders. He said the number of juveniles in the Oklahoma system has actually been going down since peaking in the 1990’s due to the success of intervention programs implemented by the Department of Human Services and Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services. However, that slight decrease nationally has been accompanies by an increase in more violent crimes attributed to the influence of gangs.
Christian said prevention dollars are most cost-effective, because it costs a lot less to prevent crime than it does to punish it. It costs from $200 to $250 per secure bed per day to house a juvenile in the Oklahoma system, according to Christian. White said mental health costs run only $15-25 per day in community settings with great outcomes. However, due to the economic downturn, there is a rise in suicides, substance abuse, stress on families and students dropping out of school (some of whom are ripe for recruitment into gangs). So, the state’s economic woes create a vicious cycle - what White called a “triple-whammy": increased demand for mental health and substance abuse services, fewer services available and increased stress on communities due to the loss of workers from the system (because of job losses).
White, who is also Oklahoma’s Secretary of Health, proudly pointed out that Oklahoma has improved its mental health delivery system, so much so that Oklahoma scored a “B” grade in the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 2009 Grading the States report. White said Oklahoma moved from a “D” to a “B” in a span of three years, and was one of only 6 states to score a “B.” Lack of funding, she said, prevented Oklahoma from reaching the grade of “A.”
Another area that needs shoring up is the number of youth treated for mental health and substance abuse issues. White said Oklahoma serves only about a third of the people who need such services in Oklahoma, and less than 10% of youth. And, White said the situation is worse in rural areas than in the cities “as the door (to access to treatment) keeps getting narrower and narrower.”
The Office of Juvenile Affairs is facing its own crunch. It has cut about $7 million from its budget by reducing rates paid to private service providers and furloughing senior staff (beginning last October). Christian is now looking at furloughs of direct care staff and a further reduction in the number of beds. He said the state’s juvenile corrections system had about 1,000 secure beds in 2000, but has fewer than 300 just ten years later. That problem is likely to get worse before it gets better, since he is having to shut down some of the cottages at the L.E. Rader Center in Sand Springs, which is the state’s only maximum security lockup for juveniles. That will require, Christian said, the need to transfer youth to another facility or find private placement.
As you’ll see from the program, these two agencies work together to reduce Oklahoma’s reliance on a more costly corrections system which also needs additional funding (the budget agreement reached last week by Governor Brad Henry, Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee and Speaker of the House Chris Benge will provide a supplemental appropriation of $7.2 million to the Department of Corrections). It’s a good, substantive discussion that helps set the stage for the legislative session which begins with Governor Henry’s State of the State address on Monday.
Until next time,
(Pictured above, left to right: Host Dick Pryor, Terri White, Gene Christian)Add a comment
Written by Dick Pryor on Friday January 22, 2010
Fresh off his visit to the climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, Oklahoma’s senior U.S. Senator James Inhofe paid a visit to Oklahoma Forum. We discussed federal cap and trade legislation (definitely dead in Congress, according to Sen. Inhofe), the purpose of his short trip to Copenhagen, health care reform and the future of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, which houses suspected terrorists.
It had been some time since I had interviewed Senator Inhofe, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but he did not disappoint. He is steadfast and passionate about his policy positions, and doesn’t mind challenging the premise of a question (which makes for a lively interview). Clearly, he has his detractors, but they disparage him at their own risk. He is a proven vote-getter, a savvy politician (he predicted the victory of Scott Brown in the Massachusetts U.S. Senate race off-camera), and has clearly done his homework on the issues he resolutely champions.
Senator Inhofe doesn’t miss many opportunities to tweak the mainstream media and pointed out that despite numerous stories that he was not especially well-received by the international press while in Copenhagen (which I cited during the interview), about a hundred microphones were in front of him as he gave his position on global warming and cap and trade in Copenhagen. As evidence, he pointed to the above photo from his Senate website.
Senator Inhofe also discussed his views on the future of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility (he does not want it closed and believes the suspected terrorists housed there should not be moved to the United States or tried here), the war strategy in Afghanistan and health care reform. He thinks that if Republicans are able to defeat President Obama’s agenda it will give them a political bump in 2010 - comments similar to those he made on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show last summer (July 23, 2009) in which he said, “We can stall it. And that’s going to be a huge gain for those of us who want to turn this thing over in the 2010 election.” Senator Inhofe thinks that Republicans will regain control of both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives in the elections of 2010.
It’s an interesting program, and I hope you will watch Sunday at 1:00 p.m.
Until next time,
Written by Dick Pryor on Friday January 15, 2010
Glen Johnson knows something about how state government works. The Chancellor of the State Regents for Higher Education served in the legislature from 1982-1996 and was Speaker of the House from 1990-96. Since leaving the House, Johnson has served as director of public policy and professor of law at the University of Oklahoma College of Law and as President of Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, before becoming Chancellor three years ago this month.
So, when Johnson is concerned about the 2010 legislative session and what the economic downturn is likely to do to the state, he speaks from experience. Johnson expects this year’s session, which begins with the State of the State address on February 1, to be the toughest in many years.
All state agencies, including Higher Ed, are having to cut their budgets by at least 10%. Johnson says colleges and universities can’t do that much longer without affecting the quality of educational product. He proudly points out that the institutions in the higher ed system have saved more than $73 million in the last two years, and actually froze tuition last year. However, that was because of federal stimulus money, which allowed the governor and legislature to provide enough money for operations without increasing tuition. There are no assurances tuition won’t go up this year.
In fact, Higher Ed is asking for supplemental funding for the rest of the fiscal year of $35.8 million and has requested an additional $26 million in operational funding in the budget request for the 2011 fiscal year. Johnson says colleges and universities have made ends meet by instituting employee furloughs and hiring freezes, eliminating or delaying purchasing of equipment, early retirement options, and energy conservation.
The problem is that enrollments are going up - 10% higher in the last two years, according to Johnson. With growing enrollments comes the need for more faculty and classrooms. While the goal, he says, is to graduate more students, something is going to have to give unless additional funding is found. Johnson says colleges and universities are working to provide students with the skills needed in the business world. Research indicates that every dollar spent on education results in an additional $5.15 in the state’s economy. So, Johnson argues, higher education is essential to the state’s success. Plus, a national report calls public higher education in Oklahoma the 7th best value in the nation.
Johnson just has to make that case to the legislature and governor, and hope for the best. He lays out the state of higher education and how he plans to move the system forward, this week on Oklahoma Forum.
Until next time,
Written by Dick Pryor on Sunday January 10, 2010
Honestly, the news out of Oklahoma hasn’t been very good the last few months, but there is some good news to report, and we talk about this week on Oklahoma Forum. Oklahoma’s Early Childhood Education program is rated number one in the nation, for the sixth year in a row!
The architect of Oklahoma’s program was recently honored by Oklahoma Today magazine as Oklahoman of the Year for 2009, Dr. Ramona Paul. For background on the program and Dr. Paul’s selection, I recommend you grab a copy of January/February, 2010 issue of Oklahoma Today. It describes how Dr. Paul was tasked by former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Leslie Fisher to develop an educational program for four-year-olds. She did, and it has become the envy of the nation.
Oklahoma governors and legislators have been supportive of the program ever since, and under the direction of State Superintendent Sandy Garrett the program has grown and flourished over the last twenty years. Full funding was provided in 1998 and additional money for full-day kindergarten was signed into law in 2003.
Be sure and watch the show, and catch it on-line on the Oklahoma Forum web site.
Until next time,