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 December 17, 2009
It’s our annual look at the best and worst of the year and fearless predictions about the year ahead. Always fun, always unpredictable, this program deviates from our usual in-depth discussion of issues that affect the state and its people.
This year, our guests are: Kathryn Jenson White, OU Professor of Journalism; Keith Gaddie, OU Professor of Political Science; Ron Williams, co-host of the Jack and Ron Show on KISS-FM in Oklahoma City; and from Tulsa, Joe Kelley, host of the morning news on News Talk Radio KRMG.
We cover stories as diverse as health care, the state budget crisis and balloon boy. Who are the top newsmakers of the year? President Obama…Sarah Palin…Tom Coburn…Michael Jackson…Tiger Woods…or somebody else? What will the big stories be in 2010, and who will be the big winners and losers? Plus, a little Hometown News. So check it out and enjoy the new year and the new decade, as we say out with 2009 and ring in 2010 with Oklahoma Forum’s Year-End Show. Happy New Year!
Until next time (in 2010),
(Pictured above, left to right: Host Dick Pryor, Kathryn Jenson White, Keith Gaddie, Ron Williams. Not pictured: Joe Kelley.)Add a comment
Written by Dick Pryor on Friday December 11, 2009
This week’s program, the State Budget Crisis, Pt. 2, features an interview with Howard Hendrick, Director of the Department of Human Services, and Justin Jones, Director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.
Both directors told me their agencies are being pushed to the breaking point by the reduction in state revenues. In part, because each agency is growing. DOC keeps adding inmates, while the money for staffing and training is shrinking. In the current economic climate, the need for DHS assistance is increasing, yet money is not available to provide the necessary services. And, those who need help the most are the ones losing out.
While DOC receives little federal funding, that is not the case with DHS. Hendrick told me that in evaluating budget cuts, he has to look at what a reduction in state dollars will mean for federal matching funds. That’s one of the under-appreciated aspects of the current funding crisis: some agencies are seeing reductions in state and federal dollars, creating a double-whammy for those agencies.
State agencies will get an indication of where the funding situation stands on December 21 when the State Board of Equalization meets to certify funds available for appropriation next year. It’s nervous time for state-funded organizations, as they fear a further reduction in monthly allotments.
Until next time,
(Pictured above, left to right: Host Dick Pryor, Howard Hendrick, and Justin Jones)Add a comment
Written by Dick Pryor on Friday December 4, 2009
This week on Oklahoma Forum we took a slightly different approach. This week’s program is the first of a two parter, each one focusing on the state’s deepening budget crisis. Our guests this week are Dr. Bob Blackburn, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Historical Society; Hardy Watkins, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department; and Terry Jenks, Director of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board.
Each of our guests made the decision to furlough their workers to make ends meet, along with other belt-tightening. Each describes their efforts to maintain adequate services while state revenues, and appropriations, are shrinking.
Terry Jenks made the point that smaller agencies, such as his, face especially difficult times when funding drops. The Pardon and Parole Board had 41 employees just a few years ago, and that number is now down to 35. He says that smaller agencies that don’t collect fees for services (the Pardon and Parole Board receives all of its funding from state appropriations) or that don’t have other methods to generate operating dollars are hard-pressed to cut expenses. That’s because most of the agency’s budget, in Jenks’ case 93%, is devoted to employee salaries and benefits. That leaves a very small amount of wiggle room, without making employees give wages back.
We learned this week from State Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee that any special session to address the revenue shortfall and resulting budget crisis will come in January, after the December 21 meeting of the State Board of Equalization, the board that certifies the amount of funds the legislature will have available to appropriate.
Jenks says his employees began taking one furlough day per month in August, and if further cuts are needed he will be forced to increase that to 2 furlough days per month. Such is the dilemma facing managers and directors of state-funded services.
This is a compelling conversation, which we will follow next week with three more agency directors: Howard Hendrick of the Department of Human Services, Terri White of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, and Justin Jones of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.
I invite you to watch, and let us know if you have any solutions to the state’s budget crisis.
Until next time,
(Pictured above, left to right: Host Dick Pryor, Bob Blackburn, Terry Jenks, Hardy Watkins)Add a comment
Written by Dick Pryor on Friday November 20, 2009
News comes today that Oklahoma’s unemployment rate is now up to 7.1%. That’s another sign of the economic downturn in Oklahoma. And, it appears to be a foregone conclusion that Oklahoma will have a special session to address its growing revenue shortfall. The Senate Republican caucus wants the special session in December (and many legislators are urging a special session sooner, rather than later. Governor Henry proposes a January special session, after the Board of Equalization meets on Dec. 21 to certify funds available for appropriation in Fiscal Year 2011.
Regardless of whether sales increase during the holiday shopping season, Oklahoma is likely to be facing a billion dollar shortfall. While other states are worse (California has a $21 B shortfall), that’s a big chunk out of a $7 B budget like Oklahoma’s. So, it’s with an increased sense of urgency that our guests came together to discuss the Oklahoma economy and the outlook for 2010. The program featured Dr. Robert Dauffenbach, Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Programs, and Director of the Center for Economics and Management Research at the University of Oklahoma; Dr. David May, Professor of Economics and Chair of the Economics and Finance Department at Oklahoma City University; and David Blatt, Director of Policy for the Tulsa-based Oklahoma Policy Institute.
Some nuggests from the program: Oklahoma’s economy is increasingly dependent on natural gas, and the price needs to move to $6 to give the state a financial boost; an increase in property taxes could be a good idea to provide more funding for education (school are currently hit with a 7.1% budget cut), but it is politically unpopular; the federal economic stimulus is only about 20% complete, and more federal stimulus dollars would help prevent a deepening and lengthening recession, but concerns over budget deficits will probably prevent another stimulus from happening; and people will keep hurting for some time, especially those who are financially insecure to start with.
Take a look and let us know what you suggest to get Oklahoma’s economy moving again. Thanks for watching.
Until next time,
(Pictured above, left to right: Host Dick Pryor, Robert Dauffenbach and David May.)Add a comment
Written by Dick Pryor on Friday November 13, 2009
Details continue to come out about the deadly shooting rampage at Ft. Hood that resulted in the deaths of 13 people. The accused gunman, Major Nidal Hasan, has been charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and could face the death penalty if convicted in a military court-martial. Twenty-nine people were wounded in the attack. Nadal is alive, and talking, although he may be permanently paralyzed. And while we don’t yet know his motivation for the senseless attacks, the Ft. Hood tragedy provides a solemn opportunity to discuss the stresses faced today by active military and veterans.
According to the Veterans Administration, about 131,000 of the nation’s 24 million veterans are homeless today - many suffering from depression. While that number is down significantly from the 195,000 homeless vets reported six years ago, it is still a regrettably large number. It is alarming to note that veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom) are becoming homeless faster than other veterans, often ending up homeless within 18 months of their return stateside. Compare this to the 5-10 years it took Vietnam veterans to readjust to society, and you can see why government officials fear that the number of homeless vets could be climbing another 10-15% during the recession. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 18% of veterans who left the military in the past one to three years are unemployed, much higher than the national average of 10.2% unemployed.
Approximately two million troops have fought in recent wars, with tens of thousands injured and hundreds of thousands enrolled in the VA’s health care system. A RAND Corp. study indicates that there could be more than 600,000 service members with traumatic brain injuries and mental health issues. The VA estimates that one in three veterans have been diagnosed with mental health issues and 18% have been diagnosed with depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Among those suffering from mental health issues and traumatic brain injuries isolation, domestic violence and substance abuse are major concerns.
This week’s guests on Oklahoma Forum deal with these veteran’s health and transition issues on a daily basis. Edwina Luker is OEFOIF Program Manager for the VA Medical Center and Lamar Wilson is Assistant Transition Advisor for the Oklahoma Military Department. They discussed the difficulties that today’s veterans face as they demobilize and transition back into civilian society. They say it is much harder to do than many people realize, and that makes the problems even more acute.
Fortunately, there have been some recent changes that will improve veterans benefits and better facilitate their access to assistance. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has announced a new initiative to end homelessness among veterans within five years. That’s a lofty goal, but the VA has added $400 million to its current anti-homelessness efforts, raising the total amount to be spent on the program this year to $3.2 billion.
Defense secretary Robert Gates says the budget for mental health and traumatic brain injuries has been doubled to almost $1.2 billion from last year. The Military Support Program is helping victims of the Ft. Hood shootings and other veterans who need transitional behavioral health services. The new Post 9/11 GI Bill was signed into law in October by President Obama, providing increased educational assistance to veterans and their beneficiaries. And, another new law, the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act, was signed on October 22. It is being applauded by veterans groups because it provides funding for VA health care a year in advance.
Plus, the Defense Department is to begin paying retroactive compensation to troops who were prevented from leaving the military under the stop-loss program. About 185,000 troops who were not allowed to retire or be discharged since 2001 will be receiving the $500 per month additional payment for each month served under stop-loss. Secretary of Defense Gates wants to speed up the process to get benefits to veterans, and plans to eliminate the controversial stop-loss program by 2011.
This week’s Oklahoma Forum program, “Wounded Warriors,” will debut at 1:00 pm on Sunday, November 15 on OETA Main, and will also be available online and at various times on OETA OKLA. We hope the program will be helpful to active duty military and veterans (and their families) and will provide sobering insight into the struggles veterans face to the members of Oklahoma’s civilian population. This link to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)Oklahoma provides much additional information about veterans issues. Click HERE to see the program online on the Oklahoma Forum web site.
Until next time,
(Pictured above, left to right: Host Dick Pryor, Edwina Luker, Lamar Wilson)Add a comment