Saturday, August 25, 2012

July 2012 Oklahoma Employment Numbers


Initial claims rose from 2,326 week ending 7/7/2012 to 2,343 the week ending 7/28/2012, or an increase of 17 new claims filed during July.

July2012 Initial Claims

Continued claims increased by 96 from 23,261 from the 6/30/2012 week to 23,357 for the week ending 7/21/2012.

July2012 Continued Claims

According to the BLS the number of unemployed persons in July decreased by 4,125 from June to 92,307. This is almost an 4% increase from June. This brings the July Unemployment Rate to 5.1% in Oklahoma. This is over 3% lower than the national rate reported as 8.3%

July2012 Unemployed


The total number of employed persons declined by 6,671 from June to July bringing the total employed to 1,718,230 in July in Oklahoma.

July2012 Employed

The labor force decreased by 10,796 persons in July to 1,810,537 from the 1,821,333 in June.

July2012 Labor Force



Labor force (Current Population Survey)The labor force includes all persons classified as employed or unemployed in accordance with the definitions contained in this glossary.

Employed persons (Current Population Survey) Persons 16 years and over in the civilian non-institutional population who, during the reference week, (a) did any work at all (at least 1 hour) as paid employees; worked in their own business, profession, or on their own farm, or worked 15 hours or more as unpaid workers in an enterprise operated by a member of the family; and (b) all those who were not working but who had jobs or businesses from which they were temporarily absent because of vacation, illness, bad weather, childcare problems, maternity or paternity leave, labor-management dispute, job training, or other family or personal reasons, whether or not they were paid for the time off or were seeking other jobs. Each employed person is counted only once, even if he or she holds more than one job. Excluded are persons whose only activity consisted of work around their own house (painting, repairing, or own home housework) or volunteer work for religious, charitable, and other organizations.

Unemployed persons (Current Population Survey) Persons aged 16 years and older who had no employment during the reference week, were available for work, except for temporary illness, and had made specific efforts to find employment sometime during the 4-week period ending with the reference week. Persons who were waiting to be recalled to a job from which they had been laid off need not have been looking for work to be classified as unemployed.

Friday, August 17, 2012

EPA’s “Sue and Settle Rulemaking” Criticized in New Report


As pointed out in yesterday’s post “Attorney General Pruitt Leads Effort to Uncover EPA’s Apparent “Sue and Settle” the EPA has devised a loophole to usurp state authority and federally impose a strict new set of emissions. The following is taken from the “EPA’s New Regulatory Front: Regional Haze and the Takeover of State Programs.”

The EPA’s Regional Haze program, established by the Clean Air Act in 1977, seeks to remedy visibility impairment at federal national parks and wilderness areas. But because the rule is an “aesthetic regulation, and not a public health standard,” Congress stressed that the states, not the federal agency, should impose regulations that govern it, says the chamber’s July 13 report titled “EPA’s New Regulatory Front: Regional Haze and the Takeover of State Programs.”

“However, EPA—with some help from its friends at special interest groups and the controversial ‘Sue and Settle’ Rulemaking process—has devised a loophole to usurp state authority and federally impose a strict new set of emissions controls that cost 10 to 20 times more than the technology the states would otherwise have used,” alleges the report authored by William Yeatman, an assistant director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the free-market think tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Here’s how it works: In five Consent Decrees negoiated with environmental groups, EPA has willingly committed itself to deadlines to act on the states’ Regional Haze strategies. On the eve of any given deadline the agency, due to the Consent Decree, determines that it cannot approve a state’s strategy to reduce haze due to alleged procedural inadequacies. Then, EPA claims that it has no choice but to impose its preferred controls through a Federal Implementation Plan (FIP) in order to comply with the
Consent Decree.

Already, EPA has used this pretextual rationale to impose almost $375 million in annual costs on six coal-fired power plants in New Mexico, Oklahoma,and North Dakota. It has similarly proposed $24 million in annual costs on a coal-fired power plant in Nebraska. Unfortunately, the agency is only getting started. In the near term, EPA is poised to act in Wyoming, Minnesota, Arizona, Utah, and Arkansas. Its real goal is to impose another costly regulation on electric utilities and force them to shut down their coal-fired generating units. Ultimately, all states could be subject to EPA’s Regional Haze power grab.

In spite of the legal and regulatory history, which demonstrates that Congress wants states to call the shots on Regional Haze, EPA is now implementing a program that tramples over the states’ authority. EPA’s approach to Regional Haze appears to be less about cleaning up haze and more about furthering EPA’s agenda to shut down coal-fired power plants.

The heart of the matter is that the states, after years of deliberation, selected specific emissions controls to comply with the Regional Haze regulation. In each of these states, EPA prefers different, more stringent, and more costly controls. And EPA is determined to force the states to implement these more costly controls over any and all objections.The problem is that the law provides primacy for the states—not EPA—to address regional haze within the states’ borders.

Enter Sue and Settle. Beginning in 2009, a group of nonprofit environmental advocacy organizations—Sierra Club, WildEarth Guardians,Environmental Defense Fund, National Parks Conservation Association, Montana Environmental Information Center, Grand Canyon Trust, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Our Children’s Earth Foundation, Plains Justice, and Powder River Basin Resource Council—filed lawsuits against EPA alleging that the agency had failed to perform its nondiscretionary duty to act on state submissions
for regional haze. Rather than defend these cases, EPA simply chose to settle. In five Consent Decrees negotiated with environmental groups—and, importantly, without notice to the states that would be affected—EPA agreed to commit itself to various deadlines to act on all states’ visibility improvement plans.

What EPA did next is Washington politics at its worst.On the eve of the deadlines that EPA had set for itself in the Consent Decrees, the agency found that it could not approve the states’ submissions due to alleged procedural problems, such as inadequate cost estimates. The Consent Decree deadlines do not afford states sufficient time to correct the alleged procedural inadequacies.

By second-guessing these states’ cost-effectiveness calculations, EPA in the ordinary course could forestall the approval of a state’s Regional Haze implementation plan,but it could not on its own impose its preferred emissions controls. But by combining this tactic of delaying approval of the state plans with Sue and Settle and a court-imposed deadline to act, EPA has manufactured a loophole to provide itself with the ability to reach into the state haze decision making process and supplant the state as decision maker. EPA has, effectively, engineered a way to get around the protections of state primacy built into the Regional Haze statute by Congress.

The Obama administration has made no secret that it seeks to use regulations to put the coal industry out of business. The strategy is simple: Impose the most burdensome controls on all coal-fired power plants regardless of whether or not they are necessary. While campaigning for the presidency in January 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama told the editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle that “If someone wants to build a new coal-fired power plant they can, but it will bankrupt them because they will be charged a huge sum for all the greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.”

It appears the EPA has found a means to do just that and - as this administration is apt to point out- usurp the constitution to get their way.

Witchita Mtns OK

The Clean Air Act explicitly directs states to weigh costs against visibility benefits when they decide how to implement the Regional Haze program. Accordingly, Oklahoma declined to impose the most expensive sulfur dioxide controls on six power plants subject to Regional Haze requirements, because the capital costs—almost $1.8 billion—were deemed unreasonable in light of the imperceptible benefits (see the photo comparison above). Instead, Oklahoma proposed an alternative plan that would achieve even
greater emissions reductions by fuel switching from coal to natural gas.

EPA, however, refused to approve Oklahoma’s Regional Haze plan, because the agency objected to the state’s cost-effectiveness analysis. On the basis of alternative cost estimates prepared by a paid consultant who routinely serves as a witness for the very same environmental groups that sued to obtain the Regional Haze Consent Decrees and who had not visited the power plants at issue, EPA concluded that the most stringent sulfur dioxide controls were cost-effective and imposed them on December 28, 2011.

According to Oklahoma Gas & Electric, EPA’s imposed rule would “likely trigger the largest customer rate increase in OG&E’s history, while the resulting impact on regional haze would be practically imperceptible.”

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Attorney General Pruitt Leads Effort to Uncover EPA’s Apparent “Sue and Settle” Strategy


Attorney General Scott Pruitt and 12 other attorneys general sent a federal records request Friday to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, requesting access to documents related to the agency’s apparent new “sue and settle” strategy with environmental groups.

The request, sent under the Freedom of Information Act, is in response to multiple lawsuits filed by environmental organizations against the federal government during the past three years. In some instances, the EPA entered a consent decree the same day the lawsuit was filed, demonstrating prior knowledge. The agreements have led to new rules and regulations for states without allowing attorneys general to enter the process to defend the interest of states, businesses and consumers.

“This appears to be a blatant strategy by the EPA to go around the process and bend the rules to create environmental regulations that have failed in Congress,” Pruitt said. “We are investigating the pervasiveness of this tactic, and have requested documents to help in that effort. If the EPA is making backdoor deals with environmental groups to push their agenda on the American people while bypassing the states and Congress, we need to know.”
The FOIA letter requests electronic and print documents that involve several organizations, including Greenpeace, Defenders of Wildlife, WildEarth Guardians, Sierra Club and the AFL-CIO.

Out of the 45 settlements made public, the EPA has paid nearly $1 million in attorneys’ fees to the environmental groups, while also committing to develop sweeping new regulations. One EPA consent decree led to the EPA’s costliest regulation ever – the Mercury Air Toxics Standards (MATS).

“Not only does EPA’s action harm and jeopardize the States’ role as a partner with EPA, but it harms the interests of the citizens of the Requesting States,” the attorneys general wrote in the request letter.

“Our citizens rely on and expect the States to implement federal environmental law. Often, these implementation efforts require the States to design plans to meet the individual circumstances of the State, while protecting and advancing the environmental goals and requirements of federal environmental law. When EPA coordinates with non-governmental organizations regarding how federal environmental law should be applied and implemented in an individual State and excludes the State from that effort, the State and its citizens are harmed.”

Attorneys general said a written justification from the EPA may help avoid litigation.

Once the documents are received, the requesting states will analyze the data and produce a report as part of the ongoing review of the EPA’s operations. The report will be disseminated to each state as well as to the news media and Congress as a component of the AGs’ active involvement in state efforts to address environmental issues.

For a copy of the request, go online to

Three of Four Major Revenue Sources Show Big Gains


cashOklahoma kicked off Fiscal Year 2013 with positive revenue growth in July, as three of the four major revenue sources showed substantial gains, state Finance Secretary Preston L. Doerflinger announced Tuesday.

"Weakness in energy prices, plus rebates, led to a reduction in the rate of growth in total collections, but we made up for that in other areas as consumer confidence remained high," Doerflinger said. "That helped total receipts to beat the official estimate by more than 5 percent."

Sales tax collections to the General Revenue Fund outstripped last year's receipts by more than 9 percent, while motor vehicle tax receipts, reflecting car and truck sales, were up more than 19 percent. Combined individual and corporate income taxes climbed more than 20 percent.

"Our recovery from the Great Recession over the past two years was fueled by a boom in the oil patch, created by enhanced drilling techniques and attractive prices for oil and liquid forms of natural gas," Doerflinger said. "So we closely monitor energy prices and are hopeful they will continue their recent improvement. Of course, we are talking about commodities which can be volatile and subject to unpredictable national and international forces.

"However, I’ve been amazed so far by the resiliency of the Oklahoma economy, in midst of the ups and downs of some areas. Our July General Revenue Fund collections provide more evidence that our recovery from the recession has been more broad-based than some may think."

Doerflinger cited Oklahoma's unemployment rate of 4.7 percent, fourth lowest in the country, and a manufacturing growth rate of 5 percent, more than double the national rate of 1.9 percent.

"We have had a net gain of almost 41,000 jobs in the last 12 months, an indication that Governor Fallin's policies are succeeding in creating a better climate for job-creating businesses to prosper," the finance secretary said.

Governor Mary Fallin said, "With the fourth-lowest unemployment rate in the nation and third-best rate of job growth, the Oklahoma economy remains strong and resilient. With three of the four major revenue sources showing significant gains over last year, it's clear the state is moving in the right direction. Looking ahead to next year, we can continue to build that forward momentum by focusing on the kind of pro-business, pro-growth policies that will attract new jobs and more investment to Oklahoma."

Doerflinger said he continues to be pleased with "the fantastic growth in sales taxes. This is a leading indicator of economic well being. In Fiscal Year 2012, sales tax growth averaged 9.7 percent and we're off to a good start in FY-13.

"While it is unrealistic to expect such a hefty growth rate to continue indefinitely, our economic advances over the past two years led to restoring our state savings account to a near record level," he said. "We’ve gotten our fiscal house in order to help deal with any national events that could drag down our economy."

Doerflinger said he and his team are most concerned at the present time with political events in Washington. D.C. and the impact they may have on Oklahoma's economy and the state budget. "I’m talking growing pessimism that Congress will be unable to address the so-called 'fiscal cliff,' which would trigger trillions of dollars in budget cuts and tax increases."

Oklahoma's constitutional Rainy Day Fund was drained from $596.6 million to $2.02 during the recession, but is back up to $556 million after a record $306.8 million deposit in July.

In July, total collections for the General Revenue Fund were $389.1 million, up $6.4 million and 1.7 percent from a year ago. The amount collected for the month was $20 million and 5.4 percent above the estimate.

Major tax categories in July contributed the following amounts to the General Revenue Fund:

Income taxes – The total collected from individual and corporate income taxes in the month of July was $160.9 million for the FY-2013 General Revenue Fund, which was $27.6 million or 20.7 percent more than prior year collections and $39.1 million or 32.1 percent above the estimate.
Individual income tax receipts of $157.4 million were $27.1 million and 20.8 percent above the prior year and $40.3 million or 34.5 percent above the estimate.
Corporate tax collections contributed $3.6 million to the General Revenue Fund for the month, which was $530,000 or 17.5 percent above July 2012 collections and $1.3 million or 26.2 percent below the estimate.

Sales tax – Sales tax collections in July produced $164.5 million for General Revenue Fund, which was $13.8 million or 9.1 percent more than the prior year and $13.8 million or 9.1 percent above the estimate.

Gross production tax – Gross production tax collections from natural gas and oil in July made no contribution to the General Revenue Fund. Refunds and other required distributions absorbed collections from natural gas; and, as required by statute, the first Gross Production Oil Tax collections were distributed to specified funds – primarily for education

Motor vehicle taxes – This tax source produced $17.2 million from July collections, which was $2.7 million or 19.1 percent above the prior year and $504,610 or 3 percent above the estimate.

Other Revenue – Other revenue produced $46.6 million in July. This amount was $3.1 million or 6.2 percent below the prior year and $3.4 million or 6.8 percent below the estimate.

On The November 2012 Ballot – Governor and Pardon and Parole Board


State Question 762 amends Section 10 of Article 6 of the Oklahoma Constitution. It changes current law, decreasing the power and authority of the Governor by removing the Governor from the parole process for persons convicted of certain offenses defined as nonviolent offenses. It enlarges the power and authority of the Pardon and Parole Board by authorizing that Board, in place of the Governor, to grant parole to persons convicted of certain offenses defined as nonviolent offenses.

The Legislature defines what offenses are nonviolent offenses and the Legislature may change that definition.

The measure authorizes the Pardon and Parole Board to recommend to the Governor, but not to itself grant, parole for persons convicted of certain offenses, specifically those offenses identified by law as crimes for which persons are required to serve not less than eighty-five percent of their sentence prior to being considered for parole and those designated by the Legislature as exceptions to nonviolent offenses. For those offenses for which persons are required to serve a minimum mandatory period of confinement prior to being eligible to be considered for parole, the Pardon and Parole Board may not recommend parole until that period of confinement has been served.

On The November 2012 Ballot – Oklahoma Public Welfare Commission Repeal


HJR 1092 sends to a vote of the people a proposed constitutional amendment that would repeal Sections 2, 3 and 4 of Article 25 of the State Constitution that created the Oklahoma Public Welfare Commission and the Director of Public Welfare position. The measure would authorize the Legislature to create and direct by law the administration of the Department of Human Services. In addition, the measure grants the Legislature the authority to create and direct by law the administration of a department(s) to provide for public welfare for Oklahomans.

This is State Question 765.

On The November 2012 Ballot – Intangible Tax Exemption


State Question 766 exempts certain intangible personal property from property tax. This measure would exempt all intangible personal property from property tax. No person, family or business would pay a tax on intangible property. The change would apply to all tax years beginning on and after January 1, 2013.

The law defined intangible property as cash on hand, deposits, stocks and bonds and the like.

Tax Commission analysis date May 22, 2012, indicates the resolution amends Section 6A of Article X of the Oklahoma Constitution to provide that, beginning January 1, 2013, intangible personal property will not be subject to ad valorem taxation or to any other tax in-lieu of ad valorem taxation.

The estimated revenue impact of removing intangibles from central/unit valued companies is a $50,139,999 loss of ad valorem revenue to local taxing jurisdictions.

On The November 2012 Ballot – Anti-Discrimination Law

One of the items Oklahoma voters will be voting on November 6th is State Question 759. Senate Joint Resolution 15, by state Sen. Rob Johnson and Osborn, submits a proposed constitutional amendment to a vote of the people. The proposed amendment declares, “The state shall not grant preferential treatment to, or discriminate against, any individual or group on the basis of race, color, sex, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.”

The resolution further states “The remedies available for violations of this section shall be the same, regardless of the injured party’s race, color, sex, ethnicity or national origin, as are otherwise available for violations of the antidiscrimination laws of this state.”

Gender and race discrimination would be allowed if affirmative action is needed to keep or obtain federal funds.

"This proposed constitutional amendment makes clear that all men are created equal and should be treated as such by their government,” said state Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Tuttle. “If voters approve this constitutional amendment, state government will not be allowed to discriminate against Oklahoma citizens based on race or gender – period.”

“Government employment and contracting decisions should be based on merit alone,” Osborn said. “If we are going to guarantee all citizens have the opportunity to compete, government must treat them all equally. I believe Oklahoma citizens will overwhelmingly approve this constitutional amendment at the polls and take a stand for equality.”