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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers

November 19, 2018

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

The Norman Transcript. Nov. 18, 2018.

— Pattern emerging, but no clear plan from Gallogly

Another round of firings at the University of Oklahoma has come and gone, and the OU community remains without a focused plan from its president, James Gallogly.

There are some principles, derived from both things Gallogly has said and what he’s done previously working in the private sector, that are obvious. It’s clear he wants to cut OU’s spending. That, with the plan to freeze tuition and increase faculty salaries, makes it clear that these cuts could be extensive, depending on the amount of grant funding and private donations Gallogly’s administration is able to bring in.

He’s expressed other plans: an expansion of OU-Tulsa and more resources for OU Medical Center in Oklahoma City.

But what has OU staff and faculty concerned is the uncertainty about future staff cuts. At the beginning of the month, Gallogly’s office announced that 50 staff members had been fired, most of them “landscapers.” What was not included in the press release concerning the firings was that the president had continued to deplete the vice president ranks, as Associate VP for Alumni and Development JP Audas and VP for University Development Tripp Hill also lost their jobs. That same day, Senior Associate VP for University Development Paul Massad retired after 58 years at OU.

Uncertainty and fear is not something you want your employees walking around each day with. In order to accomplish what he and the board of regents wants him to accomplish, Gallogly can’t just fire people and cut programs. An organization as large as OU can always run more efficiently and effectively, but a university isn’t a business that can be torn down to maximize profit. The OU community deserves a clear plan to enact an inspirational vision that’s about more than dollar signs.

Since July, Gallogly has been tearing down. And, in some ways, that could be what needed to happen. There are realities about higher education and state funding that universities across the country need to come to grips with.

But at what point will he start building up?

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Tulsa World. Nov. 19, 2018.

— QuikTrips to feature armed employees

QuikTrip, Tulsa’s homegrown convenience store chain, has announced it will soon be deploying armed employees at some of its local stores to deter crime.

Sadly, the move is a necessary response to the high volume of crime reported at QuikTrip locations, the company says.

Previously, the chain has contracted with private security but now is adding full-time, well-marked, fully trained and armed employees to make it clear that QuikTrip stores are the wrong place to commit a crime.

The company experimented with the plan at Wichita stores in recent months and found that employees and customers like it, and, most important, security and crime-related incidents plummet.

QuikTrip has always put a high value on security. The chain’s model of well-lit, video-monitored stores with strong policies designed to create a clean, safe environment was a game-changer in the convenience store business. It altered public perceptions and expectations of convenience stores.

Sadly, where the people go, the bad guys follow, and the hooligans are becoming more brazen. The old solutions aren’t enough anymore. QuikTrip had to up the ante to maintain its standards.

Standards are key to the success of the program, which is one of the strongest reasons we’re willing to stand beside QuikTrip as it moves forward.

Frankly, we have qualms about responding to crime with more guns. That’s not a quick, easy panacea, and, done wrong, it can create more problems than it solves.

But QuikTrip does things right. The company isn’t interested in sticking just anybody in a store with a six-shooter. It’s looking for completely trained, well-paid security personnel who buy into the QuikTrip culture.

Seen in that context, we feel safe about QuikTrip’s decision to use armed employees. We think it will have its intended effect: Deterring crime or, at the very least, displacing it away from everyone’s favorite store.

QuikTrip’s reputation — a clean, well-lit place with quality, affordable merchandise — is its most valuable asset, and the latest move is a well-considered, prudent step to protect it.

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The Oklahoman. Nov. 19, 2018.

— Oklahoma finances remain tied to energy industry

Thanks to increasing diversification in Oklahoma’s economy, some officials believe the impact of falling oil prices won’t be as dire for state government finances as in the past. There’s some truth to that view, but officeholders should not kid themselves that the price of oil is no longer a key indicator of budget health for Oklahoma government.

It’s true that government is less dependent on oil and gas prices than in the past. State Treasurer Ken Miller says roughly 30 percent of the state’s general revenue fund came from gross production taxes in the 1980s. When he was a member of the Legislature from 2004 to 2010, that figure had fallen to around 15 percent. Today, he says gross production taxes account for about 5 percent of general revenue fund collections.

That indicates Oklahoma government is less reliant on oil and gas production, but it doesn’t mean finances won’t be hobbled by an oil bust, as recent experience demonstrates. This is because energy production impacts most tax revenue streams, not just the gross production tax.

A report released in 2014 by the State Chamber Research Foundation found the energy industry was the single largest contributor to state revenues at that time, accounting for roughly 22 percent of all state tax collections. A separate 2016 report from the foundation explained why the industry’s impact is so far-reaching. The report stated, “Each new direct oil and gas job supports slightly more than two additional jobs statewide, a reflection of the relatively large employment multiplier (3.18) for the energy sector.” It’s estimated the oil and natural gas industry pays $4 in taxes per employee, compared with $1 in taxes per employee for most other industries.

Thus, when the energy downturn that began in 2014 cost Oklahoma more than 10,000 high-paying energy jobs, state Tax Commission reports showed reported taxable income plummeted more than $13 billion from 2014 to 2015 alone.

A chart showing Oklahoma government’s 12-month gross receipt tax collections and oil-and-gas employment levels demonstrates that the two have tracked one another in unison for the past decade. When the number of oil jobs increases, so do state tax collections. And when layoffs occur in the oil field, tax collections plummet.

In the long term, the connection between state government finances and oilfield employment should lessen. This is due to the growth of other industries and the fact that many energy jobs that disappeared in the recent recession are unlikely to return. Producers are more efficient than they were just five years ago. This means there will be fewer high-paying energy jobs in Oklahoma, but also fewer high-paying jobs lost in a downturn.

Even so, Oklahomans have reason to hope oil prices and energy employment remain stable, and reason to worry about recent developments. Oil prices have dropped in recent weeks, and gross production taxes (which were hiked substantially in recent years) are coming in below the estimates used by state budget writers.

Oklahoma policymakers need to pay attention to those trends. Because if oil prices continue to decline, state government’s recent past may turn into prologue.

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