The heat wave/drought is an anomaly. It will break soon. In any case, this can't be as bad as last summer. An El Nino will come to our rescue, just wait and see! Last year the heat broke around Labor Day and it started raining again in the fall. This will happen again!
Let's face it. This is as bad as last summer, the one that broke all records. Relentless triple-digit highs? We're used to that. But not to relentless 110-plus days.
Why us? Why is it hotter here than in Phoenix, in the “Valley of the Sun”?
We will accept these miserable summers as a trade-off if the winters will stay mild and ice-free and the storms in spring and fall bring just rain and not hail and high winds. Also, we'd like it not to rain at all during the State Fair, except between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. Also, no weather delays at OU or OSU home games.
We will get through this. By late October, we'll all be enjoying the autumnal breezes and complaining (if only mildly) that it's a bit brisk in the early morning or that the skies have been overcast for three straight days.
Nearly 80 Oklahoma towns have failed to file an annual financial audit and are forfeiting more than $90,000 in gasoline excise taxes under state law. That's unfortunate for several reasons. Public confidence in government relies on transparency. When local governments repeatedly refuse to have their books audited, that's cause for concern. Furthermore, most of the communities affected are small towns where every dollar counts, so forfeiting fuel tax money has real impact. Unfortunately, for many small communities the cost of the audit is greater than the cost of the financial penalty, so those towns are opting to take the hit rather than have their books examined. We're glad that 87 percent of towns in Oklahoma are filing their audits, but wish the other 13 percent would join them. The challenges facing small towns are real, but balancing the budget by avoiding audits is poor public policy.
We've debated through the years whether Oklahoma should save time and money by doing away with runoff elections and instead go to winner-takes-all primaries. Ted Cruz's victory this week in Texas is an endorsement of the runoff system. In late May, Cruz lost by 10 points to longtime Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the GOP primary for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchison. Dewhurst came up just 5½ points shy of winning that election outright. But in Tuesday's runoff, Cruz throttled Dewhurst by a whopping 14 points. Oklahoma has seen similar stories through the years. Most notable was Brad Henry, a long shot early in the 2002 race for governor. Henry survived the Democratic primary to make it into a runoff against the better-known Vince Orza. Henry won the runoff, then upset Republican Steve Largent in the general election. Those second chances can make a difference, which is why runoffs in Oklahoma aren't going anywhere any time soon.
Jobs, money are tight
Oklahoma City's unemployment rate in June was 5 percent, the lowest among the nation's 49 largest metro areas. That's good news, even if the rate was up slightly from the 4.5 percent a month earlier. Considering the national unemployment rate continues to be a shade over 8 percent, we'll take 5 percent. On the other hand, a new study by the Pew Charitable Trusts shows Oklahoma has the highest known rate of payday borrowing. Thirteen percent of Oklahomans are using these short-term, high-interest loans to help make ends meet. That's a higher percentage than any of the other 31 states that had data worth crunching. A spokesman for the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission noted that the job market here remains very tight. For many Oklahomans, it's clear that money does, too.
Change isn't easy
Bringing positive change to our state's education system is no easy task. Too often, “That's the way we've always done it” is seen as justification for continuing down the same path. Too few officials take the time for reflection and re-evaluation of current practices even after the original justification for the ways things are done is decades old. Oklahoma's education system was originally designed so that every child would be within walking distance of a school; today, we have cars and more people live in urban areas. The Oklahoma City school district is now pushing for a seven-hour instructional school day that is no easy sell. As Oklahoma City Superintendent Karl Springer noted, “It took us about 100 years to go from six hours to six hours and 20 minutes.” Oklahoma has changed since 1907; our education system should too.
After school-start tax holiday
This weekend many shoppers are enjoying Oklahoma's “sales tax holiday.” Implemented to help families stretch limited dollars when doing back-to-school shopping, the event is wildly popular. Ironically, due to ongoing changes in the education system, the event now starts after some schools begin holding classes. The first day of class for Oklahoma City schools was Wednesday. That's not the only glitch in the law. While clothing and shoes priced under $100 can be sold tax-free, school supplies and backpacks aren't included. At the same time, nonschool items such as diapers, wedding apparel, lab coats and uniforms are covered. Currently, most of the 17 states with sales-tax free weekends hold it the same time as Oklahoma, but the changing school calendar could alter that. What won't change is public support for the holiday. It saved Oklahomans $7 million last year.
Tulsa-based Lufthansa Technik Component Services announced this week that it's tripled the number of people employed locally in the past year, and plans to add as many as 90 employees in the next few years. This is good news, as was the recent announcement that Belgium-based ASCO Industries will open a production facility in Stillwater, investing up to $100 million and adding as many as 600 jobs by 2015. While there's a natural rivalry among Oklahoma communities, economic growth isn't a zero-sum game. Job growth in Oklahoma City doesn't come at the expense of Tulsa, and vice-versa. Our state can't thrive if just one area thrives while most other communities struggle. The Tulsa Metro Chamber has a goal to create 10,000 primary jobs at an annual salary of $50,000 or greater. The LTCS announcement brings the group that much closer to achieving its goal.
Looking for answers
Questions about the availability and cost of health care drive one of the most high-profile and contentious issues in America. Far off the radar screen, researchers drive to find answers to health-related mysteries. Many of those scientists call Oklahoma City home. Just this week, the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation announced that two of its own had been awarded more than $4 million in grants by the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Patrick Gaffney is working to unravel the secrets of lupus, an autoimmune disease that affects about 2 million Americans. Courtney Griffin is studying how the makeup of veins differs from that of arteries, and how those differences affect development of the body's lymphatic system. NIH grants are vital to researchers' work and they aren't easy to win. Congratulations to Gaffney and Griffin, and to all those who comprise Oklahoma City's thriving research and bioscience community.