THOSE affected by the Newtown, Conn., shootings are facing a dilemma familiar to those impacted by the Oklahoma City bombing: How should officials distribute millions donated to support survivors and the community?
A Newtown-Sandy Hook Community Foundation fund contains $11.4 million. More than 70 funds in Newtown have raised more than $21 million total.
Now officials must decide who benefits from those donations. Should families of the 20 first-graders and six educators killed get most of the money? Or do children who survived, who may need years of therapy, deserve the lion's share? Should families of the adults killed get more since they lost a breadwinner whose income cannot otherwise be replaced?
Those questions are familiar to Oklahoma City Community Foundation officials, who faced similar quandaries when determining how to distribute Murrah bombing disaster relief funds. More than 1,000 survivors and victim's children have received $11.2 million in assistance, and money remains available for victims' continuing long-term needs.
Yet some have criticized the foundation, demanding an immediate payout of all remaining money. That plan could leave many bombing survivors, who continue to require mental health treatment, without the long-term ability to pay for those services.
In Newtown, some advocate creation of a national victims' “compassion fund” that would receive any money donated in response to all future tragedies with that cash then sent directly to those most affected.
Removing fund oversight from communities directly impacted by tragedy seems likely to amplify controversy, not reduce it. Debate over funding priorities will remain constant. As the Oklahoma City Community Foundation has found, no payout plan will ever be embraced by all.
Farm bill roulette
Congress is being urged to pass a bad farm bill that artificially increases consumer prices to prevent an even worse law from taking effect and driving up milk prices even more. Such is the state of affairs at the U.S. Capitol. If a new federal farm bill isn't enacted, the current version expires in a matter of months. At that time, a 1949 law kicks in that sets mandatory high prices for milk — as much as $6 per gallon. Dairy farmers worry that those exorbitant prices will destroy product demand. Yet many of the provisions of the proposed farm bill also force consumers to pay more — up to twice real market price for sugar. Here's an idea: If the 1949 milk law is so bad, why not repeal it? Instead, bad law is being used to motivate passage of other bad laws. Either way, consumers get gouged.
The span of progress
Decades of neglect left numerous Oklahoma bridges structurally deficient. Erasing that backlog can't happen overnight, but steady progress is occurring. A new report by Transportation for America proves it. In 2005, about 17 percent of bridges on state roads were structurally deficient. That year, lawmakers began directing additional funding to bridge repair. The amount provided this year was $352.1 million; that funding will continue increasing until $775 million is provided. As a result of repairs funded with this extra cash, just 8 percent of bridges on state roads today are now structurally deficient. Unfortunately, Oklahoma still ranks high for its share of deteriorating bridges. But that problem is mostly because of dilapidated bridges on city and county roads, not state roads. Ongoing problems must be addressed, but Oklahomans shouldn't overlook the dramatic improvement in state bridges. It's an achievement that once seemed almost impossible.
Dogs days delayed
Last month was the 34th-warmest June in Oklahoma since the start of record-keeping in 1895. Is this news? Yes, because we all expected a terrible summer three-peat. We may yet have one, but for now the news is that in much of the state June was only the 56th driest on record statewide and one of the wettest ever in some areas. As July 1 arrived, the forecast high for Oklahoma City was 82 while in Portland, Ore., it was expected to be 94 and in the southern Oregon city of Medford the thermometer was expected to hit 107. We know this won't last. We'll warm up. Portland will cool down. What's making the weather news this week are the baking temperatures of the Southwest, not the mild conditions in Oklahoma and Texas, the Heat Bowl of 2011 and 2012. In the green city of Portland, we're confident, extant belief in anthropogenic global warming has reached a fever pitch. Here? We're chilling out while we can and remembering that every year in Oklahoma brings weather challenges along with a few magnificent days.
A homeless endeavor
An effort begun this week offers opportunity to Oklahoma City's homeless. The Curbside Chronicle is a monthly publication launched by students from the University of Oklahoma and Vanderbilt University. It includes stories about urban issues, local food, pop culture, etc. — written by the homeless and other freelance writers. Dan Straughan, who heads the Homeless Alliance, says the Chronicle is being sold by homeless vendors who pay 75 cents per copy and sell them for a suggested donation of $2. Vendors keep all the profits from their sales. The aim is to provide a source of income to homeless residents, give them a voice through the magazine, increase local awareness of homelessness, and improve relations between the city's homeless and non-homeless. Straughan says this is one of 43 street papers nationwide. Perhaps this one will succeed like the one in Nashville, which Straughan says has enabled one-third of that city's formerly homeless vendors to secure stable housing.
One man's trash ...
That old junk in your attic or barn may actually be an irreplaceable piece of Oklahoma history. This became evident when workers renovating a room at the Oklahoma Capitol recently discovered 11 of 20 original wall sconces from the Oklahoma Senate chamber in a long-forgotten attic space above the sixth floor. Media coverage of the discovery included photos of the original Senate chamber, which caused Norman resident Coy Green to realize he had one of the Senate chamber's original floor lambs stored in his barn. Green bought the lamp at a swap meet approximately 40 years ago for about $25. He's now donated it to the Senate. These discoveries will aid efforts to restore the original look of the Oklahoma Senate as well as historic preservation work. The discoveries also prove that one man's trash is often another man's treasure — or at least part of state history.
The state this week unloaded one of its many pieces of unused or underused property. The Office of Management and Enterprise Services announced that an old television studio in Tulsa was sold at auction for $130,000. The state originally placed a minimum bid of $148,500 on the building, but drew no bidders. After a second appraisal, the minimum bid was lowered to $99,000. The TV studio is among 135 buildings or pieces of land the state plans to unload over the next several years. Next on the list: a town lot in Buffalo owned by the Department of Human Services, and a 6-acre tract of land in Marietta owned by DHS. Proceeds from the sales will go to a revolving fund that'll be used to maintain state buildings. The state won't be making big money with this endeavor, but as we've said previously, allowing buildings to sit vacant and property to go unused for years serves no economic good.