I’m not going to get into the merits or drawbacks of the estate tax, which is called the “death tax” by its critics. But according to the Oklahoma Tax Commission, the state’s estate tax snagged 10,083 filers in fiscal year 2009 (figures for earlier years were not available today).
Here’s a chart on the amount of revenue Oklahoma’s estate tax has brought in from FY 1986 to FY 2008:
As you can see, the revenues have been declining for the last few years, although I’m curious why so much was raised in 2004.
This is long period, so it helps to adjust the revenue figures for inflation. Here’s the same information, this time in 2008 dollars:
At the federal level, the estate tax has affected a much smaller slice of Oklahoma taxpayers. Here’s the numbers, compiled from the IRS Statistics of Income Division.
Keep in mind, amounts are in thousands of dollars, so what you see below for 2008 for the net estate tax would be $170.9 million from 138 Oklahoma filers who were subject to the federal estate tax (click image to see a larger version):
In keeping with the holiday season, here’s some information on who among stimulus recipients have been put on the “naughty” list.
The federal Recovery Accountability Transparency Board has released its list of stimulus recipients who either filed late or failed to file for the first reporting period. Unfortunately, it’s a clunky 238-page PDF here. And it’s not broken down by state. It lists more than 4,300 awards that were not reported and the reasons given for the lack of information (the “dog ate my homework” excuses).
I did a quick search of the non-reporting document for Oklahoma recipients. I came up with 17, but I’m pretty sure there’s more on there because I didn’t search for every possible city or county that might have received money in the state.
Here’s a partial list of what I did find. Scroll right to see the reasons given:
If you’re curious, take a look yourself at the original lists and let me know what else you find.
UPDATE, 3:10 p.m, 12/17/09: Despite the “naughty” list, it looks like Oklahoma recipients fared well in the number of changed and corrected reports. The state had the best showing of all when you look at the percentage of stimulus reports that were changed. Out of 3,656 recipient reports in Oklahoma, 229 were changed, or just 6 percent. Nebraska fared the worst, with 73 percent of its reports getting changed after their initial report. You can see the rest of the list here.
The state’s Open Books site today added another feature: a searchable tab for agency credit card transactions, called “p-cards” by the state. The addition is part of House Bill 1032, which required posting of the transactions.
SECTION 3. NEW LAW A new section of law to be codified in the Oklahoma Statutes as Section 85.33B of Title 74, unless there is created a duplication in numbering, reads as follows:
A. On a monthly basis the Director of Central Purchasing shall provide to the Office of State Finance a complete listing in electronic format of all transactions occurring with the aid of a state purchase card. The list shall contain the name of the purchaser and purchasing agency, amount of purchase, and all available descriptions of items purchased.
B. Upon receipt of the list described in subsection A of this section, the Office of State Finance shall allow the public access to the list in searchable format through its website defined in Section 46 of Title 62 of the Oklahoma Statutes.
But there’s a catch. It doesn’t appear that any Higher Education transactions are on there. Here’s what you get when you look for the University of Oklahoma:
The Department of Central Services handles training and auditing of the p-cards for all state agencies except Higher Education. But each university system has its own p-card contract. (OU, OSU, UCO/Regional University System, etc.) For whatever reason, the universities were not required to post their p-card data online.
The Open Books site has p-card transactions going back to the beginning of the state’s 2010 fiscal year. It includes information from the three levels of p-cards used by state employees: purchases under statewide contracts; travel cards; and general p-card transactions.
While the Department of Central Services has general oversight of the p-card program, the transactions themselves are approved at the agency level. So any questions about spending should be directed to the agencies.
Some words of caution: The details on individual transactions are not always clear. For example, here’s one I picked at random, which has some garbled information in the Description field (click for a close-up):
While this is a step forward for taxpayer transparency, I have a couple of suggestions:
1. Downloadable bulk data of the p-card transactions in a standard format (.csv, text file, .xml) to enable further analysis.
2. University p-card information. After all, Higher Education consumes 17 percent of the state budget. Don’t taxpayers deserve to know how that money is spent, too?
I’ve also been taking a closer look at Google Earth, which is a free download here. As a little experiment, I put the MAPS 3 voting results by precinct in Google Earth. If you already have Google Earth on your machine, you can download the precinct results here. Once it loads, you can zoom in and click on individual precincts to get voting in both the MAPS 3 election and last year’s sales tax election to renovate the Ford Center.
Let me know what you think, and how we can improve on this type of presentation in the future.
In the 14-page opinion, Edmondson’s office essentially left the decision over the release up to each public body. So much for providing clarity on the issue.
After reading through the opinion a couple of times, I’m finding it hard to follow the reasoning Edmondson’s office used to come to its conclusion. The opinion states:
…the [Open Records Act] does not expressly state that a public body’s employees’ birth dates are confidential.
If you believe that anything not explicitly mentioned in the law should be tilted in favor of disclosure, then we should stop right there and a public employee’s birth date should be released. But the opinion then goes on to argue whether that disclosure is a “clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” That privacy interest is not explicitly addressed in the Open Records Act, either.
The question becomes, then, how would a public body determine whether the disclosure of a personnel record or piece of information constitutes a clearly unwarranted invasion of employees’ personal privacy? This determination requires a public body to balance the interests involved, weighing the public’s right of access to the records, which the Legislature has declared is substantial, against the employees’ interests in nondisclosure.
To try to answer this question, the opinion refers to state and federal case law in other areas. In a troubling aside, the opinion poses an unrelated example:
How does disclosing an employee’s birth date allow citizens to know what the government (or a particular employee) is up to, and whether he or she is properly discharging his or her duties?
If the purpose of the [Open Records Act] is to “ensure and facilitate the public’s right of access to and review of government records so they may efficiently and intelligently exercise their inherent political power,” how will knowing an employee’s birth date assist citizens in the exercise of that political power? Disclosing employees’ birth dates seems as unlikely to assist citizens in finding out what their government is up to as disclosing employees’ “payroll deductions” or the employment applications of persons no hired by the public body, which the [Open Records Act] expressly allows public bodies, in their discretion, to keep confidential. (my emphasis)
That’s a weak argument, in my opinion, especially for those of us in the news business. Remember, the newspaper wanted the date of birth of a disciplined public employee so we could check into his criminal and legal background. This wasn’t a fishing expedition looking for the most salacious story we could publish. This was following up on a disciplinary action taken by the city of Oklahoma City toward one of its employees.
The problem is, matching court records and other public documents on name alone is a messy and inexact science. (I’d like to see anyone on Edmondson’s investigative staff try to track down a suspect or witness using just his or her name.)
The opinion gets into a discussion over dates of birth in birth and death certificates and on drivers’ license data, but it mentions nothing about dates of birth in other public documents such as voter registration records. In interviews earlier this year, Edmondson himself made that argument, but that line of thinking doesn’t show up in the opinion.
The Oklahoma State Election Board sells lists of registered voters to anyone willing to pay its fees. Among the information on there? Dates of birth.
Those voter registration lists are used by political campaigns, academics and commercial database providers such as Lexis-Nexis and Accurint. We buy the data annually for internal fact-checking purposes.
Fran Roche, assistant secretary at the Election Board, said the state brings in between $16,000 to $18,000 a year selling those voter registration lists. The board generally gets about 250 orders for voter registration lists each year.
By leaving the release of DOBs to the whims of each agency or governmental unit, Edmondson’s opinion potentially creates a class of people–public employees–whose privacy interests could now be protected at a greater level than those of registered voters.
UPDATE 12/8/09: Oklahoma State University journalism professor Joey Senat at FOI Oklahoma reports that Attorney General Drew Edmondson issued a revised opinion on the issue earlier today. You can read the new opinion here.