I find it interesting that a study has found that state workers here enjoy better benefits than their peers in this region of the country.
That conclusion, however it was calculated, fits rather conveniently with an effort by Gov. Mary Fallin and Oklahoma Treasurer Ken Miller to change the state’s pension plans from defined-benefit systems with regular payments to 401(k)-styled systems while reducing state contributions for new hires.
The compensation study, conducted by Kenning Consulting and Hay Group for $200,000, also found that Oklahoma lags in pay for state workers by 6.4 percent when compared to other states and 21.7 percent when compared to the public sector.
But it was the “benefits” comparison that caught my eye. According to information about the study released by the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES), state workers here get 24.3 percent more in benefits than other state workers in nearby states and 18 percent more than the private sector.
These percentages, plus a recommendation by the study’s authors to “reinvest benefits resources in employee pay and encourage more benefits cost sharing between the employer and employee,” give Fallin and Miller more political ammunition to seek changes in the state’s pensions.
It also remains to be seen if state workers will receive a raise anytime soon since the study also recommends that the state “not legislatively mandate across-the-board pay increases for all employees.” It makes the overall claim that overall state workers compensation is “even with comparable state governments.” How do you squeeze a raise out of that finding?
Many state workers have gone without a raise for several years. Some state agency heads, however, received astronomical raises recently. It’s part of standard conservative methodology to reward those at the top while leaving rank-and-file employees behind, whether in the public or private sector.
Here’s the news release from OMES about the study. It didn’t detail how the percentages were calculated or what actually constitutes a benefit. Read between the lines, the study’s recommendations do, however, fit perfectly with conservative ideology, especially when it comes to supporting merit pay, ending longevity pay and cutting benefits.
The bottom line is that this study will probably be used in an attempt to cut retirement benefits, at least for future state employees, and to deny state workers decent across-the-board raises.
There’s a lot of snow on the ground today in central Oklahoma, but the earth is still moving and shaking beneath us.
There have been dozens of recorded earthquakes over the last few days here, according to the Oklahoma Geological Survey, including one that registered 3.1 magnitude on the Richter scale.
What seems incredible to me is that Oklahoma is now ranked second in the contiguous United States in the number of earthquakes 3.0 or above magnitude since 2009, according to an EnergyWire story by Mike Soraghan. California is ranked first, of course.
Tornadoes, ice storms, heat waves, blizzards, wildfires, floods and now earthquakes. It’s a bit much even for the most weather-tested Okie.
As I’ve written before, there remains the very real possibility that Oklahoma’s recent earthquake swarm is a manmade phenomenon. Injection disposal wells, used in oil and gas drilling procedures, have been linked to earthquakes here and elsewhere by scientists and researchers. A recent surge in oil and gas production here through hydraulic fracturing or fracking has created a need for more such wells.
But that’s difficult for some Oklahomans to accept, according to Soraghan, who writes:
Linking earthquakes to drilling, though, has been tough to accept for many Oklahomans. While they're not used to earthquakes here, they're quite accustomed to pump jacks and deep injection wells. Oklahoma is dotted with more than 4,500 such wells. Oil and gas is a pillar of the economy and provides a lot of solid paychecks in the state.
Oil and gas production is a major part of the Oklahoma economy, true, but that should never come before the basic welfare and safety of its residents. There has been tepid interest so far among the state’s highest leaders, such as Gov. Mary Fallin, to really launch a major, all-out study of the issue that might lead to new oil and gas drilling regulations.
Unfortunately, it will probably take a major, damaging earthquake to shake the state’s overwhelmingly conservative leaders into action.
The only thing strange about Oklahoma City mayoral candidate and Councilman Ed Shadid talking openly about his long-term recovery from pot addiction is that anyone would think it’s strange in the first place.
Shadid’s continuing honesty about his recovery has been treated by his opponents as part of a pattern of a campaign that seems “strange,” according to a recent post in The McCarville Report blog. Mike McCarville who operates the blog has ties to Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, who is running for re-election against Shadid.
That Shadid, a physician who serves Ward 2, is in long-term recovery is no secret for people who know him or have taken time to get to know about him. He also knows that his opponents, as they did when he ran for his council seat, are going to attack him on the issue and depict him as a stoner caricature.
Although it’s a good idea on a political level that Shadid get in front of these attacks, that’s not his point about the honesty and openness. I believe that sincerely. As a physician, Shadid is extremely concerned about the damaging role addiction plays in our culture and the lack of treatment facilities for it in this area. By opening up about his recovery, he helps to create a broader dialogue about addiction, which is widespread in central Oklahoma and affects people of all walks of life. What he’s doing is pretty remarkable.
Shadid recently sent out a mailer that talked about his recovery, and he mentioned it in a speech. He mentioned his recovery to me in a conversation I had with him perhaps two years ago. He’s not trying to hide it. The online Red Dirt Report blog posted an excellent and thorough interview with Shadid about this issue recently.
I won’t get into the issue of whether marijuana is physically addictive or not. The Red Dirt Report interview touches on that subject. I do know if someone is dependent on a drug or alcohol then it’s up to that person to accept if it’s an addiction or not. By accepting it’s an addiction, a person can move into recovery. It’s the basic principle of addiction and recovery.
Another issue Shadid’s opponents bring up on The McCarville Report post is his divorce, as if that is somehow part of some strange political campaign, too. So let’s be clear: Shadid is a divorced person who once smoked pot. I wonder how many people fit that description in Oklahoma City, whatever their political affiliation? Don’t forget Cornett is also divorced and so is the state’s governor, Mary Fallin. At the time of their divorce, Cornett’s then wife, Lisa, told The Oklahoman in 2011, “I still love him and want to stay married. It wasn't a mutual decision.”
In addition, The Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne claimed on stage at a concert in 2011 that Cornett smoked pot, which was reported by The Lost Ogle bog. Was the flamboyant Coyne just joking and playing to the crowd? Can Cornett pass a drug test? I’ll bet that Shadid can.
All these petty suggestions about the two mayoral candidates, and I’ll include my reference to Cornett’s divorce and my previous paragraph in that list, do nothing to create a discussion about the city’s future. Both Shadid and Cornett are just as human as the rest of us.
In the end, though, it’s Shadid’s opponents that are focusing on smear tactics to deflect the campaign away from the issues, such as increasing police and fire protection, making Oklahoma City more walkable and improving the overall health of its residents. Does it show that perhaps Cornett and his supporters have nothing more to offer the city in terms of ideas and initiatives and simply want to make this an ugly election? This strategy backfired against Shadid’s opponents in his council election, and it could backfire again.