A record breaking initiative petition drive will almost certainly place a measure on the November ballot that, if approved, would raise the state sales tax by one cent to generate money exclusively for education on an annual basis.
The Oklahoma Secretary of State’s office will start going through the more than 300,000 signatures—a record number for a statewide initiative petition drive—today, according to news reports, and then State Question 779 can officially be placed on the ballot.
SQ 779 is an important, history-making and education-saving measure that deserves support. It will raise $615 million annually for schools and ensure teachers receive a $5,000 raise. Some of the money will be allocated for higher education and vocational schools as well. Oklahoma has cut education more than any state in the nation since 2008, and SQ 779 will mitigate some but not all of the damage.
Before I get into why Oklahomans should vote for SQ 779, I want to address two arguments made against it: (1) Sales taxes are regressive because low-income people spend a larger percentage of their money on taxed purchases, and (2) sales taxes are already too high in Oklahoma.
Those who champion SQ 779, which include University of Oklahoma President David Boren, absolutely know that sales taxes are regressive, but the Oklahoma Legislature and Gov. Mary Fallin have failed miserably to find the money to fund our education systems. It’s highly unlikely, even unfathomable, they will act to roll back recent income tax cuts implemented over the last decade or so. The only alternative to SQ 779 is to do nothing. Among states, Oklahoma ranks 49th in the nation in per pupil spending rates. Teacher salaries here rank 48th in nation. Cuts made to education in recent years and anticipated cuts this coming fiscal year mean hundreds of teaching positions will be cut.
The one penny will also benefit low-income school children the most and future legislation could offer an education tax rebate to low-income families and completely eliminate sales taxes on groceries.
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