Here are my recommendations and how I plan to vote on the six state questions in Oklahoma's November general election.
Vote NO on State Questions 758, 759, 765 and 766.
State Question 758. If passed, SQ 758 would cap tax increases on some property at 3 percent. The current cap is set at 5 percent. The problem with setting a cap this low is that is doesn’t allow for special circumstances when property taxes should be raised above 3 percent because of value issues and in order to provide for essential government services. Gene Perry, an analyst for the Oklahoma Policy Institute (OK Policy), also argues that “Oklahoma’s public schools would be especially hard hit” if the question passes. Another problem is that once property taxes are capped this low, it would be highly unlikely the state could ever raise the cap. That could pose many problems down the road. It’s not difficult to see the question as yet another conservative effort to starve government of funding by limiting taxation, but the value of any property can be highly dependent on government-based infrastructure, such as roads and schools.
State Question 759. This measure would ban affirmative action in state government, including within our education systems. The concept of affirmative action helps ensure at least some sense of diversity, which is often lacking in Oklahoma. For a number of reasons, our state has long been viewed as a place hostile to diversity. If this measure is approved—and I expect it will be approved in a landslide—the state will continue to be viewed as a place unwelcoming to minorities. Outside interests have made a weak, suspect case for the bill and shouldn’t be part of the debate. Unfortunately, we live in a culture where open racism and bigotry do exist. It’s all around us. We need affirmative action to combat institutionalized racism as well.
State Question 765. This measure would abolish the state’s Human Services Commission, which its proponents argue just adds a burdensome and sometimes ineffective layer of administration for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. Proponents of the question point to the board’s alleged lack of oversight over department matters that led to a recent lawsuit against the agency. I’m not questioning the validity of these concerns nor the effort to restructure DHS, but the question’s language is too vague. Will the measure actually abolish DHS? David Blatt, director of the OK Policy, has asked this question. What does that mean and could it put our most vulnerable citizens at risk because there's no longer a constitutional mandate to help them? State officials have said DHS will continue as an agency, but why not simply put that in writing? House Bill 3137 recreates the agency with oversight panels, but why not put that in the question itself. Perhaps, the question needs to be rewritten to clarify the future existence of DHS and its governance and then placed on the ballot at a later date.
State Question 766. This measure has a complicated legal history, but it’s essentially sponsored by corporations, which always want to pay less in taxes. SQ 766 would exempt intangible property from ad valorem taxation. Intangible property could include items such as formulas or designs or computer software. Gov. Mary Fallin is leading the effort to approve this measure, but what won’t get much discussion is that it could cut funding to local governments by $50 million, and some of that money goes to schools. Fallin and other proponents will try to scare individual property owners that they’re at risk for higher taxes, but there are other ways to ensure that doesn’t happen.
Vote YES on State Questions 762 and 764.
State Question 762. This measure, if approved, would finally remove the governor from the parole process when nonviolent offenders are under consideration. This should be a no-brainer in a state that has some of the highest incarceration rates in the country. This measure will depoliticize the system by removing an elected official from the process. No elected official wants to be blamed for allowing the release of an offender that later goes on to commit another crime. Oklahoma, along with having the highest female incarceration rate in the nation, is also the only state in which the governor is involved in every parole case. The correlation is obvious. Our state’s prisons are filled with nonviolent offenders convicted on drug crimes. This costs the state exorbitant amounts of money and only creates hardened criminals, which compounds the problem. Fallin recently dropped her support for this measure, but that shouldn’t deter anyone from voting in favor it. Oklahoma badly needs to depoliticize its criminal justice system.
State Question 764. If approved, this measure would allow the Oklahoma Water Resources Board to issue bonds up to $300 million. The end result is that this would help communities develop water and wastewater systems. This question has not received a great deal of media attention because there’s little or no controversy. The state needs to develop and protect its water resources for the future. This is fundamental to the state’s basic viability and growth.
The best available resource for information about all the questions can be found here on the site of the Oklahoma Policy Institute.