Istook Pushes TABOR Measure

Who Is Really Against TABOR?

So where does the state’s right-wing power structure really stand on the TABOR issue?

Ernest Istook image

U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook, who is running for governor here, recently came out for the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights’ measure that would limit the growth of the state government’s budget to a formula tied to inflation and population. A similar measure decimated the Colorado economy and education systems, and voters there recently rescinded it.

Meanwhile, what the Associated Press termed a “Who’s Who” of Oklahoma business people, many with ties to conservative politicians and causes, filed a lawsuit weeks ago to keep a TABOR amendment off the November ballot in Oklahoma

Istook, according to a news article on his Web site, speaking to a group of Republicans Saturday said he supported the philosophy of TABOR and would lead efforts to ensure the measure is on the ballot in the future. Istook made the remarks as he criticized the budget agreement recently announced by state officials, according to the story.

A petition drive to put the measure on the ballot has been completed, but the business big shots have filed a lawsuit against it challenging its validity. The big shots include the chief executive officers of Kerr-McGee, Devon, and Chesapeake. One Chesapeake executive, Aubrey McClendon, once donated $250,000 to a group that helped get Republican Tom Coburn elected to the U.S. Senate.

In addition, The Daily Oklahoman’s editorial page has come out against the proposed TABOR measure, and the conservative Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) has stopped making it one of the organization’s premier issues as it once did.

So here are three speculations about Istook’s statement: (1) Istook knows he is not going to get major campaign support from the business people who signed onto the lawsuit to stop TABOR, or (2) he is trying to have it both ways in terms of political support from the state’s power structure and those Okie Republican extremists who think any form of government, including education, is communism in action, or (3) many of those named in the lawsuit really do not care about the issue, and it matters nothing to them what Istook says about it.

The reality is that Istook’s support for TABOR shows just what will happen if he is elected governor. The Republicans now hold a majority in the House, and they expect to win the state Senate this year. With the TABOR-supporting Istook as governor and with a Republican-dominated legislature, it will only be a matter of time before the state adopts some type of measure that will prevent the adequate growth of the state budget. This is in a state that has chronic education and infrastructure underfunding.

Add this to Istook’s ideas about intertwining government and religion and you have a full-fledged Okie disaster on your hands. What a spectacle it could all be and just in time for the Oklahoma Centennial, too.

Fortunately, Governor Brad Henry remains a formidable candidate for any Republican gubernatorial candidate, including Istook’s major opponent Bob Sullivan.

Guarantee Oklahoma Teacher Raises!

The Oklahoma Education Association wants to make sure teachers are guaranteed the $3,000 raises that are part of the recent budget agreement.

According to the OEA Web site, “If the salary increases go through the state funding formula, districts which pay above the state minimum will not be obligated to meet the mandate. That’s why the Legislature needs to approve a budget with guaranteed raises.”

OEA has a legitimate argument. Legislators need to make sure the raises are guaranteed. The state needs to make a consistent effort—year-after-year—to raise teacher salaries to at least regional averages. These should be across-the-board raises that help lift the overall wage structure for teachers.

Okie Funk hereby decrees that teachers, not oil or natural gas reserves, remain the state’s most important natural resources.

Botched Occupation

Prepare yourself for a long, hot summer of despair as the Iraq occupation continues to worsen. The death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi means nothing to the insurgency’s strength despite what you see and hear on television these days. The Iraq debacle will live in historical infamy as one of America’s worst foreign policy endeavors ever.

Meanwhile, American soldiers and innocent Iraqi citizens will continue to die on a regular basis this summer, Cindy Sheehan will set up a Camp Casey in Crawford, and the Bush government and the Republican-dominated Congress will refuse to listen to a vast majority of American citizens who have had enough with the occupation. Oh yeah, more information about the massacre at Haditha will emerge, other atrocities committed by American soldiers will be reported, and the Guantanamo Bay torture facility will continue to be in the news.

All of this—plus those skyrocketing gasoline prices and growing inflation—has been brought to you by the GOP.


TABOR Complicates Oklahoma Tax Cut Issue

(Are you concerned about women's reproductive rights in Oklahoma? Be sure to read DocHoc's commentary this week in the Oklahoma Gazette.)


The fight against TABOR—the proposed constitutional amendment that would devastate the state’s educational systems—continues here in Oklahoma.

Buy this poster from oldamericancentury.org

The Alliance for Oklahoma’s Future is leading a campaign to educate people about TABOR. These efforts have attracted a diverse group of state citizens from former U.S. House Rep. Brad Carson to former Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys, according to the organization.

The alliance, according to a recent statement, is holding events around the state to ensure Oklahomans are aware of the devastating impact of TABOR if adopted here.

TABOR, or the Orwellian-named “Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights,” would limit the growth of state government to a formula tied to the inflation rate and population growth. Any leftover money would be refunded to taxpayers. This formula would be mandated by a constitutional amendment, which may be on the ballot in November. An initiative petition to get the issue, State Question 726, on the ballot is facing a legal challenge right now.

Colorado voters recently rescinded their TABOR amendment because it had devastated their economy and educational systems.

Oklahoma, a relatively poor state, is the wrong place at the wrong time for such an amendment. For example, the state is woefully behind in funding education compared to regional and national averages. TABOR would mean the state would never be able to even begin to catch up, and this would have a devastating impact on improving the quality of life here. This quality-of-life issue means the state will have a tough time attracting economic development, which, in turn, reduces the state’s revenue foundation even more.

A group of prominent state business people have filed a lawsuit challenging the TABOR initiative petition that would place the issue on the ballot. But their lawsuit came late in the process. Why didn’t the business bigwigs speak up earlier? It is the great mystery unreported by the Oklahoma “mainstream” media, which is the most conservative media in the nation.

And, of course, here in Oklahoma, some legislators like House Speaker Todd Hiett (R-Kellyville) and his followers want to give even more tax breaks to wealthy people, which is the basic foundation of the TABOR philosophy. So, essentially, we are going to give the ultra-rich—all those business bigwigs from Chesapeake, Devon, Kerr McGee, etc. who are supposedly against TABOR—a new, fat tax break now, and then maybe give them another in November when voters go to the polls. It will not make a bit of difference that voters will be lied to by TABOR supporters, most of whom come from outside the state. It will not make a bit of difference the business bigwigs are suddenly against TABOR now. They still get the money, and the rest of us get underfunded schools, shoddy roads, stagnant wages, rising gasoline prices, and skyrocketing health care costs.

Oh yeah, Hiett and company are going to eliminate the state estate tax for rich people, too, because we no longer live in a meritocracy. Currently, an Oklahoma estate, passed along as inheritance, has to be worth $1 million or more before it is taxed. But in Bush World these days you get ahead by inheriting money not hard work.

In fact, "only the wealthiest one-fourth of 1 percent of all people who die in the United States in 2006 will pay any estate taxes. That leaves the other 99.7 percent of the public free to pass on 100 percent of their assets untaxed," according to a recent article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Perhaps we should just close down state government, including our schools, and just make the state one huge gated community for rich oil and newspaper company owners and executives. Chesahoma? Devonahoma? Gaylordahoma?

I believe in the philosophy of “going down fighting” so everyone should do their part to oppose TABOR, but until there is a seismic political shift in the state or until the state’s power structure really gets behind improving the state’s educational systems and infrastructure Oklahoma will continue to lag behind the nation.

Why Cave?

The TABOR issue is just one more reason for the Oklahoma State Senate to stand firm in ongoing state budget negotiations. Governor Brad Henry has called a special session of the legislature to pass a budget for this coming fiscal year.

The Oklahoma House, led by Republicans, wants a big tax cut for wealthy people because the state government has a $1 billion “surplus.” (I put surplus in quotes because it implies the state does not have chronic state government funding problems. This state will never have a real surplus since we underfund so much of our government and schools.) But why should we give all this money away to the ultra rich when TABOR could go into effect next year?

It sets up the perfect storm. We reduce the income tax rate from 6.25 to 5.5, which primarily benefits the wealthy, and then next year we have TABOR, which limits government growth and also gives fat refund checks to the state’s rich people. We will not be able to rescind the tax cut because state law makes that virtually impossible. That leaves our school systems and state government desperately underfunded. It would be wise and prudent to not cut the income tax rate until we know if we will live under TABOR soon.

Senate Democrats have offered a different plan that gives a tax cut by increasing the standard deduction, and they want more funding for education, including teacher raises of $3,000. All state employees deserve a raise as well. Rising gasoline prices and stagnant wages have taken their toll on average Oklahomans. Higher education needs a big boost, too, because of skyrocketing tuition costs in recent years. This seems wise and prudent. Ordinary Oklahomans get a tax break, and education gets some extra funding.

Once the TABOR issue is settled, then we might look at restructuring the tax system in the state.

Taking Christianity Back

A group that wants to “reclaim Christianity in America” will give a 7 p.m. Wednesday presentation at the Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City.

The group, CrossWalk America, argues the nation’s “religious right” does not speak for all Christians. Members of the group are walking across America to proclaim their beliefs.

According the organization’s Web site, it believes in “openness to other faiths, care for the earth and its ecosystems, valuing artistic expression in all its forms m authentic inclusiveness of all people - including God's lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (lgbt) community , opposing the commingling of Church and State, promoting the values of rest and recreation, prayer and reflection, embracing both faith and science in the pursuit of truth.”

It is great to see continuing efforts by the religious left in the country to counter the culture of hate and intolerance by the religious right extremists.


Fight Outside TABOR Interests Now and Later

If Oklahoma ends up adopting a TABOR amendment, the state’s public educational systems will be damaged for years to come.

Meanwhile, conservative political interests from outside the state will know for sure that a majority of Oklahoma voters are puppets ready to sell away their own financial interests and their children’s futures for hollow, right-wing ideology.

Satirical corporate welfare poster

If adopted, TABOR will come to symbolize on a local level the wreckage left behind by neocons intent on transferring more and more wealth to the nation’s richest citizens while cutting government programs that save the middle-class people money and improve their quality of life.

Of course, the key word here is “if.”

Supporters of TABOR, of the so-called Taxpayers Bill Of Rights movement, recently delivered their initiative petition to the state. They claim to have more than the approximately 219,000 signatures needed to place the issue on the ballot.

TABOR would limit state government spending to a formula tied to population growth and the inflation rate. Colorado voters recently rescinded their TABOR amendment because it had severely reduced funding for education there, and it would do the same here.

Oklahoma is the wrong place at the wrong time for TABOR. We already have severe restrictions on raising state taxes in Oklahoma, and many areas of our government, such as education, are terribly underfunded when compared to national averages. By restricting revenues, the state will have no chance at all to catch up to just average national funding.

(Read more about this issue by searching under the keyword TABOR on the right sidebar of Okie Funk.)

The TABOR movement here is funded and supported primarily by outside political interests, and many petition circulators were paid two dollars for each signature they obtain. One TABOR petition circulation was even arrested when it was alleged he was not even a state resident. There are TABOR initiatives in states throughout the country.

In a recent news release about the TABOR petition drive in which he argued a statewide investigation into the petition drive was needed to protect democracy, State Senator Jeff Rabon said:

“You have to wonder why they have to use out-of-state money to buy a statewide vote on TABOR. We cannot let special interest groups from Colorado, Illinois and Washington D.C. hijack our initiative petition process. Democracy is too precious of a commodity to allow it to be sold to the highest bidder and those willing to trample on our laws to accomplish their goals,” Rabon said. “A coordinated statewide investigation is the only way to preserve this most basic right of a democratic society.”

TABOR supporters, which include the state’s right-wing power structure, waged a dishonest campaign to get the required number of signatures, and the petition should face a legal challenge.

The Oklahoma Public Employees Association, for example, has issued an alert about people who may have been misled into signing the petition:

“If you signed a petition in the last two months it may very well have been the TABOR petition. There may be a remedy. If you fill out the form that can be found at the following address you may be able to have your name removed from the petition.”

I think it is fair to suggest that some petition circulators had a certain line or sales pitch get their two dollars per name, and that many people who signed the petition did so after hearing distorted or even false information. This is what you get when you have to bring in paid lackeys to create a bogus political movement and when the local media is biased and lazy.

The right-wing power structure has been advancing an argument that those opposed to TABOR should just roll over, play dead, and allow the measure to get on the ballot. There will be time to debate the merits of TABOR then, they argue. Yeah, right, as if the corporate media and its toadies and apologists here will actually give a fair hearing to both sides of the issue.

We need to fight TABOR from the beginning to the end; we must remain diligent.

If it passes, those who opposed to TABOR can say they acted in good conscience when the public education system becomes completely dismantled in a state that already leads the nation in paying the lowest teacher salaries and is often in the bottom five or ten of per student funding in the nation.